During all of my nearly 50 years, I can recall only one time that I literally stopped to think “This is one of the moments that I need to treasure. I need to store it in my memory right next to my heart so I can pull it out when times are tough. I need to remember how the sun feels on my skin and how I’m surrounded by people who only want the best for me. I need to capture the absolute essence of happiness that is permeating all of my pores so I can remember that life’s most important moments aren’t always big events but sometimes rather uneventful instances that actually mean everything.”
These thoughts came to me on a warm spring afternoon my senior year in college. My friends and I had skipped class to spend time at the lake at Strouds Run, a state park near the campus of Ohio University. My future was a complete unknown, and I had absolutely no idea where any of us would be in just a few short months. I had little if no money and no prospects for a job. And yet, I was completely happy to focus on enjoying an absolutely perfect moment.
It was so perfect that now, nearly 30 years later, I still remember how I wanted to hold on to it forever.
After that, life got more chaotic and often more serious. New people entered and exited my life. Circumstances changed often and significantly. And I changed.
Amid all that, I never again stopped long enough to recognize the importance of pausing to breathe in then hold on to a simply perfect moment.
That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate such moments. I did.
But there is a difference between appreciating something and treasuring it.
And lately, the person I used to be has been sending that reminder to the person I am now.
Maybe that’s because, with my son in college, I’m thinking more and more about that time in my life. Or maybe that’s because in two weeks I’ll be going to my college homecoming and reuniting with friends I haven’t seen in almost 30 years. Or maybe (and this is what I choose to believe), it’s because I’m tired of always worrying about what will happen when those perfect moments end and the complications, heartache and struggles return.
Because they always return.
But I’ve now lived long enough to know that the return of life’s problems provides even more reason to embrace those moments when all seems right with the world.
And I had one of those moments today.
I hadn’t seen my son since the beginning of August when he left for band camp at West Virginia University. With the exception of a few texts and posts on social media, my husband and I haven’t heard much from him. But today, the Pride of West Virginia WVU marching band made a stop in our town in route to a game at Fed Ex Field.
We joined a handful of other local parents and fans as well as students from three schools to watch the band perform. When the show ended, we waited until the musicians had taken their instruments to the buses before coming back into the stadium for bag lunches.
And that’s when I saw my son for the first time in almost two months.
He broke into the same wide grin that he used to give me when I was picking him up at preschool. He doesn’t smile like that much anymore, and I don’t think it’s been captured on camera since he was a toddler. But he was looking right at me, broke into that wide smile and said “Hi Mom!”
And before I walked over to him for a hug and a photo opportunity, the me I used to be started whispering in my ear. She told me to treasure that moment. She told me I needed to store it in my memory and right next my heart so I can pull it out when times are tough. She told me I needed to remember how the sun felt on my skin and how I was fortunate to have people who care about me. And she told me that life’s most important moments aren’t always big events but sometimes rather uneventful instances that are measured by the smile on a child’s face and a love that is greater than any problem we will ever encounter.
And I listened to her.
Thirteen years ago,”Pomp and Circumstance” played as my son wore a red cap and gown to accept his diploma.
Because his class was extremely small, the formal ceremony was short. As the post-graduation celebration began, my son led his friends in a unique rendition of the “Chicken Dance.”
Throughout the afternoon, there were several other moments when he grabbed, or attempted to grab, the limelight. At one point, his teacher pulled me aside and whispered “All the world is a stage for Shepherd. Just enjoy it.”
But I couldn’t.
The next 13 years, starting in kindergarten, weren’t easy.
I worried obsessively about my son.
Even though my son was very smart and very funny, I worried that he didn’t have the same interests as his peers.
I worried that he was awkward and uncoordinated and would never find the place where he belonged.
I worried that he often seemed oblivious to what others automatically understood.
I even worried that he didn’t care that I was worried.
But somewhere between kindergarten and twelfth grade, my son taught me more than algebra and English literature classes ever could.
He taught me that going out on a limb will always be more interesting than standing on the ground hugging the trunk.
He taught me that winning a dance contest doesn’t necessarily require the best moves. It simply requires the most guts.
He taught me that more people appreciate the sheep who wonders off to explore new pastures than the ones who stay with the herd.
And he taught me that grabbing a mic and singing in front of the entire student body can never be embarrassing if you get everyone to sing with you.
On Monday, I will listen to “Pomp and Circumstance” while my son wears a red cap and gown to accept his diploma.
