The Alaskan, the Italian Triathlon, and the Gypsies: Part 2


This story is a continuation of Part 1, found here, but can also be read on its own.

She was a fit woman, and when I slightly apologized for making her go through all of that, and tried to reassure her that while she was concerned about being lost, I both knew the general direction of where we were going but also wasn’t so high and mighty that I was above the ability to actually get lost. She didn’t respond much to my inherent sarcasm, but had a sincere, if distant, look in her eyes that made me think that even though she did look quite healthy, especially now that I could see her without all of the brush and shadow of the denser forest in the way, she was definitely quite old. Still, her eyes were as shining blue as even young Tristan’s, and her hair was thick, absolute white, and straight and short like a woman who’s realized that too much hair is a hassle that age decides against.

Then, she began to tell me her life’s story.

She lived in the area, near Hills Creek State Park in Pennsylvania’s Wilds, as they’re known, but she didn’t exactly make her way into the forest very often.

“We came to find acorns, my grandson needs acorns for school,” she told me. There were no acorns around, not here nor on our entire hike, and I hadn’t seen any in the entire park. “Of course, I have an acorn tree in my front yard, but I thought this would be more fun.”

And later, she told me of how lived near Lake Huron, in Michigan, and about her husband. “I used to come here with boy I met in 7th grade, who is now my husband, and he loved to build things. When we lived in Michigan I always loved to watch the ice boats, and wanted one so badly. So my husband decided to build one for me. And there were no plans or anything at the time, he designed it himself.” An ice boat, for those of you not in the know, rides on top of the ice, kind of like a sail-driven toboggan, but much more aerodynamic and complicated to build, you can be sure.

“My son lives in Alaska, and we go up to see them when we can. They live deep in Alaska, though, so we need to take an airplane and land on a nearby lake, then hike up through their mountains.” She was obviously not concerned about the little stroll I’d been so worried about her following us on earlier, though I’m still fairly certain she was concerned about getting lost, just not the simple terrain I’d assumed she would prefer not to handle.

“And when I was younger I worked in a general store in Schenectady and we’d see all types of travelers come through there, migrant farmers, gypsies. The families would come in and they’d buy a loaf of bread and a hunk of salami and they’d line all of the children up and give them each a sandwich, just like that. And that was there lunch or dinner or whatever.

“The gypsy girls would come in and always ask me, Do you have any jewelry? Do you have any jewelry we could have?, and so I’d go home and round up anything I could and have my sisters and friends round up there things and we’d give them whatever we could find or spare.”

Her life stories went on and on, as we walked down a dirt road from out of the deeper woods and finally saw site of our campground again. She stopped by the RV as we passed it, and I offered her and her grandson a cup of water, and we talked a few minutes longer.

She told her grandson about what we were doing, traveling the country in the RV, and she seemed very happy to be telling even our story. The entire experience was very lethargic, it can be so rewarding to simply have the opportunity to communicate with a stranger, and here their story, their life as a highlight reel. I would have very much liked to ask her if I could video tape her telling her stories, but I’m too shy and awkward to do such a thing. At least I could write them down, and remember them for myself, and be happy in the thought that she’s the type of woman to share these stories with any stranger she meets, so at least then they’re out there in the world.