Seen and Heard

Recently, I was reminded that seemingly small moments can have a lasting impact. My mother-in-law told me about her visit with a local librarian. They got to know each other, and now the librarian chooses books for her as part of a library outreach program for people who don’t drive. Although the librarian came only once, her visit meant a lot to my mother-in-law.

Every now and again, acquaintances tell me about a time when something I said or did came at exactly the right time. Often, I’m surprised because I don’t remember the moment and wasn’t aware that I’d had any special impact. With that in mind, I try to be gracious when someone I don’t know well wants to talk. Maybe they need to be heard.

I love good tomatoes and there’s one vendor I look for at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market, because his tomatoes are consistently good. We have a nodding acquaintance—we know each other’s faces, but not each other’s names.

The last time I saw him, he asked me if I liked the Tennessee Ernie Ford song that the market’s musical entertainer had just played. I agreed that it was a good oldie and recalled that a neighbor friend’s mother used to play it on the stereo.

Then the tomato vendor told me he loves to sing, and he sang a little of the song in a surprisingly rich bass. I complimented him, and he explained that when he was young, a voice teacher taught him to breathe properly. Now he shows the guys in his church choir how to breathe so they won’t strain their voices when they try to sing bass.

As I walked away, I realized that after our longer-than-expected conversation, I had a fuller sense of him as a person. I don’t know if the conversation meant anything to him or not. Maybe he needed to be seen, wanted someone to know that tomato farming was just one dimension of his life. Or maybe he was just bored and feeling chatty.

Either way, I’m glad I listened. There’s a gift to me in that.

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Time Runs Out

July 7, 2018: I called a friend  to talk about a common interest. His voice was quiet when he answered and I checked if this was a good time to visit or if he was with a client.

“I can’t talk well anymore,” he said. “I don’t have long to live.”

We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months when he had shared with us that he experienced a couple of mysterious health incidents during the early winter that had left him feeling unlike himself. In late spring he was still trying to keep the situation under wraps from his employer which was difficult because his work is up front with clients during the design phase of projects. We were concerned, but assumed he would get stronger.

But he didn’t, and he won’t. His wife took over the phone conversation. Our friend was diagnosed quite recently with untreatable brain cancer and it is taking him quickly. She said they are limiting visitors to family. He wanted the phone back and told me that our friendship had meant a lot to him. We had a garbled last few sentences.

That’s the end.

We were supposed to talk about his writing project and a fundraiser for a nonprofit. And he’d tell a few good stories about his grandkids, kayak fishing, his wife’s garden and when he planned to retire.

Life goes on. His family is keeping vigil and we are cleaning the garage, going to the post office, talking about August and September plans. On any day someone is dying and someone is having the best day of their lives. No matter how many friends or family members we lose, the loss is always new because it has a different name.

 

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In memory of Joe who passed away July 28.  And Skye’s husband who also died in July. With warm thoughts for my first publisher who has begun hospice care. You will not be forgotten.

Enlarging My Circle

cactus-flower-2For years, my husband and sons visited relatives in Green Valley, a retirement community in Arizona. I loved seeing our family and experiencing spring in the desert. But I disliked the way some of the residents had become intolerant of young people and as prickly as the blooming cactus that surrounded us. I vowed that wouldn’t be me. While I was still working for pay, I didn’t have to think about how to make good on that promise. I had friends of all ages among my coworkers. Now that I’m retired, I want to be more intentional about connecting with younger people (younger than a Baby Boomer, that is).

Though older, I’ll be the seeker, not the sage.

I’ve learned so much from my sons, so I want to go further and invite more people of other generations into my life. I hope to learn from people who are at different stages of life from mine and understand how they see the world, what their challenges, reactions, and solutions are. To know what they know. To welcome their insights and wisdom.

Making connections is part of my personal style.

Networking is one way people connect with strangers and make friends of acquaintances. While I was a freelance writer, I networked for professional reasons. Often the connections I had with clients and colleagues sparked friendships that have lasted 5, 10, or 20 years.

My plan is more of an outlook than a highly systematic effort.

My current idea isn’t exactly “networking,” which implies a career emphasis. Instead, I hope to continue to do what I have always done—make and keep friends. The part that requires more focus is putting myself in settings where I will meet new people of all ages. Then, if we like the same things and have common interests, friendships will have the chance to blossom.

For example, a young woman I know manages communications for a nonprofit. We met when I started volunteering there, and since then, we have become friendly.

I recently reconnected with a younger writer who’s a friend’s daughter. The daughter is traveling in Europe and writing about her experiences. One of her blogs reminded me how I felt while traveling alone in Europe in my later 20’s, so I sent her a note. Currently, we are acquaintances, but I’m open to getting to know her better.

One of the women who styles my hair is at least 20 years younger than I am, but we have discovered that we have similar taste in movies and politics. Recently, her family experienced a crisis, and it was comforting to her to see that I really understood her reactions—our temperaments are similar too.

I value my longstanding friendships with people my age, but I hope to enlarge the circle to include friends of all ages.

