Stories from the Road: There’s Something About Larry…

canstockphoto0438807After a two week road trip around the Great Lakes, I’m making a quiet re-entry into the blogging world – homeward bound in more ways than one.

My family and I take different vacations together. I’m often up at the crack of dawn hitting the hotel fitness room or fumbling about in the dark making coffee or off on a walkabout. They sleep in unscheduled bliss. I love them and I love my mornings alone.

In Mackinaw City, Michigan, I wandered down the street near our hotel on Lake Huron, finding a locally sourced, organic coffee shop (I jest – it was a Starbucks). After ordering a luxurious, high maintenance coffee, I headed down to the pier. The concrete promenade was empty, save for the gulls swooping and diving along the shore and the occasional blare from a boat horn.

The footsteps behind me were soft and unhurried. Quiet morning, isn’t it? he said. My jaw tightened in anticipation of unwanted conversation. Or worse, some other intrusive maneuver that might require a ninja smack down. I needed coffee first.

I turned to see an elderly man wearing a Navy cap with veterans’ pins attached to it. He smiled pleasantly and I exhaled. I have a soft spot for old men, especially when they remind me of my grandpa. More often than not, they have stories and have never lost the art of conversation. We joked about being early birds. He commented that he rarely saw “young people” out at this hour.

His wife died five years back and he had been ‘adopted’ by family friends. They took him on trips and outings. It’d been nearly 30 years since he’d visited Mackinaw City. He was a retired machinist, after 38 years of working for General Motors in Flint, Michigan. Like me, he joined the military right out of high school because he didn’t have a plan. He loved to take things apart and tinker with them, which led to a job and eventual career working for GM.

He pointed to the Mackinac Bridge, remembering aloud when his parents crossed by ferry in the late 1940s, having waited for hours in their vehicle. With awe in his voice, he said “It’s really a wondrous thing.” We had driven it the day before, during high wind warnings and thought it was wondrous we had survived.

He talked about his strange career path and interest in learning more. In his 40s, GM decided to send him to a engine manufacturing plant in Australia for a couple of weeks. “Who would have ever thought that something like that could happen to a guy like me?” He shook his head in wonder.

At the age of 83, he took community college courses and chuckled about what a challenge it was, but he said he wanted to keep learning new things to fend off dementia. It seemed to have been working pretty well so far – he was a little sharper than I at that hour.

By the way, my name is Larry. We shook hands, as I introduced myself. As we strolled along the railed walk, we talked about curiosity and learning and how it makes all the difference in a person’s life. He laughed and said “You know, I look at this old mug in the mirror every morning and I wonder how I became him. I feel the same as I always have.”

I joked about my impending birthday and how every day some new ailment seemed to crop up. I told him how my husband and I were just talking about this very thing – how the road out of this life is made up of moments in between aches and pains. He nodded in agreement. “It’s the moments that count.”

We parted ways with good wishes for the rest of our journeys. At night, I slept through forgettable dreams, waking with a sense of loss. I missed my grandfather all over again. He was a man who understood that life was about the moments and the stories and the chance encounters with fellow travelers.

31 Comments on “Stories from the Road: There’s Something About Larry…

  1. Love love this post! My uncle, who is 86 and recently lost my aunt at the same age, said “I wish we could do it all over again.” They had been together since high school, before he was shipped off to fight in WW II at 17. He is sharp as a tack. I’m 49 and still feel like I did at 21 although my body betrays me now. I always thought “old people” had minds that matched their old bodies. How ridiculous I was to think that! – Mary@gunhandbags.com

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    • As I get older (and I know that is relative), I have become more aware of the distance between how I feel and how I appear. I can only imagine it is that way for most people. You’re always the same person, regardless of what’s happening physically. It really changes one’s perspective and important to remember in our opinions and care of the elderly – or really of anyone who is dealing with physical changes or challenges.

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    • Thanks, Heidi. I thought so much about this – an amazing moment when complete strangers can have a heartfelt, sincere conversation. They do stick with you and it serves as a reminder when we start feeling a little too “us” and “them”. We all have so much more in common than not and most of us are just doing the best we can.

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  2. Michelle,
    This warmed my heart. Larry sounds very much like my Dad, and today I felt like I got to spend a moment with him. Thanks.

    Hope you are feeling well.

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    • Thanks, Elyse. I keep thinking about all the unassuming people who have stories and lives never to be talked about, never to be noticed and yet we have media convulsions over dorky entertainment spectacles. Glad you got to have a moment. It seems to be one that keeps on giving…

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  3. Welcome back Michelle! This meeting was wonderful reading. I know he’s right in saying that he doesn’t know how he became the age he is now. I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit. I know intellectually I’m getting older but feel exactly the same I did 20 years or more ago…As long as we’re healthy, that’s how many of us will feel, surprised about the age on the DL.

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    • Thanks for the welcome – I’m glad to be back! I was really touched by the eloquence of his simple, straightforward statements. It’s good to recognize truths when you hear them and better to be reminded by the living examples around us. His appreciation of his own life was really food for thought for me. I wondered what I’d be thinking or feeling in 40 years. Would I be grateful? Would I recognize my good fortune? Would I continue to relish the moments? So much to ponder!

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  4. What a nice story. Your encounter with Larry sounds like a lucky meeting to me. I love serendipity. Welcome back. I missed your blog.

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  5. Per chance we meet someone who shares our experiences, or connects to us in an unexpected way. Those are moments that make a situation more real. I’m glad you met Larry. And the seagull. Welcome back.

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  6. I love this – I get a similar sort of deja vu when I visit with my 100 year old neighbor – it’s like she channels my Grandma. They would be the same age and they were both from the Ozarks. The stories and the mannerisms – it gets to me, but I enjoy it.

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    • I carried that sense of loss with me most of the trip, especially once we hit Chicago, where my grandfather grew up. But it was more a light melancholy than grief. Sometimes I think autumn brings that on as well.

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  7. This sounds like such a lovely and soothing meeting. Your encounter with this man makes me think of my great uncle who seems to believe he is much younger than the age that his body tells the world.

    Welcome back ☺

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  8. How lovely – the quiet time you spend in the mornings and your welcoming an elderly stranger into your quiet time. Sounds like a fantastic trip. I’ve been in some of those places – a lot of them are quite remote and gorgeous. I especially love the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Calumet is one of my favorite places.

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    • We took a boat over to Mackinac Island and did all the typical tourist-y stuff. It is quite beautiful(and expensive!). Sometimes I get frustrated by places that cater to tourism, because I know the reality is a lot of hardworking, underpaid employees putting up with “us”. But meeting Larry on the pier was lovely and real and is one of the more memorable bits of the trip.

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  9. Great post. It brought back memories for me, too. My dad was in the Coast Guard and stationed at Sault Ste. Marie and Duluth… he told stories of crossing at Mackinac on the ferry….how you would have to wait for hours for your turn. We visited Mackinac Island about 15 years ago. It was nice, stayed in a “vintage” hotel there. A bit commercial, but fun.
    Hope you had a great time. Keep talking to those old folks!

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  10. ” I look at this old mug in the mirror every morning and I wonder how I became him. I feel the same as I always have” I feel the same way sometimes, though my mug is not so old.

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    • That is a wonderful link. It’s a reminder that there a whole lives behind human faces and stories to be told, if only we’d ask and listen.

      By the way, I noticed you added your name to your comment tag – Simone is a lovely name!

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  11. Michelle, so glad you commented on my last post, as I was thinking I had not seen you in awhile, and had missed this one in my Reader feed. What a wonderful piece. I have been having many of these reflective thoughts as of late, pondering the “moments” (and being ever more cognizant of the aging body and its vulnerabilities). Starting to realize why so many health and fitness articles would speak of the “over 40” concerns and I thought, how can that be old? Well, the body does seem to become a little less resilient and expose some flaws this decade! Thank you for this post.

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    • I took the whole month of August off, since my eye issue was reaching critical mass. And I was simply getting burned out.

      The last couple of years, I’ve noticed significant physical changes. It really takes some mental adjustment – almost like stages of grief, recognizing that all the things one could take for granted, no longer can be. It’s good, though, to meet someone like Larry who moves through life with grace and acceptance and appreciation.

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  12. Likewise I have felt the years flutter away one at a time. I wax and wane emotionally and look for that quiet corner to read. The problem is that, is that I could actually live those moments and make life matter.

    I was also a SSgt in the USAF and am now 57 years old. The older I get the more beautiful those numbers are. As a teen 25 and 30 year olds seemed almost intangible. I remember being young once, just 18 and knew I was young but little more than that.

    I appreciate your desire to talk to older people and realize their intrinsic value and their stories. Their’s resembles ours in a time warp and as we age see the mile markers with more clarity and hopefully some wisdom.

    Oh my name is Larry too just a quarter century shy of his own age and station.

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    • Hi, Larry – thanks for reading and commenting. One of the questions I like the least is what I would do with my time, if I knew it were finite (which, of course, it is). We’re human and while “embracing life” sounds great in theory, sometimes I’d like to sit in the corner and read. I would suggest that reading quietly is one of the more delightful pleasures in life and when I meet my demise, I’d be lucky if it were at the end of a satisfying book!

      I love people’s stories, because they never fail to surprise me. We’re all a collection of stories and moments and if we take a minute or two to listen, it makes our world bigger, friendlier and more connected. And the bottom line is that we are all going to be elderly at some point. I hope someone listens to my stories, if I’m lucky enough to get there!

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  13. Pingback: Blah-gging: In Search of the Joy | The Green Study

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