Thursday, August 13, 2009

Brief Encounters

I got to get together with the women of the writing group again, after several months. It wasn't actually a writing group gathering, but rather a gathering of women who like to knit and crochet (not me) but it was held at the senior citizen apartment complex where we usually had our meetings and Joan invited me to go along.

It was a surprise to see the large group there (since there were only 4-5 of us writers when we got together), and then to see the groaning board of snacks. We took over one table in the corner and I was the only one who had anything to read, but I did read the article I've written for the newspaper about our trip, and showed photos from the trip. It was just nice getting together, talking with Peggy (not Australia Peggy!), which is always such fun, and getting the story of an adopted dog from Nancy, who had brought photos to show me.

Shortly before we left, a woman came to sit at our table and started talking. She was, she told me, 80 years old and originally from Norway. It was interesting to talk with her (or, more accurately, listen to her), especially when she registered shock at learning how old I am. She thought I was much, much younger. Naturally, I liked her very much!

I found her fascinating, not so much in what she had to say, but in her blunt observations about life, which seemed stereotypically Nordic to me, even though she has lived in this country for more than fifty years.

She has just recently discovered theatre, she told me when someone mentioned that I am a theatre critic. She never had time for it in her life and didn't think she'd like it because she'd rather live life than watch other people go through stereotypical life situations, but a friend has recently been taking her to plays and she's discovered that it's fun. The discussion about theatre led to her telling me about someone she knew who had been involved with theatre and my sharing that our kids had been involved in theatre and that led to that question I hate so much: "How many children do you have?" I usually answer "we raised five children" and hope that they don't have a follow up question, but she did, asking what our kids are doing now. Somehow I managed to steer the answer in the direction of Jeri's work at Berklee and playing for musicals in the Boston area, so I didn't have to explain about Paul and Dave.

Later in the day, we went to Music Circus to see Man of La Mancha. When we go to Music Circus productions, Walt drops me off before he goes to park the car, I get our tickets and sit and wait for him.

Last night, we were driving another critic and a friend of his and so while I sat and waited for Walt to come, he and I were talking. Suddenly someone grabbed me by the elbow and said "Bev Sykes? I thought I recognized your voice!" Then she reminded me of her name and said how good it was to see me. I didn't have a clue who she was and couldn't figure out how I could not recognize her if she knew me well enough to recognize my voice. We talked briefly and she said she was there with her husband and son and that she would have to try to find me at intermission so she could introduce us. I figured she must be someone from our theatre connections here in Davis, so I said that Walt would be there soon and I'd bring him with me. No reaction whatsoever. So this meant that it was someone I knew, but who didn't have a connection with Walt. That let out local theatre connections.

Who in the world was she? And then it hit me who she must be. A woman I worked with for about a year when I was working for The Typing Company. When we left the ticketing area I saw her and her husband and son by the fountain and decided to check out my theory, because if it was the person I thought it was, she didn't know that our old boss died last year. I went up to talk with her again and casually asked what she was doing now. She told me what she was doing and mentioned that she'd done editing for many years before her current job. Bingo. I had correctly identified her. She left The Typing Company to take an editing job, I remembered.

I told her about Ann's death and we talked about that for a bit, and I told her about what Ann's husband was doing now (theatre in Washington state) and we talked about that.

All the while I was talking to her, I was remembering in the back of my mind the tremendous impact she had on my life, which I know she doesn't have a clue about.

I had only been working for The Typing Company for a very short time when my friend Gilbert died. My departure from The Secretariat had been very traumatic. I left not only my job, but my closest friends in town as well. The Typing Company was a very tiny office and I sat in a back corner with my head down and just typed. I hadn't formed any friendships yet. And then Gilbert died.

I was gone from the job for a week or more, while we took care of the business of burying Gilbert and taking care of his family.

When I returned to my job, I was still in the deepest throes of grief. I sat in my little corner and typed, surreptitiously wiping away tears. I had told the others in the office what had happened, but I didn't have the kind of relationship with them (yet) which would make me feel comfortable sharing anything else.

That first day back, the woman I met last night went out to lunch and when she returned, she dropped a little book on my desk. It was "How to Survive the Loss of a Love," a book for people going through grief, whether from the death of a loved one or the breakup of a relationship or even for something as mundane as the loss of a tooth. She told me that she hated to see me in so much pain and told me she thought this little book would help.

I started reading the book as soon as I got home from work and found I could only get to about the second page before I was sobbing. The book became my guidepost through grief. I marked how far I was along in accepting Gilbert's death by how far into the book I could get before I started crying.

It was one of the nicest things a stranger had ever done for me. I wasn't with her long enough last night to remind her of her kindness and let her know what an impact it had on my life. And her name is common enough that there is no way I could ever find her through an internet search. But meeting her again, even briefly, brought it all back and it was so good to see her again.

It was also a reminder that we go through life for the most part unaware whether anything we do really makes a difference. Even though I didn't recognize her face, I have never forgotten this woman and what an effect her small kindness had on me. And she will probably never know it.


bozoette said...

What a lovely thing she did for you!

Joan Callaway said...

Thanks for sharing this, Bev. What a kind thing for this virtual stranger to do for you...and how nice you had a chance to meet again and recall it. I'm thinking the writing group will meet at MY HOUSE in the future. Between the Iranian woman who spoke and seemed to understand no English and our Norwegian transplant friend, and the fact no one else had any writing to share, I wasn't able to identify this as our writing group!

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Indigo said...

It just goes to show you that a little thing can mean so much. And I LOVE Man of La Mancha. I've see the play twice, once in a small theater, the other was the real deal production with that famous actor. Anyhow, LOVE IT!

kathi said...


That is such a wonderful story about how much a small kindness can mean to someone, and how long it may be remembered. Really something to think about!