OPINION | Lisa Baker Gibbs: Chance encounter needed for connection and empathy at the right time

Town busy in other ways

"Anything to do around here at this hour?" an older man asked Trapper John and me as we took a late evening stroll across the courthouse lawn. He was neatly dressed, with a collared shirt, polished shoes, and nary a hair of his deeply-dyed coiffure out of place. He smiled, but I sensed a sadness behind the facade.

"Not really," Trapper replied. "The streets roll up around 5 o'clock this time of year."

"In a couple of weeks, the square and Pickin' Park will be filled with music until about 10pm, but the only thing happening down here tonight is dinner at the Rainbow," I said, pointing toward the tiny diner. "I'm partial to the catfish myself."

He nodded. "They don't take credit cards there, if I recall. Only cash or check, right? That's alright, I've got cash, I just seemed to remember that about the place. Been awhile since I've been there. You know, when I was in the petroleum industry..."

As he talked, I noticed him turning something shiny around the end of his finger. With one turn too many, it fell to the ground. Before I could take a step in his direction, he was on his knees, swiping the grass and clutching the found object tightly. He made apologies, dusted off his trousers and slid the item onto his pinky finger.

It was a woman's wedding ring.

Our eyes met. I smiled. He smiled, and his eyes filled with tears.

"I was coming home tonight from seeing my wife in the nursing home. I took care of her for 6 years at home. I just," he choked. "I couldn't do it anymore. I go every day. She has Alzheimer's. They told me tonight she doesn't have long. I'm 84 years old, and we've been married 64 of 'em. I got in the car and drove a bit, then came to a crossroads. One way, I could drive a half-hour home; the other way, I could come to Mountain View. I wasn't ready to go home just yet. It was good to meet you folks. You have a good night."

We wished him well as we parted ways. When we reached our home another block away, I looked at Trapper.

"Want some dinner?" I asked.

If we hadn't walked the square precisely when we did that evening, we'd have missed our encounter with this gentleman. We'd have missed learning of his and his bride's stories, of their many trips to Branson, how she loved the shops and he loved the shows. We'd have missed seeing photos of their wedding day, of them in the prime of mid-life, and of him feeding her lunch this week in her hospital bed.

"We married on March 13th," he said proudly.

I laid down my fork.

"That's my birthday," I said.

We settled the tab, and he left a huge tip for the waitress, who we later learned needed the money desperately.

Turns out, there is a lot to do around here at this hour.

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