Talking To People/Being Like Dad
So we go to the lake for a picnic back in maybe August of 1979 , and we're all around a picnic table, by all appearances a nice Beachy-Amish family, and then after we eat the bologna sandwiches and we're visiting over the Kool-Aid, pretty soon, there goes Dad, wandering off like he wants a better view of the lake, but we know what he's up to. Yes, there he goes, sidling over to that other table which is full of large, noisy people plus a few beer cans and cuss words, and pretty soon he is TALKING TO THEM.
"You folks live around here?"
People at the feed store, people who came to buy Mom's butchered chickens, people with hay for sale, Dad talked with all of them. Where were they from? Were they Swedes or Norwegians? Did they farm?
He still does this. Last year when Mom was in the nursing home in Paynesville for rehab I took him to visit her and then we stopped at A&W. While I waited on our order, sure enough, there was Dad, sidling up to a big burly bearded guy at a table. "Are you a farmer?"
The guy chomped on his PapaBurger and nodded, obviously amused.
"Dairy? Hogs?" said Dad.
He swallowed. "Hogs."
Here is the horrible truth: I am becoming just like Dad.
I just have this intense curiosity about people. I mean sometimes it is so burning that I just HAVE to talk to them. Where are they from? What brought them here? What do they do for a living? What is UP with them?
So I ask.
The last time I was in Minnesota, my brother Marcus and SIL Anna took me to the Holiday Inn in St. Cloud where I was to catch the shuttle to the airport. The shuttle was late, so I waited a while in the lobby. While I was there, a woman and three teenagers also came into the lobby. The woman was about my age and had obviously been crying. A lot.
She hugged her two boys and cried and told them to be good and to do well in school. She talked briefly with all the kids, and I heard the word "divorce." Then they all sat there and looked miserable.
I had to talk to her. I just had to. Not just out of burning curiosity, which was definitely present, but mostly because my heart went out to her and I wanted her to know someone in the universe cared about her.
My former self and my current husband were in the back of my mind saying, "THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS."
I sidled over to the garbage can, Dad-style, and dropped in my coffee cup. Then I turned to the woman. "Excuse me," I said, "Are you going through a hard time?"
She sniffed. Yes, she was. Her husband was getting a divorce and the family was breaking up, with the daughter staying with her and the two boys going to Phoenix with Dad.
"May I pray for you?" I said. She nodded.
I put my arm across her shoulders and prayed for comfort and healing, for a clear path to follow, for mercy and restoration.
She cried, which I used to think meant I was saying the wrong things, but from personal experience I now know it meant I was saying the right things.
Then we got on the shuttle, her two boys and I, and she and the daughter left in their car.
The older son was the one I quoted in my last column who told me the Cold War was fought in Minnesota.
At the airport, everyone seemed to think I was a Catholic nun. The shuttle driver addressed me as "Sister," a woman in a wheelchair waved me over and talked a while, then said goodbye with a happy, "God bless you," and everyone treated me with great deference.
Later I realized that maybe Mrs. Weeping At Holiday Inn was so receptive to my praying for her because she too thought I was a nun.
Unfortunately, not every place is as Catholic as Minnesota, which means I can't get by with as much if people think I'm just a nosy, intrusive Mennonite lady.
I am sure I'll only get worse as the years go on with the dangerous combination of more curiosity and less fear, so I'll probably embarrass my family out of their minds.
And then one happy day in the not so distant future my children will catch themselves burning with curiosity, sidling up to someone, and saying, "You live around here?"
Somehow that thought makes me smile.