One of the great things about small communities is that on any given day you’re likely to see the same people out and about. When I was growing up I lived in a small town, and vividly remember the man who wore striped overalls and a straw hat, while riding his blue Schwinn bike all over town. When it was cold outside he had a shirt underneath. When it was hot outside his bare arms kept him cool. He was just as much a part of our community as the local park, or the library, or the Dairy Queen. I never knew his name, but I always smiled when I would see him.
I was thinking about him not long ago – and how when you get to know a community and its residents, you build a sort of expectation around seeing the same people all the time. You may not know their names, but there they are … every day … reminding you that a community is about the people who live in it.
That’s where Nina and Dick come in. Every day on my drive to work I pass a couple who are out walking. Nearly every morning I see them. This time of year (summer) they have on light-weight jackets and stroll along at a pretty good clip … always holding hands. He wears a hat – sitting slightly askew on his head – and looking very much like he belongs in the movies. She has a glow in her cheeks and a smile that you can’t help but fall in love with. In winter they wear gloves and stocking caps – but are still out there walking along, holding hands.
Seeing them every morning makes my day a whole lot brighter.
Every day as I pass them, I wonder who they are. Have they always lived in La Conner? Did they move here from somewhere else? Even though I don’t know them, it is such a comfort to drive down the street and see them out for their morning walk. Several months ago I decided that their last name was Walker. At least that’s what I decided to call them. Because … well, because … every morning when I see them they are out walking. I drive by them and say to myself, “Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Walker.” Sounds sort of silly, but it just seems to fit.
In any event, last week I decided I needed to find out more. I wanted the rest of their story. So this morning instead of driving by, I pulled off the road, got out of my car, and walked up the street to meet them.
I can only imagine what they thought! Here they are, happily walking along when some strange woman walks toward them with a big smile on her face – as if she has known them forever. “Hello!” I say. “You don’t know me, but I write a blog (that’s an article) for the La Conner Chamber of Commerce. I was wondering if you would be willing to visit with me for a few minutes sometime.” They – a bit taken back but gracious none the less – agree to talk to me later in the day.
Our first meeting was … shall we say … a bit strange. None the less, I was excited to find out more about them. They’re Mr. and Mrs. Walker! They make me smile every day!
After work this afternoon I stopped by their house and had a proper visit with them. First and foremost, I learned that their last name is not Walker. It’s Dortsen. They are Nina and Dick Dortsen. And they are just as charming as I thought they would be. I also learned that they have lived in La Conner for 35 years, first for 15 years on their beautiful boat the Nina D, then in their house in town.
When I asked them how far they walk every day Nina knew exactly how far it is. It’s 3 miles, broken into 3 trips. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon (to the library and the post office), then once in the evening. I asked them if one of them had to be the ‘prodder’ for the other to go walking. They both smiled at each other and simply said, “No, it’s just something we do together.” Nina added that they walk because it keeps them going. They have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to keep up with. Walking helps them do that. She also mentioned that in a small town it’s easy to notice the things that change when you walk a lot. I suspect that she and Dick know every rose-bush, and dog-on-a-porch, and new-curtains-in-windows better than anyone else in town.
So here’s what I think. I think the best part of living in a small community like La Conner is people like Nina and Dick. They warm our hearts, they bring a smile to our face every day as we see them out and about, and they remind us that even if we don’t know everyone personally, we know they belong here with the rest of us. They’re part of who we are as a community … and we are better for it.
And that’s exactly how it should be.