Sarah and I make good time getting from Eureka to Fortuna, California. We stop in Loleta, California to take a tour of the Loleta Cheese Factory, you know “real California cheese.” Seeing how the different cheeses are made was interesting, and Sarah was able to talk to the owner about the different places this factory currently donates to and some new ones they might want to investigate. Sarah has such an embracing personality that the owner just couldn’t resist talking to her. I was as amazed at her gift of gab as I was watching milk products being made into all these delectable cheeses. And I truly mean it in the nicest of ways when I say Sarah has a gift of gab. She’s totally at ease talking about her mission work and putting Jesus front and center. What a gift God gave us when Sarah was born.
After purchasing a few different kinds of cheeses based off of the recipes I snagged at the factory, we are back on the road and headed to Fortuna. Sarah and I talk non-stop about what we were going to fix that night. I tell her it would truly be a gift from God if we could find a local farmer’s market so that we could buy some fresh broccoli for our cheese/broccoli soup, mushrooms and green chilies for our baked Havarti chicken, and green onions for our cheesy breads; all recipes from the Loleta Cheese Factory.
As we ride into town, the first thing we notice is a local farmer’s market. Sarah smiles broadly and shouts out a big “Hooha” as we ride our bikes into the midst of all those market stands. I gravitate towards a booth being manned by a nice looking middle-aged man. I’m not sure why I chose his booth, but he had everything we needed for tonight’s meal. Okay, I’ll admit it, he was nice looking, and I wanted to get a closer look.
Trying not to be obvious that I was checking him out, I carefully pick out the produce needed for tonight’s meal. As I’m doing this, Sarah is telling me that she is glad God gave me the gift of cooking. I smile thinking, “Yes indeedy, or we’d be eating gummy bears and Fruit Loops.” The nice man notices that I’m eyeing some of his nicer chilies and tells me that I look like a woman who knows her produce.
He says, “It’s quite a gift to know really good produce from okay produce.”
“Well,” I say, “my parents were good teachers when it came to fresh vegetables, and yours seem to be the best here.”
I go back to my selection, wanting to know more about this man, but several other women show up and take up his time, as they are all asking questions about what was good and what was bad. I notice him looking my way with a smile on his face. I began to realize why he had made his comment to me.
I start thinking about all the gifts that Sarah and I had encountered on this lovely day that God had also gifted us with. His love and grace is much bigger than I ever imagined. I always believed in God, always knew that He was always there for us, and even went so far as to believe that God created everything for a reason, but I never really felt it. It’s one thing to say, “I believe”, but it’s another thing to actually feel it. Today, I was feeling God’s overpowering presence. It was an awesome feeling.
After snooping around the rest of the farmer’s market, Sarah and I head to the River Walk RV Park and get settled into our tent site. The people running the park are so nice and accommodating offering to store our gear for nothing after Sarah mentioned wanting to check out the night life later on. We graciously accept their offer knowing it is another gift God gave us that day.
I busy myself with supper preparations while Sarah takes a walk around the park. She amazes me with the energy she always seems to have. Here I am sitting on my butt at the picnic table chopping vegetables after our day’s ride and thinking “I really needed a nap”, and then there’s Sarah, walking briskly around this park as if we’d only been on a mile ride. Ah, the gift of youth.
Our meal that night is over the top. The cheeses make each dish superb, although I think cooking outdoors adds a certain flavor to the meal. Sarah, who often times picks at her food, scarfs down her plate and goes back for seconds. I finish mine, barely; then proceed to clean up the dishes. I knew, from previous experience, that Sarah would disappear at the sight of dish duty. She didn’t disappoint me, but I didn’t care. It was nice to be connecting with this niece of mine who had always gravitated more to my older sister than she did me.
That evening, we walk over to the Play Room Bar where most of the locals can be found. This is a nice bar with good music. The dance floor is crowded. Sarah and I are a bit unsure about what tables are actually free, but that soon becomes a non-issue. Before we could snag a table, a nice young man comes up to Sarah and asks if she’d like to dance. She looks at me with a wondering expression on her face.
I tell her, “Go on, this is why you wanted to come here.”
She leaves me standing alone by the bar. I quickly begin to feel conspicuous and out of place. My anxieties are increasing as my eyes dart around hoping to find an empty table. I didn’t want to displease Sarah’s fun night by telling her I wanted to leave, so I said a quick prayer to God asking Him to give me a gift of a nice table.
