My Mom shares a story sometimes of the first day our family lived in Essex Center after moving from Jericho. She laughs as she tells others how the 8-year-old me went for a walk. When I came home and she questioned where I went, I told her that I visited every neighbor’s house and knocked on their door to introduce myself and to get to know them.
No; shyness is not an issue for me. I especially enjoy talking to strangers and listening to them tell their stories.
Last month Carl, my partner, and I went on a vacation to Virginia. Along the way, the RV began having mechanical problems. After we passed Scranton, PA (30,000 lbs of bananas), things got worse. The RV acted like it was starving for fuel.
We ended up pulling over in a truck stop because the problem had escalated to the point that we could only go 35 miles per hour uphill on the interstate. We saw a sign that said, “Next Exit ¾ Mile.” Considering all options, we decided to go for it. We got off at the exit, which had a gas station/store a stone’s throw away. We pulled into a Mennonite Nursery gravel parking area across from the Cebco Village Mart in Chambersburg, PA.
Carl began troubleshooting, and I walked over to the store (quite similar to a Mobil station here in Vermont). I was pleasantly greeted by a husband and wife team, Chip and Cathy, and their friend Jerry.
I asked them all a mess of questions, from where we could park to where we could get parts. All three of them were extremely patient and went out of their way to help us.
Cathy gave us permission to park right where we were across the street and Chip and Jerry provided us with the parts store information. I walked back to Carl and shared all the info. He proceeded to call the recommended parts store and talked to Abram. Abram lived close by, so he said he’d bring the part to us when his shift was done at 6:00 p.m.
Coincidently, Abram’s brother showed up at the auto parts store, Advance Auto, so Abram had him bring us the part so that we’d have it earlier. Unfortunately, Carl ended up needing another part, but Abram helped on that one and delivered it to us after his shift. Now this part of the story, involving Advance Auto, will come into play in later stories as well. Both young men were extremely polite and accommodating. It was very refreshing to deal with such promising teenagers.
While Carl was working on the RV, I went back to the store and talked with Cathy. We discussed differences between the food there and Vermont. Of course one huge difference is the maple syrup. She strongly informed me that their syrup isn’t anything like ours; I laughed knowingly agreeing.
I then ordered a cheeseburger and fries. While waiting for the food I talked with her husband and Jerry. The conversation was fantastic, honest, open, positive and inspiring. I have to say this is a recurring theme through our entire vacation. I felt like Carl and I were in an episode of Twilight Zone where everyone was so nice that it was too good to be true…I kept waiting for all of them to turn into zombies and eat us.
When a customer came in and took Chip away from the conversation, Jerry and I talked among ourselves for quite a bit. Admittedly, he was bit unique looking as his facial bone structure was different from the norm, and at times it was difficult understanding what he was saying.
We hit it off from the start and found we had very similar ethics and approaches to life. We discussed the youth of today and how many of them don’t seem to have either the parental or personal motivation to get into the working field. I commented how my some of my siblings and I lied about our age in order to get a job. Back then you could get away with that. Some of us started working at McDonalds at age 15 even though the legal age was 16. Heck, my older brothers would get up at 4:00 am and hitchhike to work or ride a bike the 4 miles (in the dark) to prep the facility for breakfast, right down to cleaning the toilets.
We also discussed our commonality in appreciating the small things in life, positive attitudes, and being thankful for what we have instead of being angry at what we don’t. It was then that I shared some of my challenges, and he responded with sharing some of his.
Jerry explained that he was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome (TCS). According to NORD, TCS is a rare genetic disorder characterized by distinctive abnormalities of the head and face. Craniofacial abnormalities tend to involve underdevelopment of the zygomatic complex, cheekbones, jaws, palate and oral cavity (mouth).”
Jerry shared that he was born without ears and with structural issues in his face. He lifted his hat and hair and showed me: no ears. I never would have known.
When I asked him how he can hear and talk, he explained the surgery he had. Doctors implanted a microphone in one ear and a receiver in the other ear. He also has (very expensive) fake ears that he can glue on and take off when he wants. But he said, “I don’t wear them. Not only is the glue horrible, but I just figure God made me this way, why would I want to change?” He also told me, “God gave me what I needed to do the things that I need to do. I have two eyes, two arms and hands and two legs. I am not defined by my disability. People need to put things behind and move forward.” He is so freaking cool!
We talked until my food was ready and Chip called me to the counter. I put my credit card in the reader to pay. It showed $5.35 on the amount, and I said, “Is that all it is?” He said, “You are all set.” I thanked him (thinking he gave me a discount) and left my card in the reader. Still nothing happened. He repeated, “You are all set.” So, I looked back at the reader to see if I had to press something, and still nothing happened. Cathy pipped up, “He’s telling you that you are all set. It’s all taken care of. Have a good night and we hope you sleep well. Oh, and I added some fried corn for you in case you like it or have never had it.”
Dang, I was just overwhelmed with appreciation! I asked them if they were huggers. They all adamantly said, “No.” But Jerry did reach out to shake my hand, and Chip gave me a fist bump.
This was only the first day of our trip! I have so many more stories of random acts of kindness and beauty to share; it’s hard to only share one piece at a time.
Before submitting this column to The Islander, I reached out to these new friends to talk about what I was writing and ensure that they were comfortable with it. At the same time, I asked if they had anything they would like to share.
Jerry told me that is very proud of himself and doesn’t see himself as handicapped. He shared that two years ago he met his biological mother for the first time! They now have a very special, loving relationship. Jerry said, “She is absolutely beautiful inside and out.”
He is so proud that he said he was honored if a picture of him and his mother were in the column. See, she also has TCS and she has been a fighter from the beginning as well. Jerry told me with pride, “She would never go on disability. She did whatever she could.”
Cathy wrote; “Think positive, thank God every day when you wake up! Spread love, joy and happiness it doesn’t cost anything to be nice! It was a pleasure meeting you and your other half I’m glad you got home safe. I showed everyone your calendar they all got a kick out of it! God Bless and good luck on your article. If you need anything else just ask.”
And, as I am writing this Cathy called me on the phone. We talked more about our meeting and I thanked her again for her kindness. She said, “It’s what I learned from my Grandfather. He died from cancer, but he lived his life to the fullest.”
I have to admit, this hit me hard. My Grampa was and is still an inspiration to me. My Grampa, RIP, lived his life to the fullest. I miss him.
Who would have thought that being stuck overnight at a gas station would be so heartwarming and fun?
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 contacted by a tick bite on Nov. 1, 2008.
She has recently published the “Vermont Pin-Up Girl” calendar in an effort to raise funds for Vermont Lyme, www.vtlyme.org You can purchase the calendar at many local businesses and online by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or view the calendar online on facebook, @Vermont Pinup Girl Calendar.
The Islander will periodically publish “Julie’s World” to share her unique perspective of the world we share.
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