I met Ron at the Bookman’s in Mesa, Arizona, between wedding site tours. I was sitting on a red leather couch near the checkout while my fiancé wandered around the store. I scrolled through Facebook posts and Instagram snapshots, looking for something meaningful. As soon as Ron asked if he could sit beside me, I could immediately sense his desire to talk to someone. That longing emanated from him like heat waves rising up from asphalt in the middle of July in the desert. I dropped my phone into my purse, turned toward him, and prepared to listen.
Ron is 79. His wife passed a few years ago, and he was in Bookman’s trading in a bowling ball he’d had specially made for her, because no one uses it now. Ron was a rather competent bowler back in the day. In fact, one of his first jobs as a teenager was as a pin setter in a local bowling alley. This was before the process was electronic and automated, so Ron set all the pins by hand. When leagues were short a bowler, they often invited him to fill in.
Ron was in the Navy and by virtue of his service, he’s quite the world traveler. Many of his adventures took him to South America, where he recounts temperatures that soared upward of 140 degrees. I teased him, saying that Arizona must be “cool” to him, and Ron agreed, saying he’s pretty immune to any kind of pain bourn from sunburn. One time, in South America, Ron got so sunburnt that he passed out from heat exhaustion in a small pond—in his full whites. (He tells me this story laughing and smiling, by the way.) When his comrades found him, they dragged him back to his bunk to rehydrate. When Ron woke up, the black of his boots had stained his uniform, and he had to get a new one.
Ron’s wife was Native American, and they have a pretty incredible meet cute. The first time they met, Ron’s wife (I didn’t catch her name) pulled out a knife and threw it toward a tree, where it stuck in the bark. Then, she asked him, “Can you do that?” Ron pulled an axe out of a nearby lumber pile, threw it, and the axe found purchase in the tree, too. Clearly, that impressed his future wife, and I like to think that’s how they knew they were finely matched.
Ron has eight siblings, and they were all named after important historical figures or movie stars. Ron was named for Ronald Reagan, one of his sisters for Marilyn Monroe; another, for Janet Leigh. There were others, but man, he went quickly through the list and I couldn’t keep track of the fanfare.
Ron’s favorite state in the U.S. is Washington. Many of his grandchildren live in Arizona. It was his first time in Bookman’s. He had a lovely smile and an even better laugh.
I didn’t want to leave Ron, but as the next wedding venue appointment grew nearer, I had to excuse myself. That’s when we finally introduced ourselves to each other. Before then, names didn’t matter, just the conversation.
When I walked away, I had the uncanny feeling that I’d just shared a conversation with my grandpa, who passed away when I was ten. Like Ron, Grandpa Caviness was also in the Navy. Both shared a kind of joviality and bright smiles. Both were beautiful human beings.
Ron didn’t know it, but my interaction with him made my day. It warmed my heart and brought back so many wonderful memories of my grandpa.
I am so happy Ron asked to sit next to me and shared his stories. It proved there is opportunity for human connection everywhere. There is beauty everywhere.
There are stories everywhere.
If only we take the time to listen.