Okawville, Illinois 1984
Whenever my husband and I recall this odd hotel, we remember the 50-mile bike ride that took us there. We remember the eerie mineral spa, that looked like a set for a horror film. And we remember the middle aged man with a somewhat pained expression on his face.
Before meeting our mystery man that evening, Don and I absorbed some of the history (and creepiness) of the hotel which was rebuilt in 1893 after a fire. After checking into our no-frills room we had a number of options in the spa. I turned down the steam cabinet that reminded me of an I Love Lucy episode. Instead I chose to spend some time soaking in a tub filled with warm mineral water. An attendant gave me a robe and delivered me to a dim and dusty room where I sat in an old claw footed tub. I did more chuckling than relaxing as I sat in that tub. There was something a little too Twilight Zone-ish about the whole experience. I wasn't sure I should close my eyes and relax.
An Encounter at Dinner
It was at dinner that we met our stranger. As I recall, our restaurant table was in sort of an indoor garden not far from a heated pool. As we sipped our drinks waiting to order, we absorbed our somewhat quirky surroundings...historic mineral springs spa meets 1970's era "Holidome".
Not far from our table a man of about 50 was dining alone. We didn't really notice him until he finished his meal and stood to leave. He paused a moment and drew a deep breath before heading towards our table. He seemed to be looking more at Don than me when he greeted us softly and apologized for interrupting. Maybe my memory exaggerates, but he seemed more shaken than delighted when he spoke to Don. "I couldn't help but notice you." He sort of shook his head in disbelief. "But you look so much like my son."
Most of us have been told we look like someone else, but the conversation is usually light and playful...or a light bulb moment. "Hey, you remind me of..." But this man seemed overwhelmed as he studied Don's face. The man asked a few questions about Don's age and where he was from. We were curious, but asked no questions ourselves, both fearing the son was deceased. Then before leaving the man reached in his pocket and pulled out his wallet. The photo he showed us of his son showed a clear resemblance towards Don. But the man's expression made it certain he thought Don looked exactly like the photo.
When the man was gone, he left us with a lingering mood of sad confusion. Don and I sat and debated all the possibilities. If the son hadn't died then what could have happened between the father and son to make this man so emotional over the reminder of his son?
So Thanks, Dear Worried Dad, Being young 20-somethings we didn't often think about the world from our parents' view. We were reminded that day about relationships between grown kids and parents. We'll never know what happened in the past between you and your son, but it was evident in our brief encounter that you cared for him very much.
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