Today I sat down on the commuter rail across from someone who seemed like they’d be talkative but was really just into reading their book. So I decided to respect their privacy and move on. At the next train stop I scoped out my next (victim) new friend. It happened to be an old man who was reading a Boston Metro with the headline of, “Boston Tear Party” due to the Red Sox closing out the season in a blaze of NOT glory. He was a tough shell to crack, largely because he was an old man who was hard of hearing and it was also early in the a.m., not a time that people are particuarly approachable. I practically had to yell to him so I’m sure the other a.m. commuters were not amused.
I asked him if he watched the game, usually a quick win with strangers in Boston, but he said no. After a few moments of me pretending to read my book I asked him if he was from around here. He told me he lived in the same town that I work in. Not sure what he was doing travelling home at 7am in the morning but oh well, I’m sure he had a good reason so I didn’t bother to ask. I told him where I worked and it turns out that he worked at the same company 35 years ago as a pulp and paper engineer (he retired then too, crazy to think that he’s been retired for 10 years longer than I’ve been alive). Then due to us having worked for the same company (i.e. common ground) the conversation became easy and natural. Thus he launched into his life story…
He started by going to school at Syracuse University for free because he decided to study pulp and paper engineering. Then years later, his/our employer sent him to the University of Maine to get a masters degree in pulp and paper engineering, also for free. I was familiar with the program because it’s heavily endorsed by the state despite the fact that it’s a dying industry with mills closing all over the state, leaving behind nothing but ghost towns and poor people. It was there that he started looking for property. He had found a good lot in Unity, ME with 100 acres of land for next to nothing. However, he didn’t put his money down in time and some family from California bought it without ever even visiting the place. Then he looked around the coast figuring that ocean-front would be a good alternative to having 100 acres (in the middle of nowhere Unity). So he finally rested in a great little coastal town where he still owns a house.
He then met his wife, a 35 year old widow with two kids who lost her husband when he was 33. She had gotten a job at the University of Maine as a researcher after his death to try and pay the bills. He had met her there while he was in his masters program but it wasn’t until he came back a few years later that things really took off. They ended up marrying and having three more kids, five in total. He said his wife was the best wife he could ever imagine and that she passed away a few years ago. It seemed very much that he was simply biding his time until he would too pass away.
At this point he mentioned that his 90th birthday was on Saturday, October 1st (aka, born 10-1-1921!!!). He said he had family far and wide who were coming to celebrate with him on Saturday. For whatever reason his extended family has settled in each of the four corners of the U.S.; northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest. He told me that his biggest concern about his old age and eventual death was that his kids would misuse and fight over his oceanfront property in Maine. It was a nice property and worth some pretty good money these days. He could see them fighting over who got to use it on the weekends/vacations or whether or not to sell it and make a boat-load of money. He said that he didn’t worry about his kids because they were pretty congenial but he was worried the most about his grandkids and how they would behave with each other.
I was able to keep the Maine conversation going for quite a while because I was able to add in comments due to my being raised there. I have family all over the state and his family had come to rest there. Despite the fact that everyone in Maine is somehow related or best friends with somebody’s brother, neither of us recognized the other’s family name, oh well we tried. The world is small just the same. What are the chances that I’d meet an engineer who worked for my employer (albiet 35 years ago) and also lived in Maine for much of his life, all on the commuter rail train at 7am. The train got to our stop, we shook hands, I wished him a happy birthday, he said it was nice talking, and we went our separate ways. A very happy 90th birthday goes out to Mr Small World, nice hustle.