I've never actually met this family. But we've been communicating this past month...through a stuffed bear.
This is the 2-inch bear that brought us together. He has been the subject of an adventure blog for a half year. I keep him in my camera bag and when I'm inspired, I put him in photos and let "him write" about his adventures in a blog.
Here he is, posing on a fire hydrant in downtown Lake Placid, NY. 15 minutes after the photo was taken, I discovered a hole in my pocket. I had no luck finding him after I retraced my steps, so I left a few "Missing" flyers nearby.
A Mysterious Email
Five days later, I returned to Texas and found an email containing this photo. The email was written by "Little Bear" as he is called in the blog. He wrote, "A nice family found me in the parking lot nearest the fire hydrant. Although my fur is tattered and torn, I am fit enough to go traveling with them..." Then in the days that followed I received numerous photo emails showing L.B. in the midst of adventures, on fishing lures, near ski jumps, on a horse's saddle. It was pretty fun to imagine a family really finding my silly bear and playing along. But was it a family? Or was some person just teasing me with these photos?
The Best Kind of Family
But then an email arrived with a family photo. The tiny bear took his own spot in the photo. There was an email written by the family, not the bear this time. They said they wanted to keep him a few more days for some more adventures and then they would send him safely home. All I could do was grin and reply "Of course!" I asked if I could post their picture in the blog, since they are the heroes of this story. The response was yes, along with a mention that Little Bear had been one of the best parts of their vacation.
And then, this photo arrived.
How could I not be touched by this? Should I tell them to just keep the bear?
In the Mail!
But then, about 20 days after the bear went missing, a bright envelope arrived in the mail. Inside was a decorated box holding L.B. and a new friend. A note written by the daughter, Hannah put a lump in my throat. She had sent along "Rose" to keep L.B. company in case he was lost again. Unbelievable. How is it possible I would lose this tiny toy and it would be found by a family so kind and playful.
After all the wondering, I began to feel like I knew this family. I knew the dad, Ed had to have a good sense of fun, because the photos were sent by his phone. I could tell Hannah was playful and caring, by her letter and hand-decorated box. I knew the mom, Tracy was patient and thoughtful when I saw the little torn paws had been repaired.(L.B. had been run over by a car) And this morning when I received a long email from Tracy, I learned about Blake. This young boy was the one who found the bear and had helped his family create adventures for Bear to be a part of. My favorite adventure was one that involved posing L.B. on a mushroom, cuddling up with a tiny mouse they had just rescued from the cat.
Thank you, Ed, Tracy, Hannah and Blake!
You don't seem like strangers anymore and you won't be forgotten. It's a relief to know families can still have fun together without expensive amusement park tickets or electronic games. I enjoyed picturing your family laughing over dinner about the next adventure you could create for Little Bear. Thanks for sending the little guy back. Hopefully you received a surprise in the mail today!
Kids & Puppets
In November 2005, my family spent a week in Peru. We met many children in the city of Cusco and the nearby mountain villages. It's a little sad that most of the children we met were trying to make money. But the little girls we met selling finger puppets one day, didn't make us sad at all.
So Many Children
These children in their traditional dress were walking down from the top of a mountain village. They weren't selling anything, but they seemed excited (after their serious photo) when I handed out American ball point pens.
Here are some young boys selling mint and a little girl selling some woven art.
I didn't get a photo of the boy who got frustrated when my husband wouldn't buy postcards. "Mister, why you not be my friend.? And there's not picture of the young man who frowned when I said "No thanks." to his postcards. I offered him a pen, but the boy studied it a moment, then whined, "Ay Lady, this pen is good for nothing." I laughed and snatched the pen back. Only then did he admit he actually wanted the pen.
Posing with a Few Teens
We did encounter a few enthusiastic teens here and there... who asked to pose in photos with my son and daughter. Blond hair is exciting in Peru.
The Puppet Girls
But our favorite encounter was with the girls selling puppets. How could we keep on walking when these smiling faces approached us in the Main Plaza, one night in Cusco?
For a moment we were concerned. These children are out late! Where are their parents? But then they made us smile. They made the little animals dance on their fingers. They proudly sang a song in English about the American presidents. Where did they learn such confidence and salesmanship! I've never met children who seemed so in control.
