By Julie Gagnon Prior
Ijust arrived back at my folk’s house in Waterbury Center, after a ride to the Cold Hollow Cider Mill with my brother Brad. We stopped in to grab a dozen donuts, and on our way out (and I am sure that this comes as a surprise) I talked to a stranger. An elderly man, cane by his side, was sitting by himself. He appeared happy as a clam as he swung softly on the wooden double bench glider just outside the store’s entrance.
Enamored by the calm, peaceful and happy expression on his face, I said, “It doesn’t get much better than that does it?” As a smile spread across his face he replied, “No, no it doesn’t.”
I opened my bag of donuts and reached it out to him so that he could take one. He said, “Thank you but there are some people inside buying some donuts. I will have one of those.”
I proceeded to ask him where he was from. He responded that he was from Hinesburg but had brought visitors from NY to the cider mill. As I shared with him that Brad and I had lived in Hinesburg, his wife and two NY guests came out from shopping.
We talked a bit more about Vermont and then I said, “Wait a minute please, I have something in my vehicle for you.” Brad stayed with them (actually while holding the store door open for others), and I went to the Jeep and grabbed a couple of calendars.
Before handing them over, I explained the story behind the calendars, their creation and purpose. I exclaimed that if they were taking Vermont famous donuts home, then they should have a Vermont calendar as well. When I first said that it was a “Vermont Pinup Girl Calendar,” the women’s faces immediately dropped. Honestly, I understand their initial reaction – just the mention of a pinup girl can trigger conflicting emotions for a woman. However, I put their concerns quickly to rest when I began showing them the photos. They belly laughed as they turned through the pages. They truly enjoyed the spoof on a pinup girl idea – chuckling at me in dirty work clothes posing with items like roofing shingles and a weedwhacker.
The conversation then escalated and became serious (the purpose of the calendar). Like most everyone, they all knew someone who has been affected by Lyme.
When it was time to leave, I asked if they were huggers. They all replied “Yes,” and hugs were shared across the board. The elderly man I had first spoke with commented on what a great hug I had and asked for another. When hugging him a second time I said, “You know, I never used to hug. Most Vermonters aren’t big huggers.” The woman from New York said, “He was just telling us yesterday that Vermonters don’t hug much!” I responded, “Yeah, when I got sick, I started hugging a lot. Life is too short not to have fun and share some love.” All four of the strangers readily agreed, and our conversation continued as we walked to our cars.
This story is actually relative to another from yesterday that I had thought about sharing. I had to drive to Winooski to pick up a part for my significant other and had some pretty strong emotions and observations on the trip.
One thing I saw was pure, wholesome beauty. I was at a stop light and school had been let out not too long ago. As I sat waiting for the light, I watched a young woman and her daughter walking home. Holding hands, the daughter was a spectacular example of youthful exuberance, confidence and individuality. She had long, light brown hair with natural waves that were exaggerated by the fall wind. Her fashion choice was refreshing, a warm sweater, tights, cute skirt and little boots. Her face displayed the expressions of the day as she shared her story with her mother. I rolled my driver side window down and called out to the mother, “Hi, your daughter is absolutely adorable!” The mother beamed with pride at my comment as the daughter sweetly called out, “Thank you!”
Further down the road, I saw an older gentleman begging for change. Having been outside earlier, I knew that the air was frigid. My heart broke as I read his sign that mentioned that he was a “psychiatric patient.” Knowing how many psychiatric patients aren’t receiving treatment in the modern-day world, I wanted nothing less than to go give this man a hug and take him to where he could have a hot meal. Unfortunately, the conditions were such that I couldn’t help.
I realize, most people would not stop and talk to a man on a bench and offer him a donut, or role down their window to tell a woman her daughter is adorable, or think twice about helping a homeless person. But I have been told more often than not: I am not “most people.” Having been told that, many times it’s a compliment but many times it’s quite the opposite.
Actually, just last weekend someone who has known me for a very long time told me that I have very defunct social skills. They said that I say and do things that I shouldn’t in public, but that I am lucky because most people love me anyways. It was a confusing statement to hear but the gist was that I should be different in public.
Not long after that, another person who has known me for a long time stated, “I can’t believe you are still alive,” implying that strangers can be dangerous.
Honestly, hearing these comments cuts like a knife and causes me to question myself and my personality. Seriously I don’t know why I am the way I am. Maybe I was born this way, or maybe it’s a learned behavior or maybe even a defense mechanism-based behavior.
Either way, it’s hard for me to swallow that such great stories (in my mind) can be met with such disgust and negativity. Should I change? Should I work to be more normal? Am I wrong to be who I am and to act this way?
But after thinking long and hard about things…… I am not going to change.
I do what I do because my gut tells me to.
I have an unbound faith in the good of the people I approach.
I know for a fact that my “quirks” make a lot of people smile.
And, I also know that when I can make people smile or let them know that they aren’t alone…it makes my heart feel good.
And I like it when my heart feels good. How cool is that?
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