He had been walking a little wobbly (like so many of us do down here in Arizona), but his face lit up and with that same Scandinavian accent he said, "Oh me tew." He paused to lean on his cane and continued, "I'm from Ely. I was an engineer up there in the mines years ago." "Well," I said, "isn't that something then there?" (I usually don't talk that way but I saw a chance to be friendly, you know).
We went on about the weather and the snow and the towns we lived close to and our retirement and how we were looking forward to spring. I walked away refreshed (probably even reborn) and glad I had crossed over. Since being down here on vacation I had begun to feel out of touch with people. There were friends from back home I was seeing once or twice a week and there were times during TV commercials my wife and I would talk, but I was hungry for the ongoing conversations that were part of my every day at the store back in Vergas. And this year I didn't have Gordie Dahlgren to talk to on the phone every day like other years. I had lost myself in catching up on my reading and was taking daily walks, but I was missing the interaction with friends that had been my lifelong lifestyle. For a few minutes Axel from Ely filled the void.
I guess that loneliness is not just a part of vacation and being away from the old hometown. I'm becoming painfully aware that it is also a part of growing old-of losing the old friends that had been so much a part of one's active life. My usual routine over the years was engaging my customers across the counter, sitting down with a main street friend at the Loon's Nest for coffee, and calling up one of the couples Olive and I were close to a couple evenings a week for a get together. I'm learning that all changes with age as the friends pass on.
In thinking about this my mind goes back to how much the need to make contact was evident in the earlier years when a trip to town was probably a once a week experience for many. Ed Neske was a good example. When his old Chevrolet would pull up and park diagonally out front of the store you could bet a beer it would stay there a few hours. It was his routine to make the rounds of the several business places on the one block main street a couple times each, talking and talking at every stop. From our hardware store he might ramble across the street and pick up some groceries from Ann Hinze. Then he'd probably head up the street and pop in to spread some words of wisdom at Herman Hoffman's harness shop before stopping at the Vergas bank to deposit his cream check. Then across the street to Donny Peterson's grocery for something else and explain how the crops were doing. I'd wait for him to come back to our store to pick up a quarter's worth of fence staples he'd forgotten when he picked up the flashlight batteries earlier. All this time his wife, Ella, could be sitting out front with the window rolled down enjoying endless conversation with some neighbor she'd not be seeing again until the next trip to town. I have come to believe we all have some of "Ed Neske" inside us. There's a need to share what's on your mind.
I'll bet a bartender or a barber finds this out. The bragging at the bar and the politicking at the barbershop give opportunity for opposing views, as do the repeated stories at the restaurant round table. Also there are stories I save to tell every night when I come home from work. I value the visits I have with close friends who come in to the shop to exchange the most recent news.
Aside from the private exchanges between a husband and wife and aside from having someone to talk to during the day across the counter, over a coffee or on a barstool I also see a need with each of us to have a true "confidant". Someone you dare go deeper with in your thinking. Someone you feel free to talk to knowing it will be confidential. Someone you can be more personal with than a partner or priest or preacher. Someone who has had life experiences similar to your own-not necessarily shameful or criminal or embarrassing. Someone who doesn't mind hearing that unspoken part of your past as they tell you about theirs.
My feeling that there is a need for a "confidant" in everyone's life brings me to a conversation I had many years back with an especially close friend from another town. This friend was a main street guy like myself of common livelihood and modest means. But a professional from that same main street had showed up at his door one night and asked if he could come in and talk. They were not social soul mates, did not belong to the same clubs, did not have occasion to talk to each other often. They did, however, belong to the same church, were about the same age and both had an overseas military history. The guy that came knocking evidently had a need to confide in someone he thought would understand. His professional life was demanding, stressful and fulfilling but at the end of the day there was something lacking. He had no one to talk to. His wife had become an alcoholic. He could not share with his colleagues. That late night visit developed into repeated and rewarding exchanges that sometimes lasted until after midnight. There were no big secrets uncovered, no skeletons in the closet, no crying on the shoulder. Just talk with a kindred soul who was willing to listen.
I believe listening is the key part of any "confidant" relationship. I also believe it's a necessary part of our everyday conversations. And a listener was undoubtedly what Ed Neske was looking for on his weekly trip to town.
I feel fortunate that I have been given a life when I can meet and talk with people daily. And fortunate that when I'm away from friendly faces and familiar places I can still cross the street and ask a stranger, "And where are you from, then?"
About Rodney . . .
Rodney Hanson has lived in Vergas since he was age 8. His dad, Hank Hanson, ran the Hardware Hank Store from which Hanson's Plumbing and Heating evolved. Rodney is now officially retired from Hanson's but goes to work every day. Two sons, Robin and Jeff, and daughter Jolyn Priem now run the business. Rodney and his wife Olive (Antonsen), who live on Rose Lake, also have another grown son, Marty, who has a home-based plumbing and heating business.