Thursday, November 3, 2011

Life Stories

We had our furnace serviced last week.  Frank the guy who did the work left home when he was 16, actually his parents kicked him out, he spent the next two years couch surfing to make it through high school.  His folks own an appliance repair store down in Southern Oregon so everyone assumes that's how Frank learned the trade but he only worked for them for a few years in his 20s. See he got tired of working for them when he realized that everyone else was getting paid more for less hours and every time he would bring it up they would dangle the carrot of work hard, some day this will all be yours over his head when all he really wanted was to have some extra money in the bank right then for his wife and kids.  Getting married at 18 and having kids at 19 wasn't the smartest financial thing he ever did, but his daughters were the joy of his world.  Now that they are grown up he dotes on his grand-kids as well as his 12 year old step son.  Now there was some sort of scandal there where people assume the boy is his, due to his blue eyes, but as Frank is only 5'6" on a good day and the boy is already almost 6' tall it's obvious that it's his Daddy's genes in there....I could go on and on, I have a lot more of Frank's story I could share. How do I know all of this you wonder?  Well, it's my mother's fault.

I've mentioned that my mother stopped cooking when I was around 12 and didn't start again until it was basically just her and Dad she was cooking for.  With everyone working or going to school and living in the South Valley while working in the Heights it was just easier in her mind to eat out.  And for the most part cheaper as well.  What this meant is that instead of the meal rotation that happened in other families, Monday is spaghetti, Tuesday is meatloaf...we had Monday is Furr's, Tuesday is Cornucopia and so on.  Dinners would consist of me, my folks, what ever other members of the family were around and the waitstaff.  Yep, we would catch up on what they were doing, fill them in on what we were doing and did this every week.  For a teenager it was so embarrassing.  Other people's families didn't make friends with the waitress when they went to dinner why did we have to?  And this would be repeated at grocery stores, at the mall, in line at the post office.  No matter where we were by the time we left Dad and especially Mom would have heard the life story of whoever happened to be closest to us. It would drive me crazy.

Fast forward a few years.  Brent and I are checking out at the grocery store and the cashier is telling me about how she was really tired because she was working that day after staying up with a cranky baby the night before and she still had a class she needed to study for.  We get out to the car and Brent tells me, "You are just like your mother."  Excuse me?  Not exactly the words most women ever want to hear.  He goes on to tell me everyone just talks to me and tells me their life's story.  I said that I didn't ask them to!  They all just started talking. He said, "yeah, just like your mother."  So then I thought back...and he was right.  My parents were very nice people (my mother still is), very quick with a smile, very open and very polite.  So when someone answered the question "How are you?" honestly, with how they actually were, my folks would listen.  And because they would listen people would talk more.  And then because they had shared all of this information about themselves they ended up feeling a connection to my folks and so the next time they saw them they greeted them like they were friends instead of just someone they saw one time.

And so it got to be sort of joke between Brent and I.  He would nudge me every time someone would start in on their life story and I would just have to smile and take it.  He was right, I was just like my mother.  It would have been rude to not listen, and really most of the time it was pretty interesting.  And I always figured  that the extra 5 minutes out of my day were no big deal to me, but just having someone to talk to might be a  big deal to them.  I am still not entirely sure why people do this to me but they do.  I have always joked I just have one of those faces.  I look like everyone's best friend from third grade or their best friend's cousin or sister.  I smile easily and I look people in the eye when they talk.  I am my mother's daughter.  And because of this I am the receiver of everyone's life story.

I would like to be able to go back in time and apologize for every time I sighed or rolled my eyes at my mother listening as some stranger told her about their day.  Now I know that she didn't ask for it any more than I did.  But she embraced it and understood how important it was to other people as well. And also how much a little friendliness can mean to someone. When Dad died we all shared stories about him and my sister-in-law (I don't usually call her that, but it makes the story more clear) talked about the first time she met my parents (this is why I don't usually call her my SIL, she has been in the family for as long as I have been and it's weird to me to think of a time she wasn't she has always just been my sister) anyway....She met them as they were the greeters for Sunday services the first time my sister-in-law came to Ridgecrest.  Ann said she remembered thinking that she was really going to like going to church there if everyone was a friendly as they were, having no idea that in a few years those people were going to be her in-laws.

Ann had to have met our parents for the first time over 40 years ago.  And obviously has a lot of history between then and now and she still remembered that moment.  It makes me wonder how many other people remember the small kindness from my parents of just listening to them.  And how many people would say the same about me.  So yes, I know a lot about Frank the Furnace guy and I hope that sharing all of his story made his day a better one than it would have been if I had shut him down when started to talk, or worse yet if I had been the sort of person that made him feel as though he couldn't.

And on a purely selfish note, and a totally random coincidence I have been working on a short story in my head and I had just decided to name the main character Frank.  I have a predicament he is in but I was having a hard time fleshing out his back story.  Now I have one.  You never know what good things come by just taking the time to sit and listen to someone.  Thanks, Frank the Furnace Guy you are going to be a big help to Facebook Frank.  And thank you, Mom and Dad, seems I was listening as well.

1 comment:

  1. Many points to ponder...

    a) we ARE our parents in so many ways, yet, fight that via denial every day - why is that? I've often wondered if it's just anthropological or a modern phenomenon as we disassociate from the true village to the electronic village.

    b) The idea that parents of old (and many still today) met each other prior to the acceptance of their children's union makes total sense to me now that i'm a Dad of girls who most likely will soon be looking at the parents of the men they are dating, it is "easy" for me to see who the son will be someday...scary :)

    c) FTFG probably appreciates your listening skills - most people do, but just don't acknowledge that's usually taken for granted that people are listening when they really aren't...good for you, another person who was satisfied that their experiences have meaning to others.

    d) Sometimes our Spousal Units are...r..rr...riigh...right...ack! ha

    keep writing, it's fun to read now/then