I wish I could guarantee he won’t lead his entire graduating class in a rendition of “The Chicken Dance,” but I can’t. Neither can I guarantee he won’t pull off one final, ridiculous high school stunt.
But here’s what I can guarantee: I won’t be worried.
Because I know that my unique, gifted, funny, ridiculous, smart, sarcastic son already has plenty of experience in finding his way in the often rocky terrain of life.
I also know, that his preschool teacher wasn’t entirely right. All the world is not just a stage for my Shepherd. Instead, all the world is HIS stage.
And I can’t wait to see his upcoming performances.
Shortly before I graduated from college, I sat in a friend’s apartment listening to the song “I’m an Adult Now” by the Pursuit of Happiness and thinking it would soon be included on the soundtrack of my life. (Back in those days, life soundtracks were limited to 60 or 90 minute cassette tapes.)
I was 22 years old, and I had absolutely no idea what being a grown up really meant. But I was convinced that once I had my college diploma in hand, I would quickly learn.
Now, more than a quarter of a century later, I’m still trying on various hats in hopes of discovering the one that will officially make me feel like a grown up. So far, none have worked.
Yes, I lived on my own and paid my own bills. Yes, I dealt with mortgages and debt and the IRS. Yes, I got married. Yes, I gave birth and became a parent. And yes, I even discovered that I can sound more like my mother than I ever imagined.
But despite all of that, I’ve never felt like an authentic adult. Instead, I feel as though I’m pretending to be an adult when I’m actually more like that 22 year-old still trying to decide which songs should be on my life’s soundtrack.
Maybe that’s because I’ve never been able to answer that one question that so many adults think is incredibly important. It’s a question that was asked of me hundreds of times from the time I was a toddler all the way through high school.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Ironically, the younger I was, the more easily I could answer the question.
When I was five, I wanted to be a trapeze artist. That dream was short-lived when my dad hung a wooden trapeze from a tree in a backyard and I made him lower it because its height five feet off the ground scared me. By the time I was ten, I had my heart set on being a best-selling author which, by the time I was 15, and evolved into a desire to be a journalist. And, at what I considered to be the mature age of 20, I truly believed I was destined to produce documentaries that would change the world.
With the exception of a few months I spent as a radio news reporter, I never achieved any of those goals. I could consider myself a failure, but that would discount all my accomplishments never on my “I want to” list. Nor would it take into account how the experience of living life to its fullest sometimes gets in the way of the expectations we think we are supposed to meet.
I don’t think I could have known, at the age of 22, how life’s river of circumstances has a generally steady and sometimes ferociously rapid current that can easily sweep us away from where we thought we belonged to the places we are needed most.
I was thinking about that river this week when my son celebrated his eighteenth birthday. In only a few months, he’ll be starting college, so he’s regularly being asked what he’ll be studying. To me, that’s the more mature equivalent of the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
And, even though I understand why everyone feels compelled to ask, I think the more meaningful question is “are you keeping your heart and your mind open to making adjustments to your plan with each new opportunity and complication?”
If my son does that, he faces the danger of ending up like his mother – nearly 50 years old and not entirely sure what he wants to be when he grows up. At the same time, he might also learn that being an adult isn’t about reaching a certain age or about achieving a certain status. And he might figure out that making mature decisions doesn’t mean letting go of the child within.
Instead, getting older should be about learning to adjust to the currents of life even when you aren’t confident you are headed in the direction you had originally planned.
For the last few months, something has been missing from my life. Its disappearance is particularly unnerving because I am given a sufficient supply of the missing element every day. But when I go to bed each night, I am left wondering what happened.
Time is that common yet mysterious element that belongs to everyone, plays favorites to no one, speeds up and slows down at the most inopportune moments and steals the occasions we treasure most while gifting us with memories.
When I was young, 24 hours per days seemed more than sufficient. Now, it’s anything but.
Which is why, on Christmas Eve, I felt as though I’d won the lottery. I had 11
days, or approximately 264 hours, without any significant appointments or commitments. And even though I had a long list of projects I wanted to tackle, part of me that just wanted to escape life as I know it.
Which is exactly what I did on Christmas Day.
After the presents were opened and the Christmas dinner was prepared, I escaped to find evidence that life is more than a series of events or accomplishments that are documented with time stamps and dates to remember.
I took my bicycle out on an unseasonably warm day, and, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t pedal to
cover a specific number of miles in a specified number of minutes.
In fact, I often didn’t pedal at all. Instead, I stopped to investigate. I stopped to listen. I stopped to breathe. Most of all, I stopped to take photos on my phone and to simply appreciate life without the constraints of deadlines or appointments or expectations.
