Tag Archive | Plainfield CT

A Vacation Filled with Kind Strangers

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.

  1. 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.

    fullsizeoutput_29cc

  2. 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.

    AhYSNe1WRsOmQ5EMxOMT0w

  3. 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.

fullsizeoutput_2b77

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.

fullsizeoutput_2b78

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.fullsizeoutput_2b82

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.

fullsizeoutput_2b28

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.

fullsizeoutput_2b2f

Then every evening we returned to our timeshare to watch the sunset over the ocean.

fullsizeoutput_2b0a

On Cape Cod there’s so much to see…fLhxL7P+QliXyU283wi4Kw
And watch…iCn4lBMlRu2JyWZBRcnPtA

And hear…fullsizeoutput_2b85

And taste…fullsizeoutput_2af9

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.

fullsizeoutput_2b45The 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.

2118704943

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.

fullsizeoutput_2b86

Back to School – Adventures of a Former English Teacher

That's me as a brand new English teacher in the early 1970s.

That’s me as a brand new English teacher in the early 1970s.

Forty-five years ago I graduated from college as a freshly minted English teacher-to-be.  All I had to do to start teaching was find a job. Back in 1970, teaching jobs were not plentiful, but there were some to be found if you looked hard enough. I decided to look in New England. I guess I wanted a little adventure. Moving back to Wisconsin after graduating from Wheaton College near Chicago wasn’t exciting enough. New England was rich in early American history and literature. That’s where I wanted to go.

I wrote to the state department of education of each of the six New England states, and requested that they send me a list of all the schools in their state that had openings for English teachers. Connecticut was the only state that responded to my letter. They sent me a list of about a dozen schools with openings, along with contact information for the superintendent of each school. I sent letters of application to each of those schools, and arranged for a week of interviews. In my six interviews, I was considered for positions in a couple wealthy suburbs of New York City, a farming community in northwestern Connecticut, an inner-city junior high school in Bridgeport, and a mill town in eastern Connecticut. I was immediately offered a job in the inner-city school, but I turned it down. I was too scared of the environment. A couple weeks after the interviews, I was offered and accepted the position at Plainfield High School – the mill town. They had the dubious distinction of being on the bottom of the list for Connecticut in terms of how much money the school district invested per student. But I was happy. I had a teaching job, and I would have an annual salary of just over $7,000. I felt rich.

Connecticut Tourist Map

Plainfield is on the far eastern border, just north of Voluntown. The closest big city is Providence, Rhode Island, about 30 miles east.

I had a couple weeks to plan my move to Connecticut. My brother Danny and his wife Sandy who was about three months pregnant, and their 3-year-old daughter Cindy agreed to help move me. It would be a little vacation for them, and helpful for me. My dad convinced me to buy a canvas car-top carrier for my little blue Corvair. Mom and Dad let Danny drive their big Pontiac for the trip. This car had a huge trunk. On the morning we left, we packed both cars as full as they could be packed. I brought along most of my belongings: clothes, books, typewriter, clock radio, record player and record albums, a few of my mom’s dishes, and an ice chest filled with chickens that my mom had frozen for me in half-chicken size packages when my dad had butchered that year’s spring chickens. Every empty space in the trunk was filled with fresh vegetables from the garden – lots of melons, tomatoes, and beans. (Not all of the vegetables traveled real well in a hot car for over a thousand miles.)

A big Pontiac - similar to my parents' car. Lots of room in that trunk!

A big Pontiac – similar to my parents’ car. Lots of room in that trunk!

Cindy w ice cream cone - age 3

Cindy – the little traveler

I can’t remember how far we drove the first day, but we managed to keep the cars together despite the traffic. We took turns being the lead car, and it was the responsibility of the lead driver to always keep the other car in the rear-view mirror.

By about noon on the second day we were approaching Hartford. We stopped at a rest stop for Cindy to get back in the car with her parents. She had been riding with me since breakfast, and I think she was getting tired of talking to me.

We decided to drive straight through Hartford to Plainfield with me leading the way – what should have been the last hour or so of our trip. Unfortunately, reading all the expressway signs, figuring out which lane to be in with heavy fast-moving traffic on all sides, and keeping an eye on the rear-view mirror, was too big a challenge for me, and our cars got separated.

Hartford highwaysOnce I got out of the city, I drove very slowly the rest of the way to Norwich, the last city before Plainfield, hoping that Danny, Sandy, and Cindy would catch up to me. They never did. By late afternoon, I went to the police station in Norwich, explained my predicament, and they agreed to notify the state police to be on the lookout for my parents’ light green Pontiac with a Wisconsin license plate. I could even give them the license plate number – the one precaution I had taken before we left Wisconsin was to write down their number, just in case we were ever separated. I drove back and forth between Norwich and Plainfield (about 20 miles) a couple times looking for the car, but with no success. I finally checked into a motel, hoping and praying that we’d find each other in the morning.

Meanwhile, Danny and Sandy drove back to Hartford and checked into a motel there. Danny’s solution for us to get together again was to call our parents to let them know where they were, assuming that I would do the same thing, and that’s how we would find each other. It never occurred to me to call home. That would just make our parents worry. My solution had been to get help from the police. (Danny and I never did think alike. We still don’t, but we like each other anyway.)

playground swingsThe next morning, I drove to Plainfield to the school district office to get suggestions for where to start looking for an apartment. Danny and Sandy had also driven to Plainfield. They drove around the town looking for a playground. Cindy needed to wear off some of a 3-year-old’s energy. They found some swings at the elementary school, which is where the school district office was located.

Fortunately, our paths finally crossed, about 24 hours after being separated.  We shared our stories with each other. Then Danny’s first priority was for me to find a payphone to call the police and tell them to stop looking for him. And my priority was to call Mom so she could stop worrying about us.

payphoneAfter making those calls, we followed up on the apartment suggestions from the school secretary, rented an apartment that afternoon, and unloaded the cars. The next day we went shopping for furnishings – a bed and dresser, a desk and bookcase, a kitchen table and chairs, a couple pots and pans, a mixing bowl and cookie sheets.

Then Danny, Sandy, and Cindy headed back to Wisconsin, and I organized my meager belongings in my brand new apartment. My neighbors came over to introduce themselves and they invited me home with them for dinner.

A couple days later I became an English teacher at Plainfield High School. I quickly became known as one of those two new English teachers who had moved to Connecticut from “out West” – Wisconsin and California. Louise and I helped each other learn how to be teachers while we also learned how to live “out East.”

I guess times have changed a little in the last 45 years. Today, cell phones would have kept Danny and me from having such an adventure. One more reason to be thankful for our ages.

Maybe that’s why one of my favorite gospel songs is “God Will Take Care of You.”

Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide, God will take care of you.

Chorus:
God will take care of you, Thru ev’ry day, O’er all the way;
He will take care of you, God will take care of you.

Thru days of toil when heart doth fail, God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail, God will take care of you.
Chorus

All you may need He will provide, God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied, God will take care of you.
Chorus

No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.
Chorus

Words:  Civilla D. Martin
Music:  W. Stillman Martin

God will take care of you