You may not think so now, but there was a time in my life I wasn’t all that fond of people. I was the first born of three boys, so maybe it was because I was used to being alone in my formative 2’s and 3’s.
Or it may be that my primary nature (I found out later) is one of an introvert. I can (and did) find great joy in building model cars, rocket kits, railroad layouts, tinker toy ski-lifts and erector set bridges by myself.
Perhaps my lack of fondness for people was simply that I was so focused on all my “stuff,” like young boys can be, that I didn’t know that much about many people.
But somewhere, as time passed, I began to be fascinated by people.
It happened some time between my busboy years at Marie Callender’s Restaurant and Saloon (“People can be dirty and rude and I’ll never work with people again”) and my work as a stewardship and donor development director for the Church of the Brethren (“People are fascinating”).
I began to love sitting at a donor’s dining table and listening to them talk about their history and what the church had meant to them and how they could give back in some way.
I even began asking complete strangers on the airplane (I flew a lot!) if they were traveling somewhere for work or for fun. That led to some great conversations about making wire, Sotheby’s, the geo-political nature of the regime change in Turkistan (OK, not that one), volleyball, state politics, aircraft maintenance, various religions and many other topics.
Today, as executive director of Garden Terrace low-income senior apartments, I work in a building that has well over 150 unique and interesting stories to be discovered. And the question I can usually cue up one of those stories with is this: “How long have you lived in the Wenatchee area?”
It can be like magic. The answers can be anything from: “I grew up in the house that was on the property where Garden Terrace was built” or, “I moved here from the coast to be closer to my kids, but my ex-husband was stationed for years at the Bremerton submarine base,” and off we go!
I hope I can bring you some of those stories in future issues of Senior Moments.
Sometimes residents are happy to share their stories with me, but would rather the whole world didn’t hear about it. Sometimes the stories are tragic and traumatic — think escape from the Nazis, a la “The Sound of Music” era. Sometimes the stories are inspirational and triumphant — think homeless, move into GT, heart attack, recover, meet someone special who gets a job in Oregon and both move away! Yes, it happened.
I’d like to challenge you to ask someone you don’t know, or know well, a couple of easy questions this week and then … listen. You could be in for the time of your life!
Kenneth E. Neher is executive director of the Garden Terrace senior living community, for whom he writes “Senior Moments.” These columns periodically appear in The Wenatchee World.