One of my favorite parts of being a shopkeeper is getting visits from old friends and new ones. I have a cozy sitting area at the front of the store and it seems to serve as a magnet for interesting people. Last week my daughter Abby was still here (and btw the play, The Little Red Riding Hood Show by ACA, was AMAZING!) and some NY friends wandered down to make some videos about the show and stopped by the store. The brothers Guzman, Jay and Joe, are both artists and educators and were fun to see.
Yesterday a very lovely couple came in and settled into the sitting area. CB Evans is 84 and his wife Vicki is 75. When CB walked in, there was something about him that attracted me, and when I later learned his story, I understood why. When he went to Presbyterian College he lived in a college hotel which gave him his enthusiasm for hotels. He later ran a hotel in Florida, a paper mill in Wilson, NC, and an alligator park back in Florida where he wrangled the alligators with a ten-foot metal pole. But since 1960 CB has been involved in a caring way with people and giving back. His particular interests are taking folks on visits to the Holy Land where he has permission to Baptize people in the Jordan River, reading history, supporting Jewish causes, and volunteering in the prisons near New Bern, where they live. He is part of Yokefellow Ministry which sends hundreds of caring volunteers into the prisons. In 2016, CB was chosen Volunteer of the Year in the prison system for the state of NC. He explained that the turning point for him was when he recognized that the men in prison were just like him. He then realized that he loved them all, no matter what mistakes they had made.
I told him that I had worked in the Juvie system teaching English. Then he asked me, “But did you love those boys?” Yes, I did. And that made the work both very hard and very easy. It was easy because I loved the boys and enjoyed making a connection with them, but very hard because I believed that they would never be okay. They would always be in trouble.
His wife Vicki is his wrangler, telling him to slow down, be careful where he walks, and stop drinking so much coffee. She wears bright red lipstick and a Dolly Parton wig and has a warm smile. She told me that God sent CB to her when she was a 60-year-old divorcee. He showed up on afternoon to rekindle a romance they had had in their teens and found her on the floor with a burst aneurism in her brain. He got her to Duke Hospital where she stayed for four months recovering her ability to speak, walk, and function normally. They wouldn’t let her leave until she was able to regain her driver’s license. The day she was released from Duke with her license, she called CB to let him know. He told her he was coming to get her, stopped at “his favorite pawn shop” and bought her a ring, and the rest is history. They have been together for 25 years.
Meeting the Evans made me think about how much I enjoyed their story and how quickly I learned the essence of who they are. When we meet people our words and actions tell them the story of who we are. We are judged on our level of interest in others, our style of dress, and our manners, but I started thinking about what I tell people if they ask me to tell them about myself. How do I decide how to condense into just a short synopsis the essence of who I am. Do I start with my childhood and the chaos of my early life, with my children and how amazing they are, with my life with Ron, and how remarkable he is, or with careers I have had? Do I tell them what I enjoy doing, how I love to cook, read, and garden? Or do I whine about what bugs me?
People we meet walk away with their own story about who we are, extrapolating, condensing, and exaggerating what they have observed, and then they tell that story to others. Perhaps these stories bear no relation to each other, and in that we we have multiple lives. It’s a bit like that parlor game where people whisper a phrase into the ear of the person beside them in a circle. By the time the phrase reaches the end of the line, it has been totally changed.
How do I describe myself at this moment of my life? Just before he left the shop, CB asked me, “So, are you a happy person?” Yes. Yes, I am. And that is the story of who I am that I want to let people know. Stephanie Wilder: a happy woman.