By Julie Gagnon Prior
I was born into this world sporting some personality traits that have caused quite a bit of concern for many of my family and friends over the years. Admittedly, my over-the-top lack of inhibition, unbridled trust and childlike curiosity in strangers quite often has many others on edge with worry. I feel bad for putting loved ones through this confusing (to them) stress. Yet, I wouldn’t trade these qualities I was blessed with for anything. These qualities combined with my “simple” mind have allowed for awe inspiring conversations with complete strangers that have left a permanent impact on myself as well as some others.
The “Julie’s World” segment of The Islander has been a fantastic avenue for sharing some of these stories. If you haven’t read the story titled “A Lesson of the Heart” from the 6/25/19 publication: I strongly suggest that you go to https://www.theislandernewspaper.com/juliesworld/a-lesson-of-the-heart and read it before continuing on with this story. You will understand why I am making this request; when you reach the end of this piece.
Just a couple of weeks ago I had another random, feel-good, goose-bump ridden encounter when I stopped at a corner store in Winooski. I grabbed a couple of waters and as I approached the counter, I observed a man leaning on a cane. The cane was highly decorated (in a most unique way) and I walked closer to get a better look. The range of eclectic items weaved amongst each other had me laughing out loud with amazement. When the man noticed me, I exclaimed, “I love your cane!”
Now, very seldom do I travel with a camera (and my flip phone doesn’t take very good pictures), but that morning before heading out; my gut prompted me to throw my camera in my backpack.
When in the store, my camera was out in the van. I asked the man if we could go outside, and if I could grab my camera and take a picture of his cane. When he said yes, I further explained that I sometimes write a piece for a local paper in the Islands. I asked permission to share the picture and some of our conversation. He was happy to oblige and happy to talk a lot as well.
He began by sharing the story of his 4-year-old granddaughter who wanted to decorate his then-bare cane with a piece of ribbon. After that beautiful addition, he continued to add odd and / or meaningful items. He pointed a few of his favorites out to me. Among them are a pair of old, dried up dentures. Yeah, this item definitely falls under the “odd” category. He pointed out some bells that are very reminiscent of ones that might be used on Santa’s reindeer. I noticed a sort of “voodoo doll” but he didn’t bring that one up and I didn’t ask about it. He did point out the pacifier. “The pacifier,” he said, “is for when I meet people who are whiners. I show it to them and ask if they need to use it to settle down”
As we stood by his truck, he also became very excited and said, “Oh I have something else to show you!” With that he reached into the bed of the truck and pulled out a pinwheel. At this point I asked him if I could record him for a bit (instead of photos). He said, “Well yes!” and he began blowing on the pinwheel to make it spin as I recorded.
He then said something, and I have this recorded, that just about made me have to sit down from shock.
Now this is the point that I truly hope that you have read the article from The Islander website that I referred to in the beginning of this peace.
Ok, so while I am recording him on video on my camera, he continues to blow on the pinwheel. But then, like a flipped light switch, he suddenly stopped, looked at me and then blurted out a most random part of his life story. He proceeded, “My friend Birdman, he’s a local boy in Burlington. Been there 30 years. And he inspired me because he’s got this shopping cart with everything, he owns in it.”
With that last comment, he decided it was time to leave, said goodbye, climbed in his truck and left.
It seemed like forever before I could even pick my jaw up off of the top of my boots.
It was 31 years ago, when I was on a very mournful, lonely walk….
That I came across a man who carried all of his belongings in a shopping cart. I never knew the man’s name. But that day he handed me a gift. A gift that I have to this day. A gift that plays the songs of a bird…….
Louis Armstrong said it best, “And I think to myself What a wonderful world.Yes, I think to myself, What a wonderful world”
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