Friday, July 20, 2012

taken to dinner by strangers

call it a vacation.  I'd intended to write blogposts while I was out in the thick this summer but I ended up doing nothing of the kind.  I had a laptop with a wifi connection available to me so I could have done so.  but I didn't.  and I also had a manuscript I'd worked on through june that I thought I'd do some addition to and some editing.  but I didn't do that either. 

what I did was read.  a lot.  I completed charles bock's beautiful children while out there, and took a sizable chunk out of james patrick kelly's science fiction novel wildlife, and began the memoir pagan time by micah perks.  I also read the sunday new york times for july 7, cover to cover, and the may 10 issue of the new york review of books.  and innumerable websites and blogs.  but no writing.

my trip was pretty uneventful or at least uneventful to most everyone except me.  I visited my dad, which I do each year now at this time, and my sister and friends out near new paltz, new york, where I put in my undergrad time (which were 10 of the best years of my life).  the drive out and back was enjoyable but pretty uneventful too.

except for the final afternoon and evening on the road, which is what I am writing about.  I had made a deal with myself that I wouldn't stop for the afternoon until I'd made indiana--I was driving west along 224 through ohio--and when I came out around fort wayne I checked online for the nearest library that was easily accessible, which turned out to be in auburn, a little town a few miles to the north.  I pulled in there and found the eckhart library, a large, imposing but airy and lightfilled place that I mistook for having once been a church, and settled in for the afternoon.  I read local papers and some magazines and checked into facebook and some of the blogs and newsfeeds I pay attention to and napped a little curled up in a cosy chair (the one just below the window in the above photo).  then I wandered around there looking for the graphic novels because I like reading comic books.

I had just begun to glance at the titles when a voice behind me said, "can I ask what interests you about these?"  the voice turned out to belong to the director of the library, janelle, a woman just a little older than me, who had worked hard to get the library board to okay the addition of graphic novels to their holdings (and most of the books were actually housed in the young adult library, which is a separate building down the street--eckhart library has 3 buildings, the other being a genealogy center), and was always interested in adults who were interested in graphic novels.  when she found that I'd incorporated graphic novels into some of my classes--creative writing and british and world literatures--she wanted to hear all about it. 

we ended up sitting there chatting for about 45 minutes.  several times janelle apologized for having kept me from reading but I assured her I'd rather talk than read.  finally, she returned to her office and I chose a novel--joe the barbarian by grant morrison--to read.  I'd gotten about half through when she came out again, saying, "I've just talked with my husband and we'd like to take you to dinner tonight."

I almost said "thanks, but no" but then remembered that this sort of thing used to happen to me a lot when I lived in my car--people just up and being nice to me, and while people are still usually nice to me, I've missed the way they were nice when there's no need for them to be--and so I said, "I'd like that, yes, thank you."  we drove separately downtown to a brewery called mad anthony's where we met janelle's husband, steve, a man who works with asphalt by day and studies st. paul by night, and their daughter, melissa, who is a senior at calvin college in michigan with an intent to write the great american technical manual.  it was a wonderful evening:  we talked and drank and ate and laughed.  they asked me, as a seminarian, to say grace and I did (comfortably).  they are members of a disciples of christ congregation and knew of the unitarian universatlists, knew more than most people do.  steve had been raised a conservative mennonite--his dad had grown up, he said, a mixture of mennonite and buggy amish--and he had attended a liberal quaker college in his youth.  he'd considered seminary and ministry but said all that was behind him.  I said it shouldn't be, that there were many people like me at sem, older people for whom ministry is a 2nd, 3rd, even 4th career after many years living in the world (and that, as a congregant, I preferred someone older to someone younger).  janelle made reference several times to god bringing people together for a reason and if this was the case then I like to think god did it so I could steer steve back for another go. 

after about 3 hours I took my leave and drove off into the evening sky.  it was about 8 and I called my wife to tell her I would be heading home that night, having had the experience I'd like to close the trip on.  she said, "that's the beer talking."  but I made it home by 9 the next morning.

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