And what I discovered was that, unlike people, most of the world pays no attention to clocks or calendars. While everything is affected by time, only people give it power.
The rest of the world just exists in the moment, adapts to the elements, accepts changes and stays committed to survival.
In other words, the rest of the world can teach us humans a thing or two.
And I’m ready to learn.
I’ve never been a cat person.
From the moment I was born, I was a dog person.
An entry in my baby book documents that. On one of my first trips to the local public library, I toddled across the floor, grabbed a book from the shelf, handed it to my mother and pointed at the picture on the cover.
Then I uttered one of my first words.
Not much has changed in 48 years. I still compelled to reach out to every dog I see. Since the time I was four when my first dog, Charlie Brown, came into my life, my best friends have always been dogs.
Yet, somehow the cats in my family now outnumber dogs.
I could blame my daughter and husband for their appreciation of the quiet and generally undemanding nature of cats, but I would be avoiding the truth. At some point, my heart grew a couple of sizes larger, and I let the cats in.
I don’t love them for the companionship and unconditional love that my canine bff’s have always provided.
I love them because they make me think. In all honesty, they have actually provided me with ten important life lessons:
Number 10: If you need a nap, just take one. Period.
Number 9: Don’t spend time trying to get people
to like you. Some people will like you. Some people won’t. Spend your emotional energy doing what you like rather than trying to please anyone.
Number 8: Always let people know when they are creating circumstances that make you unhappy. If you don’t, nothing will every change.
Number 7: There is absolutely nothing wrong with small spaces. In fact, sometimes they are the best spaces.
Number 5: If the weather outside isn’t comfortable, come inside. Otherwise, spend your time outside exploring and enjoying nature.
Number 4: Always act as though you are in charge. Even when you have very little control, pretend you do.
Number 3: Embrace your curious side. That’s the only way you’ll ever experience something new.
Number 2: Sometimes, the box really can be the be part of the present, especially if you take into account the wrapping, the bow and the ribbon.
And the Number 1 lesson I learned from my cat?
Love is love. Don’t worry about what others think about whom you should or shouldn’t love. Love who you want.
Every year, at least one news source releases a list of everything that the latest class of incoming college freshmen have never experienced. The articles are often written under the guise of reminding professors that they are teaching to a group of students whose life perspective is completely different from theirs.
That’s the “supposed” reason for the release of these articles.
I think they are really intended to remind people like me how old we are.
Generally, I can feel old without being told that River Phoenix died before this year’s college freshmen were born, that Ferris Bueller would be old enough to be their father or that they have always been able to download music from the internet.
I don’t need the news stories because I have teenagers who constantly remind me that, if I were a car, I’d be a categorized as a “classic.”
Despite my best efforts to be hip, my kids let me know that just using that word dates me. To them, hips are a part of a body and the word “cool” is to describe something that is getting cold. They deem things they like as “chill.”
And while “chill” has yet to make it into my vocabulary, I feel fortunate to even understanding what my kids are saying when they use that word. At least it is a word.
Much of what they communicate is in a code that grew out of their love of text messaging. I once thought I was keeping up with the times (I actually did Laugh Out Loud when my former boss, a retired Army Colonel, expressed confusion that a male colleague was responding to his emails with Lots Of Love), but those days are over.
Now, I find myself constantly googling random groups of letters that mean something to my kids and their friends.
But there are many things that I can’t Google – like the nuances of the high school culture in which my kids spend most of their waking hours.
When I was in high school, there were only two options for attending the homecoming dance. The first was that you went with your significant other, and that significant had to be a member of the opposite sex. Thankfully, that tradition has been kicked out the door and down the street. People can go as best friends, as same-sex couples or by themselves. That’s cool, or uh, make that “chill.”
Also back in my day, if you didn’t have a significant other, you hoped that someone (always a member of the opposite sex) would ask you to the dance. If not, you knew you were destined to sit at home on the night of the dance watching the latest episodes of The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.
Now that no one has to have a date to the homecoming dance and students can attend with whomever they like, I thought the issue of the homecoming dance is a simple one. You either go or you don’t go.
I was wrong.
Asking someone to the homecoming dance now requires a creative and/or romantic proposal that is social media worthy. This is even more critical when you are already dating someone – the ask has to be huge.
If you don’t have teenagers in your life or you’re not keeping an eye on Instagram, you haven’t had to endure the onslaught of photos showing just how creative adolescents can be regarding the “big ask.” The whole trend makes me roll my eyes. On one hand, it’s cute. On the other hand, it’s completely ridiculous.
