By Julie Gagnon Prior
Growing up in Essex Center in the 1970’s and 1980’s was much like living in Grand Isle in 2019. There wasn’t as much farmland as there is in Grand Isle. But there was plenty of it, some of it right behind my house on Towers Road. I spent many hours in those fields, kicking and chasing a soccer ball, flying kites, cross country skiing, walking through to get to the skating pond or frog catching pond (depending on the time of the year). I shared the field with bobolinks, deer, rabbits and other friends.
When I started college in 1986 and moved to Burlington; I felt like I was in a foreign country, not understanding the culture or language. There were so many people that I felt claustrophobic, but at the same time I felt like I was on the outside of them all.
Have you ever noticed the formation of flock of geese when they are migrating? Have you noticed that sometimes there is one goose who isn’t in formation and seems like it’s always trying to catch up and be part of the group? I felt like that goose. I felt like I should be comfortable in the grouping within the big city of Burlington. But my heart and soul wanted to be by myself back in my small town.
One day I was feeling very lonely and lost, and decided to go for a walk. I went downtown and instead of walking on the main touristy streets; I took to the side roads. It was on a quiet, rundown road that I met one of the most generous people of my life. This man, about in his sixties, was pushing a full shopping cart. I said, “hi” to him and his face lit up as he said “hi” back. He asked me if I would like to see what he had in his cart. Of course, I said yes. He was exuberant as a child showing off their new prize marble. As he picked out each item, he shared the story of where he got it and what it meant to him. He truly appreciated and cherished each one of his treasures.
After quite a long time of talking and laughing over his stories, he looked up at me and paused. He then smiled ear to ear, and told me that if I would accept it; he would like to give me a gift. At first, I hesitated, because I didn’t want to take anything from someone who had so little to begin with. But after seeing his smile and the sparkle in his eyes, I said that I would love it. So, he reached down deep into his cart and pulled out something I had never seen before. It was a plastic white ball about the size of a baseball. The plastic was shaped kind of elegantly with simple designs around the globe, all attached to a small white cord with a plug. I had no idea what it was. But he said to take it home, plug it in and see what it does. It was then that he said that he must be going, smiled and walked away, pushing his cart in front of him. When I got back to campus, I immediately plugged it in. It was the most awesome moment when I heard the sweet song of birds coming out through the ball. I was overwhelmed. Here this man had all of his life belongings with him, and he was so unselfish as to share with me. I will never forget that generosity.
When my kids were born, I would plug the gift into the outlet; and they were thrilled to think that we had our very own special bird that lived in the ball. I guess now that they are adults, I should tell them that there really isn’t a bird in the ball….
To this day, I still have that gift, story and lesson in my mind and heart.
Julie Gagnon Prior
Julie Gagnon Prior resides in Grand Isle with her partner Carl and their 5 dogs. Prior has been battling Lyme Disease for several years, which she