We were charmed by these girls and their little animals. Then my kids, Heidi and Scott tried to remember a silly song they'd learned in Spanish class years ago. They performed their song for the girls and the girls giggled.
It was a win-win situation. They sold us numerous little animals and we had a wonderful memory of these delightful Peruvians.
Everyone walked away smiling.
Thanks, Cuzco Kids!
I realize we may have done the wrong thing buying from you. Some say we shouldn't encourage the practice of using children to promote sales. I'm trying not to think about that issue right now. I'm just trying to picture what you girls might be up to now. You made us laugh 7 years ago, but it makes me sad right now to realize there's slim chance you are heading off to college soon. With your determination and confidence, I can only imagine what you would do with a college education!
Salt Lake City 2011
So I was standing on an icy sidewalk directing lines of film goers, when I first noticed this small bearded man arrive on a bicycle. He disappeared with his bike through the theatre doors, and then returned to the sidewalk carrying a cello case.
So Much to Learn
For one cold week, my daughter and I were first time volunteers at the Sundance Film Festival. We worked a week at a downtown Salt Lake City theatre as Crowd Liaisons. We had to learn about the somewhat confusing system for lining up different groups in front of the theatre. We learned how to deal with VIPS should they arrive on the scene. And we learned a quick bit about Eli. "He comes here every day to play his cello for the lines. They let him keep his cello inside. Sometimes he gets upset about things. Don't try to handle him yourself, just tell the box office."
Smiling and Shivering
Heidi and I spent many hours in front of that theatre smiling and guiding folks. We also spent a lot of time shivering, despite our freebie jackets, gloves and hand warmers.
Nearby, Eli played for the crowds, bundled in his own jacket with knit cap and gloves. A few locals greeted him and called him by name. Some dropped money in his cello case. I never saw Eli get upset or angry about anything. He just came and went throughout the day. He seemed to know when the lines would be longest and his audience would be the largest. He performed, then rode away on his bike.
After days of observing and listening, I approached Eli as he was packing up his cello to leave. I told him I wanted to thank him for sharing his music all week. I couldn't name some of the classical pieces I recognized but they were almost haunting in their beauty. I asked if I could take a photo and he pulled his cello out again. I dropped a 10-dollar bill in his case. He smiled and spoke very softly. "I love you. Take as many as you like."
I think of you every time I see a musician on the street...especially if it's cold. I heard you went to Julliard, but you said you couldn't remember when I asked. I worry a little bit about you, since I'm not sure if you even have a home. But I choose to remember you in this photo, with a playful smile. You have your music. Clearly, that's a lot!
Curious Since Childhood
Ever since I was 6 and saw my first horse drawn buggy in Pennsylvania, I have been intrigued by the Amish and their simple lives. I've seen a few more glimpses of buggies and bonnets over the years, but it has always been from a car window. Last Tuesday afternoon, I got to spend a little time chatting with two Amish children, Mary (squinting in the sun) and her older sister Lydia.
What Caught my Eye
We were driving a 2-lane road in upstate New York, when this colorful clothesline caught my eye. Black, blue and purple clothes blew in the afternoon breeze...along with a handmade wooden swing.
Barns and a Buggy
My eyes quickly darted to the left where I spotted some unpainted barns and a well worn buggy.
Goods For Sale
When I saw the shed with an open window, displaying jam jars and vegetables above a shelf of woven baskets, I knew we might be welcome! The sign said CLOSED, but when we pulled in the drive a father and 4 kids peered through the door, then moved towards the car. The father, wearing suspenders, black pants and reddish beard, smiled broadly as he flipped the sign to read, OPEN.
Lydia and Mary
Lydia and Mary moved into the shed while the father and boys returned to the house. Both girls wore black bonnets and blue dresses, neatly pinned...reminding us of the button-free world of the Amish. Lydia did all the talking. She showed us the cookie baskets made by an Amish friend and the potholders she had hand stitched. She searched for a jar of raspberry jam with the cleanest lid. She seemed surprised to know we had come all the way from Texas, then she wished us a safe trip home after we purchased some jam and crafts.