But then, most of our most treasured memories grow out of ridiculous moments.
I may be old (according to my kids) and I may have a great deal of life experience (according to the annual list about the experiences of college freshmen), but I am still young enough to appreciate the need to seek joy wherever we can find it.
So much of life doesn’t follow the script we attempt to write for ourselves. Life can be complicated and disappointing, and teenagers today understand this more than my generation ever did. They have to because the world is literally at their fingertips
But instead of simply accepting that life can be difficult, they are finding ways to enjoy it whenever and however possible.
If that means making a big deal out of asking someone to a dance, then I shouldn’t roll my eyes.
Instead, I should be using my eyes for something else – looking at the list of all things my kids have never experienced from a different angle.
I shouldn’t be seeing how old I am and how young they are. Instead, I should be looking at all of the possibilities my children still have in front of them. Even more importantly, I should be looking at all the opportunities they have to make their dance through this life as joyous and memorable as they want it to be.
I was mad that cancer had taken the life of a good friend. I was mad at a self-serving state legislature that is pandering to special, extreme interests rather than improving the lives of Mountain State residents. I was mad that years of previous hard work had been torn apart by people who care more about touting their own importance than about doing the right thing. I was even mad that I had spent the day fighting with my work computer, which was eventually diagnosed with having either a bad virus or a bad hard drive.
Most of all, I was mad that not one of those situations was within my control.
And so, I lay awake thinking that, since I couldn’t change the random nature of life or the priorities of other people, I could at expose the selfish nature and behavior of others.
But no matter what scenario I imagined, I was never satisfied.
My friend would still be dead. Constituents would still vote against their own self interest and politicians would still prey upon emotional rather than rational voters. All of my hard work would still lie in ruins at the hands of people who never really tried to understand my efforts, and my computer would still be on a shelf waiting for repair.
And I would still be angry.
My mood hadn’t improved by the time I arrived at work the next morning.
Knowing that I had to put my anger aside, I spent the first few minutes in my office repeating one of my favorite quotes, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Saying those words to myself wasn’t sufficient, so I started sharing them with others.
Then something miraculous happened.
The people with whom I shared that quote not only empathized with me, they also shared their own anger.
In doing so, we talked about our values and about not feeling valued. We talked about how difficult people are often doing their best and just don’t know or have the skills to do better. We talked about our own successes and all that we hope to achieve in the future.
And when we spoke, we didn’t use flowery language that made us sound noble. We spoke from the heart with words that are best left behind closed doors (they were) but are sometimes the best way to describe our feelings.
I hadn’t had a complete attitude adjustment by the end of the day, but I did gain something important: perspective.
No one goes through life untouched by anger, and pretending we are above it is ridiculous. Instead, if we share it in the right way with the right people, we can learn more from anger than we ever could from happiness.
With that said, I’m hoping to be much less studious in the next few weeks.
In a life that requires me to fully participate on an almost constant basis, I truly appreciate days when I can simply be the observer. At those moments, I have the luxury of recognizing how total strangers are always touching my life.
Sometimes we barely brush against each other – like the shoppers in line at the grocery store or the other patients in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.
But every once in a while, when I have the opportunity to be more observant, complete strangers can provide insight, spark curiosity or simply remind me that sometimes the world is much less random than I generally think it is.
So it was last Saturday.
My son was spending the weekend playing music at a local university, and my husband was working. Recognizing the opportunity, my daughter suggested we “do something.”
What Kendall was really suggesting was that we “go shopping.” But having spent plenty of time and money shopping during the recent holiday season, I suggested we go into the city instead.
In our case, “the city” is Washington D.C., which offers plenty of opportunities to “do something” without having to “go shopping.”
She agreed, and, after dropping my son off for his music audition and subsequent day of practice, we headed to the Metro Station.
As we parked the car and headed toward the entrance, I noticed a young couple walking in front of us. I don’t know why I noticed them as they were quite ordinary. The boy (he looked like a boy to me although my daughter insisted he was at least 20) wore khaki pants and glasses. The girl, who was slightly taller than him, wore boots and a black coat. We lost sight of them as they punched in their SmarTrip cards while we had to purchase Metro farecards.
After changing trains once, our first stop was at the National Archives. As we crossed the street toward the ornate structure, Kendall poked me in the ribs and giggled.
The couple we had first seen as we left our car and headed toward the Metro Station was once again in front of us. I don’t know if I was more surprised that our destination had been the same or that my daughter had also noticed the pair.
Kendall and I soon forgot about them. As we went through security at the Archives, she was incredibly amused by the security guard who tried to put some humor into the “no photographs can be taken” rule.
Or, as he put it, “That also means no selfies, no me-sies, no we-sies, no you-sies.”
While Kendall was amused, his words made complete sense to me. In this day of constant access to cameras, you have to be as clear as possible. Even more importantly, people really understood and heeded his words.
They were also polite as we all patiently stood in line to see the most popular documents on display: the original Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. But that peaceful order was disrupted when a group of young beauty queens (they advertised this by wearing sashes inscribed with their titles) and their mothers entered the rotunda. The girls pushed their way through the patiently waiting crowd to see the prized displays. I was reminded of the spoiled Veruca Salt in Roald Dahl’s classic novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but kept my opinion to myself, even when one of the mothers encouraged her daughter to crowd her way to the glass cases that displayed the Constitution.
The woman behind me wasn’t as reserved and spoke up about their rudeness. “The people who try so hard to be important usually aren’t,” she said. “And the people who don’t try to be important usually are.”
She had a point, and her words made a lasting impression on me.
After getting our opportunity to see the documents (with no pushing involved), Kendall and I were debating where to go next when we noticed that the couple from the Metro were now patiently waiting in line to see our nation’s beloved documents.
Kendall gave me an amused look as we decided to head to the National Gallery of Art. Our short walk there wasn’t without incidence. As we approached the corner of Madison Drive and 7th Street, we heard yelling. The reason soon became obvious.
A man in a pink (yes pink) funnel cake truck was yelling at a security guard to let go of the handle on his truck door. “You are going to break the door!” he yelled. The guard had a bemused look on his face and a hand on holster.
“You need to move your truck” that security guard yelled back. I didn’t know how the driver could move his truck when the security guard was gripping the handle so tightly, but that was none of my business.
The yelling continued when the guard noticed all of us on the sidewalk.
“Civilians stand back!!!” he yelled.
We did. My heart was thumping as I willed the red hand on the crossing light change to white.
We had no such luck and were forced to watch the drama between the funnel cake vendor and the security guard escalate. The funnel cake man got out of his truck, and the security guard drew his gun.
And the crossing light did not change.
Then, out of nowhere, two police officers appeared and told the guard to put away his gun.
That’s when the crossing light finally changed. As we walked away, I could hear the funnel cake guy yelling, “He’s tripping! Did you see that? He’s tripping.”
“They’re all tripping,” Kendall said.
She had a point.Their anger and potential violence were totally unrelated to criminal activity and demonstrated the power struggles that so often precipitate violence.
As Kendall and I walked into the the National Art Gallery, my heart was still beating faster than normal. Fortunately, the peaceful halls soon calmed it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time there. But then, we wouldn’t have had enough time even if we had arrived when the museum first opened. We were awed by the paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Renoir, Monet and Manet.
We weren’t so awed by the work of Jackson Pollack.
“I just don’t get it,” I said as we stared at a painting that looked like paint dripping. I got as close as I could, staring at the paint and feeling a bit like Cameron staring at the painting in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The more I looked, the less I saw. I wasn’t the only person who didn’t “get it.”
Kendall and I were joined by two college-age women, one of whom who was questioning the artistic value. Her intellectually superior friend tried to put her straight.
“What is aesthetically pleasing isn’t the same as what is artistically lovely.”
I’m sure that meant something, I’m still not clear what. Maybe if I understood Jackson Pollock I would understand her words.
But while I didn’t get her point, I did appreciate that she sees the world in a totally different way than I do. Besides, I was more interested in the fact that the couple from the Metro Station was now in the same room in the art museum.
We stayed in the building until a guard announced that the museum would be closing in 2,000 seconds. Apparently, humor is part of the training for Washington D.C. museum security guards.
Kendall and I left, took the Metro to another destination for dinner then finally decided we needed to head home. Our energy level had dropped with temperature – or so we thought. As we got off the train and were headed to our car, Kendall challenged me to a race. Because I was so cold, I was all in. We giggled as we ran to the car.
Then, we both stopped abruptly.
There was a couple walking in front of us. The boy wore khaki pants and glasses. The girl, who was slightly taller than him, wore boots and a black coat. Kendall and I giggled and she took a picture on her phone.
That couple will forever be a part of our lives.
They serve as a reminder of all of the strangers we pass each day. Some go completely unnoticed. Some provide us with memorable quotes or life lessons. And some stay with us forever like the shadows in a photograph. Those are the ones that remind us that life’s best teachers aren’t always the most obvious. Instead, they are the ones that require us to take a backseat and observe all that life really has to offer.
