This past weekend, my husband and I took our children to a local mall so my son could spend his allowance on a new video game. Our little one asked to ride the helicopters by looking at my husband with her huge blue eyes and saying “Daddy, please”. He was pulling his wallet from his back pocket the moment they saw the ride in the distance.
I told my son to look at the video games while his sister rode the helicopter. I love the authentic smile she gets on her face when she’s doing something she finds amazing.
The gentleman helping my little girl climb into the ride had a smile on his face that matched hers. He was clean and dapper in a collared shirt and slacks, his thinning hair combed to one side. His smile was even more pronounced because you couldn’t help but notice one lone front tooth. He got her settled in, pushed the go button and then positioned himself so he could see her and talk to us.
He struck up the conversation by asking about our day. When we responded with smiles, he knew he had our attention for four minutes of the ride.
“Whooie! Look at her go! You know I’m 83 years old and I’ve been running kiddie machines on and off for more than 60 years,” he said.
He went on to tell us that he worked hard his entire life, sometimes working two or three jobs so he and his wife could raise a family. “I put four kids through collage on kiddie rides. Isn’t that something?!”
He talked about how in his day, the only option in life was hard work. “Some of these kids that work in the mall at Walmart come over to talk to me on their breaks. They complain about the pay and how hard it is to make it. I say to them, ‘It surely is, but what you take home in your pocket is a lot better than nuthin’. That’s what you had before you were lucky enough to get a job.’ I tell them about raising four kids on kiddie rides. Then I tell them I’ve loved every minute of working. Shoot, kids today. They need to understand what hard work is!”
My husband and I were genuinely interested so he kept on talking. Four minutes turned into ten, and my daughter’s head was spinning a bit when he finally stopped the ride. It was the best $1 we’ve ever spent.
The old man re-energized me with his story and his affection for life. It was infectious, and I spent the better part of the afternoon feeling gratitude for my life. I had a particularly long work week and was feeling grumpy and overwhelmed the day we met him. Since we were on our way to Costco, the trip felt like one more chore. His sincerity made me stop and get a fresh perspective on my day.
I’m a firm believer that everyone has a story to tell. Sometimes it’s my story to tell, and other times the Universe ensures wise strangers come into my path so I can listen quietly and interpret their stories. I wonder what I’ll be saying at 83? I hope I radiate, like this man does when he marvels at his life. I hope I get to tell the world with pride that I put two kids through college on hard work and my art.
Note: The above altered photos are used with permission and are the copyright imagery of my dear friend Karen Michel. See more of her incredible work on her blog or collect a piece for sale at her shop.