A Lifetime of Stories One Seat Over
— by Bill High
You never know who you’ll end up sitting next to when you fly. But whether you think about it or not, your neighbor on the plane has a story—a lifetime of stories that has just intersected with your own.
Even though I was one of the first to board, I sighed as I caught sight of my seat—a middle one between two very large men.
I scrunched as best as I could and even as the plane accelerated to the first announcement the man on my right sunk into a deep sleep—upright at least. But the man to my left sat upright and made my plight easier.
His gaze out the window was consistent, even unfriendly. His weather-stained face and fully thinned gray hair suggested someone with lots of hours in the sun. He crossed his arms, and one trembled steadily. Parkinson’s, I guessed. I leaned towards him and asked simply, “Where are you heading?”
“Home,” he said.
“Where’s home?” And soon, while not a rolling, easy conversation, the story slowly came out. He and his wife spent the winter in McAllen, Texas. They’d been going there for years to get out of the cold Iowa winters. He let it slip that this was likely their last winter in McAllen.
They’d farmed for all his adult life. He and his wife had been married 67 years. They’d wed when he’d just turned 20, and she was 22. Together, they had three kids, and those kids had managed four of their own. One son had stayed to farm. The other two had left to make their life in cities of their own choosing.
A grandson had taken up the farming bug too. He’d gotten hold of his first quarter section. He was the likely succession plan for the family farm. He told me in no uncertain terms, “It was a tough way to make a living.”
I asked him about his best days as a farmer, and he told me of an impromptu trip. He’d bought a new 1967 Ford pick-up truck with a camper for $2700 (not $27,000—he laughed about that), and they’d taken the kids out of school. They drove to Florida and did the Disney World thing. They camped out and did the whole trip for $500. He chuckled as he said, “It’d be hard to do that today.”
But the good days seemed to be in the rearview mirror. They’d put the mobile home in McAllen up for sale, and they were going home to Iowa “to die.” He was too old and unsteady to drive a tractor, and his wife had just had surgery on an ankle.
THE WEALTH OF A LIFETIME OF STORIES
I realized there was a lifetime of stories sitting to my left, and I’d only heard an hour’s worth on a plane ride. I hoped he’d tell his kids and grandkids his stories, especially the one about Disney World and the $2700 Ford pick-up. Those were good days, and they were part of his story.
What are the stories you want the next generations to know?
Share the fun stories along with the lessons learned and mistakes made. Tell about your triumphs and struggles, and of the experiences that shaped your values.
Your stories are treasure to pass on to the next generations.