I didn’t grow up in the town where I now live, and no significant life events have occurred here (yet). Despite that, I can’t shake the nostalgia that often hits me at the oddest times.
Take, for example, my daily mail run during the work week.
My office is located two blocks from Patterson’s Pharmacy, where a mailbox sits just outside of the picture windows.
Almost every day, when I am dropping off the office mail, I glance in at the patrons sitting at the old-fashion soda fountain.
For the most part, these individuals are, at a minimum, a couple of decades older than I am. Most are at least 30 years older.
Sometimes they wave at me, but often they don’t because they are too engrossed in conversation. Despite their general camaraderie, there is always at least one person who hides behind the daily newspaper, with his head stuck in so far that I’m not sure he’s reading or using the paper as a shelter from the outside world.
I’ve never noticed what or whether people are eating or drinking, but my guess is they are generally sipping cups of coffee rather than the homemade milkshakes, malts and sodas that interest the younger generation. These are the treats that my children and friends enjoy despite, or maybe because of, the old-fashion counter, historic photos and the general slow pace of the place.
Last Friday, my daughter and her friend asked me to take them to Patterson’s. We took our seats on the soda fountain stools, even though no one was behind counter.
The old woman next to me in the knitted cap didn’t say anything. The two elderly gentleman on the stools at the end of the counter were quiet for about five minutes until I asked the girls if they were willing to wait or wanted to go elsewhere.
“She’s at the bank to get some cash,” the one man told me. “She’ll be back soon.”
No one said who “she” was. Everyone knew it was Ginny, whom I also see daily and has worked at Patterson’s since I moved to town.
No one seemed concern about Ginny’s absence. That’s the slow pace of business at a place like Patterson’s.
No one is worried about following the rules of corporate America in which money is often more important than people. Patterson’s is a local business in a small town. It caters to older people as well as 13 year-old girls who want a genuine root beer float and are more than willing to spend time chatting with each other at a old-fashion soda fountain rather than demand that their drinks are available immediately
At Patterson’s, people are important.
I know this because they are one of very few pharmacies that provide services to the people whom Catholic Charities, where I work, helps. These are people who often can’t even afford the $1.00 co-pay needed for a prescription. But Patterson’s works with us to ensure that people who need help get help.
And sometimes that help doesn’t come in a bottle but instead comes in the form of a safe place.
“How old are your girls?” she asked me.
“Thirteen,” I said.
“Thirteen? They are awful big for 13!”
I looked at my daughter and her friend. Neither was wearing makeup and both were wearing t-shirts and Converse tennis shoes. To me, they looked exactly 13.
“In my day, kids were a lot smaller,” she said.
“When was that?” I asked.
“Back in the 1950’s,” she said, “I had kids in the 1950’s when Martinsburg was still Martinsburg.”
“Hmmm,” I responded. Ginny was back, and I ordered the root beer floats.
“I grew up here,” the woman in the knit cap said, “but you wouldn’t know it. I don’t know anyone here now. I don’t even know what happened to the bars. Back in my day, there were bars here but there wasn’t the traffic we have today. There’s too much traffic now.”
“Hmmm,” I said as Ginny filled glasses with root beer and added a scoops of ice cream.
“What is that?” the woman asked looking at a glass with a bit of suspicion.
“A root beer float,” I answered.
“I can’t drink that anymore,” the woman said. “It does something to my stomach.”
“Hmmm,” I said.
“I don’t like this town anymore,” the woman in the knit cap said. “It’s full of people I don’t know doing things they shouldn’t do.”
She shrugged then looked at my daughter and her friend.
“What are they drinking?” she asked.
“Root beer floats,” I answered.
“I can’t drink those anymore,” the woman said again. “It does something to my stomach.”
And so are conversation went. She asked me the same questions and when I answered, she gave me the same responses and the same complaints.
When the root beer floats were gone and the girls were ready to go, the woman said goodbye then struck up a conversation with Ginny behind the counter.
“How are you feeling today, Shirley?” Ginny asked.
“Not good,” said Shirley. “I don’t know anyone in this town anymore.”
“But they know you,” I thought as my daughter and her friend smiled at her and said goodbye as we walked out the door.
“Sometimes, the history that captivates us most isn’t the one that has shaped who we are,” I thought. “Instead is the one that has shaped and is shaping others. And sometimes there is noting more magical than watching it shape very different generations at the same time.”