A couple of months ago, I (along with my trusty side-kick Tini) drove my parents to Hilton Head, South Carolina. Seems that my mother was meeting her three sisters for a sibling’s stay together weekend. My dad, who was not going to be staying with his wife, preferred being nearer to my mother than being further away, was along for the ride.
It really was good to travel with them once again, especially at this stage in our lives. In my youth we put a lot of miles underneath us as a family. A lot of miles. Back then our numerous road trips were adventures across the country. We basically camped all over America in a VW Microbus. My folks were kind of like hippies before there were hippies. They still kind of are.
I am thankful for those so many road trips. Traveling by car was a combination of a lot of reading, observing the countryside, navigating with a map, long talks (day and night) and inevitably reaching a destination. Along the way, the unplanned, the unexpected and the unique experiences of being on the road were plentiful, and mystical…in a way.
Anyways, the drive to Hilton Head is all good. We get mom checked-in with her sisters for the weekend. The rest of the crew is on its own. My dad, the dog and I check into the motel room. The manager goes out of his way to say that the morning breakfast is excellent. He wouldn’t stop. We don’t, as a general rule, pass-up food that’s being offered to us, so the following morning, still a little road weary, we go to the much praised breakfast offering. For the record, it lived-up to the hype, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I mentioned that we have a history of different road experiences. That is what I am here to talk about:
There are maybe 10-12 folks eating in the dining area. I have my back to a wall and a very clear view of the whole room. My dad is facing me. Tini is alone guarding our room wishing he had been taken along. Everyone in the breakfast room has that unique look of being in a motel in the early morning with other people in the same boat. Everyone knows that everyone knows that nobody is home in this room…we’re all travelers of different sorts. All coming from somewhere else, all going somewhere else.
A man and woman, in the latter half of their sixties, are at the next table. I notice that the woman is having increasing trouble getting the food to her mouth and seems somewhat unaware. The man decides that they should leave, but she does not respond or seem to understand. He goes over and physically helps her to get up from her chair. They take a few staggered steps and the woman latches on to the back of the chair that my dad is sitting in. We ask the man if we can help in any way. He asks us to just keep her with us while he checks out (they’re already packed & loaded) and then he will take her directly to the car. We agree.
We manage to get the woman to sit in a chair, but that doesn’t last long. She’s on her feet and seeming to compulsively clean the table with a paper napkin. She does not coherently respond to words. I go to see if the motel has a wheel chair. They do not. When I get back the man and my dad are on each side of the woman pretty much carrying her out of the breakfast room. I step in to relieve my dad on her left side, but she has a super-tight grip on his fingers and will not let go, so he is towed along behind us as we get her to and into the car.
We exchange first names and talk with the man. He thanks us. They are married. The husband says that she is having one of her bad spells. He then did something I found remarkably different under circumstances that weren’t normal to begin with. He says, “Well, you might as well know about our 15 minutes of fame.” From his phone, he pulls up a black white photo that he says is them in what he says is in Time Magazine.
I confess, my initial thought was that his best interest might be spent tending to his wife, not showing dad and I a picture from their youth.
As it turns out, I am pleased, very pleased that he did.
He proceeded to tell us of how he and his wife met. It was at a campus protest in May of 1970 at the University of Maryland. The Kent State Massacre had just happened…the Vietnam War…civil rights…leaders being assassinated – social unrest, turbulent times indeed.
He was reluctantly there on duty having recently felt obligated to join the National Guard. He didn’t want the job, but it beat the alternative, which was the draft and an all expense paid tour of The’Nam.
She was there as a protester. She didn’t want anyone to have to go to Vietnam. She really didn’t.
They somehow met in the midst of the protest, got to know each other, eventually married and have been together ever since.
Now if that isn’t a nice way to meet your future spouse, what is?
He, in what I have come to view as a touching exhibit of love, was showing us a picture of the woman that we had just helped. Young, vibrant, a protester. The woman he knew, but we did not.
He wanted us to see beyond the woman buckled in the seat of their car, but somewhere else entirely. He loved her then, he loves her now. Love over time is wonderful thing.
Dad and I got quite the start to our day.
Back in the room, I fact checked everything that he said. It all fit. I couldn’t locate the picture he showed us however. Months later, digging through Time Magazine’s vault, I did find the same picture he showed us. This is the two of them from the May 18, 1970 issue, along with Time’s caption:
I hope they are well and that she is not having any more bad spells. I am glad we were able to be of some assistance to them. I am the better for our random encounter and having heard their wonderful story.