Monday, August 25, 2014
This is a plain and simple case of someone being at the right place at the right time.
Shortly after I married Mrs. Pic in '91 we went to midnight mass together. My wife has a Lutheran background, I'm a dogtag Catholic. We went to midnight mass because she wanted to go to the beautiful church in the neighborhood we were living in.
Father Gallagher gave a wonderful uplifting sermon that we both talk about to this day.
After mass we were discussing the sermon over hot buttered rums and I grinned and told my wife that a woman named Maggie had left me feeling like Father Gallagher made her feel. I told her the story.
She said that if I had the chance I ought to look her up and tell her that what she had done for me.
Maggie and I went to school grades 1-4 and were reunited in grades 7 and graduated high school together. By the time we had graduated we probably hadn't spoken a dozen words to each other.
We were in different worlds.
Although she was a very pretty girl, she was basically part of the woodwork. I'm certain she felt the same about me.
We graduated in June, 1969 and went our separate ways.
Seven and a half years later I was recently divorced and freshly discharged from the army and living in a tipi in the Rockies. I was attending school a couple of days a week on my GI bill, studying by a gasoline lantern nights.
My transition from military service to the student had been fairly painless. My divorce had torn me up. I was in the hurt locker.
Living in the tipi was a return to trying to live a childhood dream.
When we separated I simply returned to chasing dreams that had been set aside. The marriage was more important, of course. It had meant setting my dreams aside and I was glad to. When the marriage split the return to chasing my dreams had simply been pretty much Pavlovian.
I was home for the holidays having gotten a ride straight through from Colorado.
I had met a few of my peers and they had seemed to think I was mad for doing what I was doing. Graduation had been 7 years earlier and some had embarked on jobs and careers, others had finished college and were beginning careers.
They seemed to think that I was mad for planning on weathering it out in the Rockies in a tipi. Coupled with the fact that my failed marriage had torn me up I really didn't feel very good about myself.
It was a bad time.
I never dared tell anyone about then future plans of hitch-hiking to Alaska.
I was due to return to Colorado inside two or three days and ran into Maggie at a family pizza place in the next town over.
I recognized her first. She was sitting at the next table.
We had a brief chat, a few minutes and I explained my plans of wintering in the Rockies and a few other things I was doing. She commented that I had changed since high school. She asked a question or two about the tipi and when I explained the mechanics of tipi living she replied, "Sounds interesting. Good luck." The four words were given with a warm smile.
The conversation was probably more than we had ever said to each other in the 12 years we had known each other in school. Those four kind words and the smile stuck with me.
While I was opening camp a few days later I remembered them and they stayed with me through the rest of my 'formative years' of adventuring in Alaska and in my career.
Four words and a smile.
I suppose that four words and a smile are not very much but in this particular case it was a case of timing. I don't know why but they left me with a sense of worth at a time of self-loathing. It changed my life for the better. Four brief words and a smile.
I would remember that time and again when life gave me a kick in the gut and left me depressed. I would remember that brief conversation and it would lift me from the gloom and give me a new sense of self worth.
I'd think about them and quietly whisper a prayer that she was doing well and happy.
During the winter of '85 she showed up again but got a name change. She became 'that pretty Irish girl' after I survived a brutal storm at sea.
We got the living shit kicked out of us. The storm turned the skies blacker than Satan's riding boots and the wind blew the entire seven bells of shit for two long days.
A couple of days later when the seas had abated to the 16 to 20 foot range we were eating breakfast together. The copper taste of fear was slowly working its way out of our mouths.
I had just finished a mountain of potatoes, onions, codfish and bacon and poured a cup of thick boat coffee. I grabbed a bottle of cognac and added about an inch to my coffee because I was going back to bed.
The fine aroma of the heated cognac added to the galley odors of coffee, bacon and fresh cigarette smoke. The final vestiges of fear were leaving our bodies. We were experiencing the cruel wild joy of being alive.
The Italian deckhand looked at me and grinned.
"I'll bet you last night you wished you had listened to your mother, gone to college, married a pretty Irish girl and gotten a job selling insurance!"
I chuckled and told him to go piss up a rope and we laughed. I told him I knew a pretty little Irish girl but I was sure I wasn't her type. I thought of Maggie for a minute, remembered her four words and smile and quietly wished her well and put the memory aside again for a long time.
In '86 I met my wife and five years and one day later in '91 I married her. She likes to tell people we met on the 6th and married on the 7th...five years later.
I mentioned Maggie to her one Christmas after midnight mass long after we were married and she told me I ought to look her up and thank her. I put it in the back of my mind.
The thought reappeared in '09 when I got word of high school reunion 40. I was on some kind of open forum or something and found out she was probably coming. However, work intervened and I never made it.
In August '14 I attended my 45th reunion and got to meet Maggie but only had a few words with her before I got grabbed by someone else. A few minutes later the band started and she left liike a lot of other people did.
I never did get a chance to tell her what she did when she smiled at me 37 years ago.
After the reunion someone gave me her address and I wrote her a letter telling her I wanted to meet her for a minute or two over coffee. I hope she answers.
What is interesting is that she very well may not even remember meeting me at the pizza place and if she did it's likely that she didn't even remember the conversation. It was such a small thing when you think about it.
What's funny is she may not have even meant it and was just being polite. Who knows?
Four words and a smile so many years ago from a pretty Irish girl have stayed with me all of these years and seen me through the tough times of my 'formative years'.
When I came back home that time I met almost a dozen of my former classmates and she was the only one that didn't treat me like there was something wrong with me for following my dreams.
Over the years I have learned it's always the small things you remember. I still wish that woman well.
I hope she answers my letter and I can thank her face to face someday.