After taking our purchases to the car, I returned to the window to ask another question. I was pretty sure taking photographs was something the Amish did not allow. But I wondered if it would be okay to take a picture of the clothes on the line. I told Lydia how I loved the colors and how they were blowing in the wind. She laughed softly and said, "It's okay to take pictures. One time someone from a magazine came and took a picture of us." She and Mary both grinned. "We got a kick out of that." We spoke a bit more and she said it was fine to take whatever photos I wanted. I kept my distance and only took a few quick shots. Mary stayed a bit hidden and Lydia busied herself. No grinning at cameras for these two.
The girls were not in a hurry and I had so many questions. But I just asked one about their language. (yes, they spoke Pennsylvania Dutch) I wanted to ask what they most liked to do for fun. And I wondered if they were curious about the world of "The English" as we are called. But I refrained from prying. Instead I shared a quick story with them.
At Mary's Age
I saw my first Amish buggy, when I was about Mary's age. I thought it would be wonderful to have horses instead of cars. When I was about Lydia's age, I begged my parents to remove the electric sockets in my room so I could live like the Amish and use candles and kerosene lamps. My parents didn't go along with that, so I pondered and fretted about how I could find a way to go off and live with an Amish family. At least for a while. That never happened, but I didn't stop dreaming about what that would have been like.
The 2 girls giggled towards each other as if they thought maybe I was making this up. Then they turned to me and it seemed as if both girls lifted their heads a little higher...their eyes seemed to connect with mine longer. Or maybe I'm just wishing that. I do know when I headed to the car, both girls waved openly and smiled as we pulled out of the drive. That perfect picture, I only have in my head.
Thanks Lydia and Mary!
I have always wanted to connect in some way with the Amish and you gave me a sweet and simple memory. If only I lived in nearby Canton, I would come by each week and buy vegetables and chat. We wouldn't be strangers!
The Pawn Shop
I met "Mr. Cry Baby" while browsing in a pawn shop with my mother and sister.
We were on a mission, headed down Highway 90, southwest of Houston.
Hwy 90 in Rosenberg, TX, is rich with dollar stores and pawn shops! My sister and I were determined to help my mother find an old typewriter that would bring her the comfort of writing that she'd enjoyed all her life. It was 2006 and Mom was new to Texas, still missing her home of St. Louis and many of the "things" she had parted with in the move. We took one look at the crying baby on the funny yellow building and pulled into the lot!
Once inside the shop, it was clear that we would not be finding a typewriter.
How About Tools?
We wandered the dusty wooden floor looking through bins of hardware. We amused ourselves trying to identify the rusty tools on the sagging shelves. We shivered as we searched for the perfect treasure in the unheated building which had once been a general store and then a pet shop. And then "Mr. Cry Baby" who had been amusing himself watching us, began to tease a bit.
"What you looking for, anyway?"
Mr. Cry Baby in his oxford cloth shirt and cardigan was happy to strike up a conversation. My only question for him, was about the sign out front. "That's me." He said. "An artist painted that sign using a picture of me when I was a baby." But why? I still didn't understand why the store was named Cry Baby's. "That's because there's so much stuff in here...it can make a grown man cry!"
Cry Baby's partner stepped outside with us, for a little more story telling. Tex told us about his beloved Stetson Cowboy hat, which clearly defined him, "...especially with the ladies and the sheriff." That hat made him dapper with the ladies and gave him clout with the sheriff. He told of a time he'd been drinking and stood outside hanging onto a pole. A sheriff came up and asked him to walk a straight line. He answered the sheriff, "Well, Sir. If I was to do that, I'd have to let go of this here pole and I think I might fall on my butt." He said the sheriff ended up driving him home, so I figured the hat had somehow saved him. But he laughed when he recalled stepping inside and seeing his reflection in the hall mirror. His Stetson had been on backwards all that time...clearly not a dignified look!
Thanks, Mr. Cry Baby & Tex.
I'm not sure I learned a whole lot from our conversation. In fact I'm not sure if any of those stories had much truth. But every time I drive down 90 and spot that yellow building, I think of that chilly January morning and the fun time we had chatting on the porch. Your sign is much more faded and peeling now. I noticed your shop has closed. Hopefully you're both retired and making some grandbabies laugh (not cry) with some of your good stories.
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