Saturday, February 7, 2015

Getting To Know You

                                                Getting To Know You
            When I moved from Montana to the Seattle area in 1984, not my first relocation by any means, I knew it would take a while to develop friendships. Two years later, coffee outings with a couple of women eventually led to trips to Seattle for the Symphony or Elliott Bay Books with Lynn and to picnics or family dinners with Karen, who also had children. A couple more years and I had many friends; men, women, couples and singles.

            Friendships take time to develop. I sorted through a few acquaintances before I had friends with whom, over steaming mugs of coffee, we could bare our souls. The former are great people and the latter are rare and precious. I treasure both.

            By the time I moved to Harlem in ’06, the community in which I’d grown up, I knew what to expect: sure enough, in a couple years I began to form real friendships. Volunteering in my community speeded up the process arithmetically. I simply met more people.

            So I knew that when I came to Mazatlan a year ago, time and solitude would be my first friends. And it is so. I arrived physically and emotionally exhausted and needed rest more than activity.  This past year has been an extended retreat, a gift of incomparable value.

            I rented a small apartment in a building with seven units and a luncheria, each unit a different size and configuration. Four of us share a tiled courtyard in back with covered areas, fruit trees, and a variety of plants, exotic and domestic.

            Since I don’t play golf, cook most of my own meals, and don’t hang out in drinking establishments, the first people I got to know were three other apartment dwellers, snowbirds. The remaining three are friendly but speak very little English. We greet one another, smile and wave and converse with sign language.

Ted, our resident gardener and part-time courtyard caretaker, hails from Edmonton, Alberta. He owns a sand and gravel business back in the north-country. Frank, a retired electrical inspector in nuclear energy plants, or something of that nature, lives in Ione, north of Spokane. I once shared poems at a reading at Ione. Frank was not present.

More recently, I met Don and Dorothy, snowbirds from St. Paul, who live up the street half a block. Don graciously came over an uncluttered my computer. Dorothy brought me a huge bar of Sweet Obsession dark chocolate as a thank you for using my printer.

And, of course, I have several Mexican acquaintance-friends year round. Our interactions are limited by language, but we make ourselves understood, most of the time. I’ve not yet become part of the year-round English speaking ex-pat community. That may happen in time. For now, I am content.

What I find different in my life in Mazatlan, is my role with my new acquaintances. I am the listener, the repository of their stories.

Ted and I fuss over the courtyard garden, his tomatoes and peppers and my garlic and ginger. Then we sit and watch the hummingbirds while he tells me stories of his winter job as a trapper.

Then Frank knocks on the front door. His hair-raising childhood family stories have given me a whole new understanding of and respect for the man.

Both Dan and Dorothy, a couple who seem like two peas out of the same pod, have spent hours telling me about parents, siblings, work, how they met, about friends I’ll never meet. The funny thing is, I feel I know them quite well. They don’t know anything about me.  

Only in retrospect do I recognize my listener role. I didn’t arrange it or make any conscious decision. It just happened. I’m used to conversations being interchanges. 

One thing I learned years ago. No matter my initial judgment of a person, when I hear his story, my first impression flies out the window.

My door is open. I don’t know many people. But when one knocks, I make a pot of coffee. I sit. I listen. It is enough.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 22, 2015

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