Last week Mim and I returned home from our third vacation of the year. We’re making up for the past 16 years of almost no vacations while we were doing assisted living in our home. This vacation had lessons for us to learn just as our earlier two vacations this year had.
- Our July vacation reminded us us that God is always watching out for us, even in the middle of a remote hay field in South Dakota, far from any cell towers, when we needed to call someone for help.
- Our September vacation taught us that it’s time to pay attention to our bucket lists and begin to do some of the items on the list, like going to a conference to hear one of our favorite writers.
- Our October vacation showed us that there are a lot of kind people in the world, and we need to notice them as well as to be kind to the strangers that cross our path.
Our plans for our October vacation were to take three days to drive to Cape Cod, one of our favorite vacation spots from our past; to spend four days on the Cape; and then to take another three days to drive home. We planned to pace our travel to spend one night in the Finger Lakes Region of New York so that we could have dinner and a nice long visit with Dorothy, an old friend from our Chicago years. We paced our drive home so that we could spend one night near Cleveland and have dinner and conversation with Claudia, a friend from my freshman year in college whom I hadn’t seen in more than fifty years. (We reconnected about ten years ago on Facebook.)
Our purpose for this vacation was to simply relax and have a good time. That we certainly accomplished! We hit the fall colors at their peak. The scenery across Ohio, New York, and Massachusetts was beautiful. Most of our days were sunny and in the 60s – perfect weather for a fall vacation.
But the real theme for this vacation – the kindness of strangers – became apparent the first evening of the trip. We checked into our hotel in Maumee, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo, about 4:30. We settled into our room and went for a walk to get some exercise. We asked the hotel clerk where we could get good, thick, juicy bar burgers for dinner. She recommended the restaurant at the Holiday Inn across the street. We walked there, and enjoyed very juicy cheeseburgers, fries, and a bottle of wine. As we were finishing up, our waitress came over to say that our bill (about $50) had been paid for us by a man sitting at the bar. When we protested to her that there must be some mistake because we don’t know anyone around here, the man came over to our booth to explain.
He was a veteran who said he shouldn’t be alive. But he is, so he’s determined to do nice things for others whenever he can. He said he just wanted us to pay the tip. I said we would gladly do that, but then he changed his mind, pulled out a wad of bills, peeled off two twenties, handed them to the waitress and asked if that was enough. There were tears in her eyes. Then the man sat down in our booth and motioned his two brothers to come over. He’s from New Hampshire and was meeting his brothers from Minnesota. This hotel was a good midway point for them to meet. Their father had passed away this year, and his brothers were bringing him some of their father’s antiques.
It turns out the three brothers had grown up in Deer Creek, a very small town in central Minnesota, near where a very good friend of ours had grown up. We enjoyed visiting with the three of them until their dinners were ready. The one who paid for our dinner said that he likes to do something “to make someone’s day” every day that he can. We assured him that he had made our day, and that we would pass on the kindness to someone else.
What a start to our vacation! The real theme for this vacation had been defined: looking for strangers who were going out of their way to be kind to strangers, and watching for opportunities for us to be kind to the strangers who crossed our path.
The next day we drove to the Finger Lakes Region of New York and had a wonderful evening visiting with our friend Dorothy. She was a nurse who had served in the military in Viet Nam in the 1970s, and then settled in Chicago for several years before returning to her roots in New York. We met her through Nurses Christian Fellowship when we all lived in Chicago.
On Dorothy’s recommendation, we started the next morning at the National Women’s Rights Historical Park in Seneca Falls, only about 20 miles from where we had stayed. This is where we experienced our second “random act of kindness” by a stranger.
We had just finished exploring the first building of the park and were ready to leave when a bus tour of about 25 women (and a few men) started streaming through the door, which blocked our exit. One of the women on the tour introduced herself to us and invited us to join their tour for a special presentation by one of the Park Service Rangers about the history of the women’s movement. The speaker was excellent, and we learned a lot of history, enough to convince us we need to add a longer visit to this park to our bucket list.
The next stop on our trip was Sturbridge, Massachusetts. We had planned to spend most of the next day exploring Old Sturbridge Village, a living museum we had visited about 35 years ago, but we discovered after checking into our hotel that off-season hours had just gone into effect, and the museum would be closed that day. So we had to come up with Plan B.
We decided to drive to Plainfield, Connecticut, the small town where I had been a high school English teacher from 1970 – 1972, my first job out of college. We drove around Plainfield looking for the high school, and eventually found it, but the building I remembered wasn’t there. In its place was a much larger school. As we were walking around the school taking pictures, a school bus driver came over to us and asked if we would like her to take a picture of us in front of one of the most beautiful trees. (Obviously, she was our next kind stranger!)
The second “kind stranger” to approach us that day was a security guard who came out of the school to be sure we were not there to shoot anyone or cause other mayhem. After I assured him that I was a former teacher of the school from almost 50 years ago, he explained why nothing looked familiar – that the site of the old school was now a field for track events, and that the new school had been built on the land behind it.
We hadn’t even made it to the Cape yet, and already four strangers had impressed us by their kindness.
The pattern of running into kind strangers continued throughout the vacation – from the staff at the timeshare who went out of their way to be helpful, to the other guests at the timeshare who generously shared travel tips.
Our timeshare was right on the ocean. We went for short morning and evening walks on the beach, but we spent the majority of our time exploring Cape Cod National Seashore.
Then every evening we returned to our timeshare to watch the sunset over the ocean.
On Cape Cod there’s so much to see…
Thanks to the kindness of strangers, we knew just where to go to experience all these things at their best.
The theme of the trip continued throughout our drive home. On the ninth evening of the trip we had dinner in a Lebanese restaurant near Cleveland with my college friend Claudia and her husband Ron, whom I had never met before and was therefore a stranger to us. We had a wonderful time visiting and learning more about how we each had spent the last fifty years. And the stranger, Ron, paid for the dinner. Not quite the same situation as the first dinner paid for us by a kind stranger, but definitely a continuation of the theme of this vacation.
The last night of the trip we stayed in Chesterton, Indiana near the Indiana Dunes National Park. The owner of the hotel was the final kind stranger of our trip. After being sure he gave us the best room possible to meet our needs, he gave us detailed directions about what roads to take to get to the Park Welcome Center and where to go once we got there.
Thanks to him we were able to get a good overview of the Park in the very short length of time we had to explore it.
The first night of this vacation set the tone for the whole trip – the kindness of strangers.
As I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness the last couple weeks, I remembered a book I read a few years ago, The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless across America by Mike McIntyre. The book was written by a journalist who hitch-hiked across America without a penny in his pocket. He wanted to see whether or not he would find kindness in strangers who might help him on his journey. The book consists of forty short chapters. Each one tells the story of an encounter with a stranger who showed him kindness in some way. It was a fascinating book.
I wrote a blog post about this book and a couple other books on the theme of kindness in December 2016. Here’s the link.
The best thing that veteran in Maumee, Ohio did for us the first night of our vacation wasn’t paying for our dinner. It was reminding us to be kind to one another, especially to strangers.
But the best part of this vacation was coming home again, as always. Floey was so glad to see us that she crossed her paws and listened to us tell her all about our adventures. She couldn’t take her eyes off us.