Recently, I went on a trip to Kansas to see my daughter graduate from high school. While I was there, she and I made a trip to Colorado Springs to go horseback riding, about a three hour drive from the little town where both she and I were born. Like many small towns scattered throughout our nation, the evolution of change and the demise of small-town life marches forward. Of course, our global economy has much to do with that change, in addition to the advent of modern technology, with ever increasing farm sizes, fewer people, and even fewer businesses. One of those towns is located in far eastern Colorado, near the Kansas border, called Kit Carson, Colorado, named after the famed explorer and frontiersman of the 1800’s.
And so, during this trip to Colorado Springs, we stopped in Kit Carson looking for a restroom. As memory serves, this town once had several places to choose from, but on this trip there was only one, a restaurant called the Kit Carson Trading Post. As we left, I gazed around the area and felt the lonely isolation of this town, nearly devoid of the vibrancy of life it once had. I felt saddened that our nation has come to this, the slow death of small-town life, yet I was grateful the Trading Post still stood. Apparently, the economy hadn’t sucked the life out of her. Business was good.
A few days later, my daughter gave me a ride back to the airport in Denver and we again stopped at this same little restaurant, this time for both a restroom break and to grab a cup of coffee for the last leg on to Denver. That decision for a cup of coffee proved to be a moment of fate.
After we got out of our vehicle, I handed my daughter my wallet and told her to go on in and get us some coffee while I retrieved some eye drops she had asked for out of my suitcase in the trunk of her car. When I stepped inside, my daughter was standing near the cashier’s counter waiting for our coffee. There stood a middle-aged woman. Next to her was a young girl, age 10, with a sweatshirt on that read; “Johnson, Kansas. Where everyone knows your name.” I remarked to the lady that I knew where Johnson was and that I’d just come from Tribune, Kansas where I had attended my daughter’s high school graduation, only 60 miles north of Johnson. I also remarked that I was on my way back to Denver to catch a flight to my home in San Diego the next day. Her eyes lit up! Turns out this lady’s name was Maria Myers and she had also attended a high school graduation for the brother of the little girl next to her on the very day I was attending my daughter’s! But it was the little girl’s sweatshirt that caught my eye. I told Maria that Tribune was much like Johnson, a place where everyone knows one another, hardly anyone locks their doors at night, and everyone feels welcome, even strangers. To top things off, Maria went on to say that the girl with her was her foster child, Faith Myers, and that Faith’s brother was the one whose graduation they had attended in Johnson. Maria and Faith were also on their way back to Denver to catch their flight home to Ohio the next day.
From there, the conversation moved rapidly to small town living. I shared with Maria at some length about growing up in a small town, how I came to San Diego as a wide-eyed 16 year old to finish high school then on to college after my mother had died when I was 13, how I had come back to my home town years later where I lived for two decades working for the bank, farming, raising my children during their early childhood, experiencing some personal tragedies of my own, only to return once again to California in 2010, and was now involved in a nonprofit organization, whose sole purpose is to provide charitable support for widowed parents with surviving dependent children. Meanwhile, my daughter Christy was excitedly telling 10 year old Faith about her plans for life and her desire to go to college. At that point, Maria was so comfortable with us that she even offered me to ride along with them to Denver since they too were headed to the airport. Of course, I politely declined her gracious offer. After all, these were the last few hours my daughter and I could spend alone together. However, we did exchange contact information and I went on to explain that this was the sort of thing I’ve been looking for in life over the past three years; meeting total strangers, exchanging greetings, being kind to one another, being personable. Since I was out of business cards, I wrote my website down for her and invited her to visit the blog since I would be likely writing about our chance encounter. We all smiled and gave each other our goodbyes. But, as they worked their way to a table to sit down for lunch and partake of the delicious food the Trading Post had to offer, “it” happened.
I told my daughter to pay for the coffee so I could retrieve something from my backpack in the car outside. In there was a small gift. A palm-size card in the shape of what looks like a gift-wrapped box, part of my mission whenever something like this “happens.” On that card, I wrote this: “Visit keepkindnessalive.com and PAY IT FORWARD! It was our pleasure to meet you Maria and Faith! Gus and Christy Rowe.”
When I came back in, I gave it to one of the employees there along with a $20 bill with these instructions: “Give this card to the lady back there in the corner sitting with the little girl who has the pink sweatshirt on that says Johnson, Kansas, where everyone knows your name. Tell them Gus and Christy Rowe bought their lunch.” You should have seen the smile on his face!!
45 minutes later, somewhere between Kit Carson, CO. and Limon, CO., on a lonely stretch of road, my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number and almost didn’t pick it up. Something quickly told me to. It was Maria and Faith. Their voices were practically jumping through the phone into our car. Maria was beside herself with joy, thanking us profusely, telling us how amazing that act was, and that they had called Faith’s family in Johnson, KS. saying “You’ll never believe what just happened to us in Kit Carson!”
All I told them was to just Pay it Forward by Keeping Kindness Alive. I ended the call this way, “Margaret Mead was right Maria. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the ONLY thing that ever has!” She practically screamed with delight, “That is SO true!” As I hung up, I was smiling broadly. Christy looked at me and said, “I knew it was her.” So did I. A half hour later, as we drove in silence, I looked over at Christy and said, “That was a moment in Faith’s life she will never forget. More importantly, she’ll make sure no one else does either, for as long as she lives.”
THAT’S the legacy I wish to leave with my children. An impression indelibly embedded in the hearts and souls. Forever.