Don and I met a few interesting people in Grass Valley, California while traveling last fall. Our chat with G.G. (not Gi Gi!) when we were staying at Hotel Holbrooke was by far the most interesting.
We were headed out for dinner, when the lively hotel saloon caught our attention. We grabbed the last table and sat to absorb some local color. The first thing that reminded us that we weren't in a Texas bar was seeing tennis on the TV, rather than football. That works for me!
The Tennis Fan
Don and I were amused by the man in the cap and sweater sitting at the bar watching the match. Each time Nadal won a point, he clapped and cheered, then swiveled his chair as if hoping to catch the eye of fellow tennis fans. Before long I had to inquire about his interest in the sport and I learned that G.G. did more than watch the sport, he had played on a team while in the Navy and continued to play during his years as a commercial pilot.
Tennis During the War
G.G. spent the next 45 minutes chatting with us. As far as I could tell he was only sipping a glass of water and his 82 year old brain seemed clear and quick. He had a grin that was a little Robert Redford and a bit Bill Clinton and almost as many stories as Bob and Bill might have. He talked about leaving college and his plans to become a doctor to enlist in the Navy during the Korean War. He was looking for the easiest way to get through his service, but ended up in a flight program in Pensacola, which was only made more challenging when he got on the Navy's tennis team. G.G.'s storytelling could have sounded like bragging, but it was sort of charming the way he described the surprises he encountered in his journey through the service.
For a brief while we got off on a tangent about Laguna Beach, California. G.G. had lived there while in the service in the '50's. Don and I had lived there in the early '80's. We compared memories for a while.... his of being young and single and our memories of being newlyweds...in such an idyllic setting. Then at one point G.G. became nostalgic going back to a memory of being in the service stationed in Greece. He told a story about a mission involving the rescue of some very skilled divers who were the equivalent of Navy Seals. There was a great deal of secrecy about the mission, due to the fact they needed a helicopter and could not get proper permission. The story was long and detailed, and I wouldn't begin to try to retell it. But it was touching to see how G.G.'s recollection of this dangerous mission, brought out so many emotions. At one moment he was laughing and shaking his head at the craziness...then in the next moment there were tears in his eyes. G.G. laughed with surprise that he was getting emotional as he talked about his buddy, who had been at his side during the whole ordeal. The story ended happily, with the divers in decompression chambers at a hospital.
Before we parted, I had to ask one more question about his work as a pilot for 25 years with Pan Am. "Wasn't that a pretty glamorous time to be a pilot in the 1960's?" I laughed. I could picture the stewardesses
in their little hats and high heels flirting with him. "Oh no. It actually got
pretty boring. But I did go to some amazing places around the world and I always had my tennis gear and made sure I had someone lined up to play tennis when I got there."
Thanks, G.G.! You apologized for talking too much, but we never got bored. You shared about a world that I have no connection to at all. You reminded me about the bonds that are made when people face challenges with teamwork...like you and your buddy. It's not surprising that I thought about you two days later...on Veteran's Day.
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers