I have dozens of “backyard adventures” to write about. This Summer and Fall have been full with all kinds of fun. I might still write about these adventures, or at least list them. For now, though, I have a different series I want to ink.
Letters to myself.
This post, and probably this set of posts, are letters to myself. When I write, “you”, I mean me, not you. You get to, are invited to and encouraged to, read these letters. But they are not persuasion. I am not trying to convince anyone of anything. These letters are not addressed to you. They are addressed to me. They are a reflection of what I think on any given day. They are whatever happens to bouncing around in my head at the moment and whatever I think is worth recording, putting down for my future self to know and remember.
People are nice. They are nicer to you than you deserve, and they want nothing in return. On occasion, people are embarrassingly generous.
Allow me to tell the tale:
Andrea and I were on a lovely road trip. I had recently retired as an investment advisor, and she was on her elementary school’s 2-week “Fall Break” – young, wild and free, more or less. The trip was a simple “Tour de Home”, seeing the places we have lived for most of our lives, but stopping to see the in-between spots and taking time to walk through the forests, watch the deer, brew a second coffee, stop in at the ice cream stand. We were traveling about Northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
This story takes place on a cold and windy morning, but with full sun shining down, while headed from the Keweenaw Peninsula to Iron Mountain.
We packed the bags, loaded the cup holders with coffee and water and slammed the car doors shut by 8 AM. Set the Google maps. Alright, let’s roll! “Click-click-click...” the keys from Off to Accessory to Run to Start... and nothing. Hmm. Are we fully in park? Jostle the shift knob, rock the car back and forth... no luck. Take the keys in and out about 6 times. No luck. One more time – lucky 7, come on baby... no juice. Alright, let’s get a jump start.
Just a few minute later the AirBnB host had dug some cables from the back of her SUV, we got our car started and we were rolling, eyes wide taking in the beautiful oak and maple Autumn oranges and reds. Then, after maybe 20 minutes of driving through the upper Midwest at its finest, we spotted a large roadside produce tent. Heavy brakes, sharp left across Highway 41 and into the gravel lot, parking beside the vendor’s car.
We were the first customers of the day and the vendor lady was still filling bins of produce and setting out signs. The wind was biting cold in the chill morning air. Our vendor lady was friendly enough, but just barely. She probably hadn’t finished her morning coffee, her hands were cold setting up the stand, the wind was blowing signs and empty plastic bags about... I can understand why she was politely brief, but far from ameable, with us two strangers. Andrea and I walked about the open-sided tent, picked out a few apples, squash, and onions, and the lady rang up our purchases. I gave her $4 or $5 and we parted ways forever, one of a million fine and unremarkable human interactions that dot our days and lives.
So I thought. The thought I didn’t think of – young, wild, free and dumb – is that we had just gotten a jump start barely 20 minutes ago. This time, the starter clicked a few times, but did not actually crank, when I turned the key. A couple more tries – maybe if you just hope hard enough, it will work!? Nope, not this time.
“Hey, kind-of-friendly lady, plenty busy going about your job, setting up the produce stand in the biting cold wind… Can we get a jump start, please!? Do you have jumper cables?”
She was empathetic to our plight and immediately left her duties at the stand to rummage the back shed for jumper cables. Another customer car rolled in. The vendor lady was still away, doing Andrea and I a favor. The customer lady exited her car and browsed the produce with little interest. “Is there somebody working here?” she asked us. She finished her fast perusal of the food goods and seemed ready to leave. I felt bad, so I pulled her back in. “Did you see the apples? Boy, Andrea and I just bought some beauties!! Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, gee those Cortlands sure look nice!” The customer lady ended up sticking around and buying a bag of apples, and I felt better, to have helped “save some business” while the vendor was away looking for jumper cables.
The vendor lady gave us the cables, started her car and moved it so that cables could reach from battery to battery. Then we fiddled with the jumper cables in every which way. Connect them to the posts, to the cables, get the teeth to bite in, sacrifice your toothbrush to clean the terminals... Nothing worked, the cables were too corroded.
The vendor lady stood by, offering suggestions, sending texts to friends for help, asking other customers if they had cables, keeping us entertained with easy and funny talk and stories. I asked questions about the wild rice, about the apples, about the stand.
Her friend rolled in, some kind of a mechanic fella. He surveyed the situation and said he would be back with his truck and better jumper cables. We waited the next quarter-hour, the vendor lady alternately greeting customers, checking out produce and telling Andrea and I stories.
The mechanic friend returned in his diesel pickup truck. He thoroughly cleaned our battery terminals and connections, put on the heavy-duty jumper cables and, voila, our car was up and running! He put the cables back in his truck and jumped up into the driver’s seat. I thanked him and shook his hand, and that was clearly all the thanks or remuneration he wanted or would accept.
I thanked the vendor lady. She wished us, “Good luck and enjoy the drive!!” Then, as I turned to walk away, “Hey, wait! Take this bag of wild rice, I know you were interested in it!”
“Oh, gee, thanks..” Her generosity was too much, my face flushed. “I’ll pay you for it…”
“No! Take it! Good luck, goodbye!”
I was quiet driving away. A section of my foundation had been shaken, jostled. In the world I was used to, favors were repaid with favors, services that were valuable were paid for, and monetary costs incurred by the favor provider were reimbursed by the favor recipient. A lady had just taken time and attention away from her job and her customers to provide a favor to strangers. A man had just driven back and forth twice, in different vehicles, taking his gas and time to provide a favor to strangers. There was no chance of being paid with money, being paid back with a future favor, or even having us visit the 300-mile-from-home produce stand again. The car engine started and the mechanic man had left promptly thereafter, barely allowing us to provide him a half-second of thanks and praise. I said goodbye to the vendor lady, and she beckoned me closer, handing me one more undeserved gift. I felt embarrassed, probably ashamed. Embarrassing, in that my foundation was being exposed, laid bare, as maybe too money-centric, too quid pro quo, too tit-for-tat.
Maybe you can just contribute to the human pool of generosity and favors. Maybe goodwill can be laid upon you whether you deserve it or not, and maybe you can allow someone to provide you favor and service and love just for being a human, and you don’t need to pay them back with anything. They don’t want anything. They just want to be human and kind. You can do the same.