I suppose I have heroes. I can quick think of: Jesus, Mary Poppins, Yoda, Wonder Woman, Winston Churchill, veterans, Bill, Olive. But I knew Bill and Olive personally. I connected with Olive through church and I connected with Bill through fruits and vegetables.
While living in Washington state, I managed a farmer’s market.
One dry, hot morning, a man limped over to me, wearing a broad grin that matched his magnified happy eyes behind glasses. His limp didn’t cause me to think he was elderly, although he was, because he was strong and upright. It was the limp of…what’s the word?
“Hi, I’m Bill,” he told me before asking. “I live on Garfield Street and have a big garden with extra fruits and vegetables. Can I become a vendor?”
“Are you the person with the grape rows covered in nets?” I asked.
“Yes,” he marveled.
“We live on Garfield Street too, and I always notice gardens,” I explained.
Ca-clang, clink. We were securely attached. It was as if we’d known each other forever.
I told Bill he could sell his fruits and vegetables at our stand, where my husband sold sweet cherries. In no time, Bill showed proficiency. We could rely on him to run the stand. “Can we pay you?” we asked.
“I don’t want your money,” he told us. “I want something to do. I retired a few years back and I need work, I need to think and count or I’ll get stupid.”
Bill had energy not only to sell at the market twice weekly, but also drive up Garfield Street to help us on our orchard.
When our girls entered school, Bill’s house was the drop off for their bicycles before walking over a dirt path to the school. He made sure the tires were filled properly and the chains were oiled. Bill was my peace of mind, as I knew he was watching the children like a caring wise hawk.
Like Olive, Bill lived into his nineties and died before the turn of this century. They talked about life “outside” the 1918 flu epidemic, the great depression, World War II, the Asian wars, no electricity to homes, births, deaths, fads, family dysfunctions, financial losses, financial gains.
To clarify, neither Olive nor Bill was stoic. By no means. Olive and Bill expressed feelings, not as if they owned those feelings, but as if those feelings come and go. They could be serious or humorous.
Olive and Bill treated life from the position that all human events are neither unprecedented nor uncertain. Neither precedented nor certain.
Olive and Bill caused me to ponder transcendent feelings and events.
“I learned to weld and build fighter planes during World War II,” Olive told me once with the same humble, matter of fact tone that talked about going to the grocery store.
“When I had a wife and two kids, we sold everything, bought a trailer and truck, and drove around the country to find jobs. One job was teaching myself how to lay cement and build a tarmac,” said Bill with the same aplomb that sold fruits and vegetables as if it was a rich adventure.