Enduring Friendships

Enduring Friendships

web-natcheztrl-e1450370163848124 years ago, I was biking alone on a Klobuchar bicycle trip. Beginning in 1974, Jim Klobuchar, the former Star Tribune columnist led annual, weeklong Jaunt With Jim rides throughout the state of Minnesota. It was 1992, and I often was in the habit of doing something new. I picked adventures even though I wouldn’t know anyone. I often felt as if I was making up for my lost childhood, teenage-hood, and early adulthood. In my twenties and thirties, I was ready to tear up the world. Do what I want. If an adventure piqued my interest, I’d ask myself, “Will I regret it if I don’t do it?” If the answer was yes, I was on to my next adventure.

I met the two men in an abandoned town on a Sunday afternoon. It was a picture out of an old western movie. Two men riding into a dusty quiet town on their bikes, while the damsel was sitting on bench eating lunch.

I overheard them lamenting about the lack of . . . anything. They were hungry.

“I have food,” I said. I always had food. It didn’t matter where I was going, I was sure to have food. When you are one of twelve children, you pack a lunch. “I’ll share what I have,” I added.

Out came the trail mix, the crackers, and the sausage. I even had dessert.

Galen told me he was a school teacher. I would meet Bonnie, another of his school teacher friends later in the ride.

Galen and Bonnie invited me to bike the Natchez Trace, a historic forest trail which extends from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. I met George on that trip. Together we biked in Glacier National Park and the historic Sun Road. That was Jody’s first trip with us.

Last year, Jody and I went to George’s funeral. He was 86 years old.

Klobuchar said, “Friendships developed that are still alive. That’s really my biggest satisfaction — bringing people together and sharing the road together.”

Gary Lund

Gary Lund

Gary Lund and I are very much in that category. 24 years later, we continue to email almost daily. He remembers our first meeting, saying it was the most miserable bike riding day of his life. It was a ride from Litchfield to Montevideo. Rainy, cold, and wet. He noticed me at the lunch break in Wilmar where we were both freezing, trying to figure out how to dry off and warm up.

Later that day he would see me in the ditch with a flat tire. He asked if I wanted help. I quickly tossed him my tube. We were together off and on for the rest of that week. When I wasn’t with him, I was with Bonnie and Galen, stopping in cafés and waiting out the rainstorms.

Gary was a front of the pack guy. I was grateful for his friendship. He was there to patch me up when I took a spill. Then he took a spill and I patched him up. We laughed lots. Talked lots. Never about politics or religion. There was no need. Our friendship wasn’t based on that. It was based on sharing food with people who were hungry. It was based on sharing our lives although they were different.

My life is fuller because of these people. I’m grateful our friendship has endured time and differences.

I imagine that they are reading my WordSisters column now. Thank you, friends.

What’s in a Nickname?

In Great Britain, more than 120,000 online voters recently suggested “Boaty McBoatface” as the name for a British polar research ship. The Science Ministry in Britain overruled the popular choice, choosing instead to name the ship after naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. Although I loved the silliness of “Boaty McBoatface,” I wasn’t surprised it didn’t make the cut. But it did remind me of the power and persistence of nicknames.

Some nicknames are just plain stupid and annoying like the ones I was given in high school. And no, I’m not giving them new life here! Other nicknames are mocking and hurtful. I never knowingly bestow those names. If I know that someone dislikes one of my nicknames, I try to drop it.

But for me, nicknames are sign of affection—a name I give someone to acknowledge our special connection. Or they can also be a humorous name for a car or pet. For example, my ’67 Chevy BelAir was “the Blue Whale,” because it was enormous. Sometimes we called my collie Tasha, “Slosha,” because of the way she dripped all over the floor when drinking.

When I was growing up, nicknames were common in my family, and my father originated most of them. They were affectionate (or at worst, teasing) and often nonsensical. I don’t know why he called my oldest brother, who certainly wasn’t smelly, “Big Barnsmell.” None of the rest of us called him that, so my brother tolerated the name with good grace. Dad called my next brother, “Sport,” which at least made sense, because that brother was athletic.

Sport called me “Snickersnee” because of my sneezing and allergies. Eventually that was shortened to “Snee” or “Snee Baby.”

After hearing my oldest niece call her younger sister, “Shorty,” I adopted that nickname for my younger sister, because she’s several inches taller than me. Stupid, I know, for a grown woman to call her younger sister “Shorty,” but I’ve done it for years and she’s never smacked me. Lately she’s taken to calling me “Shellen.” Aside from the rhyme, I’m not sure why she’s given me that name, but I’m OK with it.

My siblings and I also had nicknames for my father although we didn’t always say them to his face—“Big D” for Dad or Don (his first name).

It was probably inevitable that I’d have nicknames for my sons. I’ll spare you (and them) the dippiest names, which tended to be variations on their first names. However, during his middle years, I called my youngest, “Larry Bob,” which had nothing to do with his real name, but it sort of went with the goofier side of his personality.

When our sons got muscles and grew half a foot taller than me, I began calling them “Otis” and “The Other Otis”—kind of like calling them, “You big galoot”—a teasing way to acknowledge how much bigger they are than me. So far, they’ve tolerated it pretty well. No doubt they have names for me too.

Do you use nicknames for your family and friends? How about your car? Pets?