OMG! It happened almost instantaneously. A familiar looking man about 60ish, walks over to me and invites me to sit at his table. My first instinct is to turn and run, but something inside me tells me this was another gift from God. So I graciously accepted his offer and follow him over to his corner table.
As I sit down, I notice he’s wearing a wedding ring. I think, “Great, I’m sitting here in a bar with a married man. His wife is going to kill us both.”
Bart introduces himself to me. I smile politely, but I can’t quit looking at that ring. I nervously shift in my chair and begin to search for Sarah. I just want to run out of the place and go back to the safety of my tent.
Bart notices and says, “I’m not married anymore. My wife died five years ago. This is the first time I’ve been out alone since her death.” He swallows hard, and I can see the pain in his eyes. I knew, then, that I would not be bolting. Instead, I relax and begin to tell him about my life, where I was from, what I was doing, and why I was on this crazy bike ride. The whole time I talk I keep thinking, “Where have I seen this man before?”
He sits there quietly sipping on his beer while I jabber on and on. I find out that Bart owns a small farm right outside town. He asks if I had stopped by the farmer’s market that day. When I tell him I had he says, “Then that’s where I must have seen you and your…” he pauses not knowing what relation Sarah is to me, then he continues, “daughter?”
I smile at him and say, “No, she’s my niece. I’ve never been married, probably never will be, but I have a great family, so that makes up for the loneliness that comes from being a single middle-aged woman. And now I know why you looked so familiar to me. I didn’t quite recognize you without your hat on.”
Bart smiles, but it’s obvious he’s struggling with the loneliness of losing a spouse. I ask him how long he had been married. He and his wife, Kate, had married right out of high school. He proudly says, “We had 37 years of a great marriage. I’ve never felt anger as much as I did the day our Lord took her from me.”
“Am I right to assume you are alone, I mean no kids?”
Bart tells me that he and Kate had four kids, but none of them lived in Fortuna anymore. They had all headed for the bright lights of the city, not wanting to be harnessed with their aging father’s aging farm.
“I’m sorry. It’s not fun feeling like you’ve been abandoned.” I ask Bart if he was still angry with God.
“Nah, I got over that a few years ago when I saw an old mare of mine give birth to her last foal. I didn’t even know she had gotten pregnant until she started showing. The birth damn near killed her, but she came through it and gave me one heck of a stud horse. He’s sired many a horse and save my farm.”
“What a blessing,” I said.
Sarah shows up and asks me if I’d buy her a soda. Bart quickly gets up and motions for the waitress. Sarah sits down and starts blathering on about what nice looking men this town has, and how she could dance until closing.
I am quick to dash her dreams by telling her that we had a long trip the next day and we’d have to get a fairly early start. Before the waitress can bring her drink, another young man comes over asking Sarah to dance. She looks at me with a wanting look. I shake my head in amazement that one new gal in town could draw this much attention from the young local boys.
I wave my hand and say, “Go on, have your fun, but don’t complain tomorrow when you are tired and want to sleep in.”
She takes a quick sip of her soda then hurries off with her latest dance partner. Bart and I watch as everyone on the dance floor breaks out into some fancy line dancing. Bart tells me what a looker Sarah is, how she reminds him of his Kate at that age.
At one point in the evening, I contemplate doing something I never do, am not even comfortable doing. I think about asking Bart if he’d like to dance, but again, God gives me the answer before I can even speak the question.
“Kate loved to dance, but God gifted me with two left feet. I mostly like just watching.”
I smile broadly, knowing that God had gifted me with the company of a man I felt totally comfortable with. I tell Bart that I, too, wasn’t a good dancer. I go on about the time a good friend tried to teach me, stating he was a great dance teacher. Three turns around the dance floor and my friend walked me over to a table and said, “I’m done trying to teach you. You try to lead, you don’t listen, and you can’t dance.”
Bart says, “Gosh, that was kind of harsh. Your feeling must have been hurt.”
“You would think they should have been, but I was so grateful to be off that dance floor and back in my comfort zone.”
Bart and I continue to talk sharing family stories and talking about God in our lives. Bart says, “It amazes me how God always seems to have another door to go through when He’s closes one. My kids have been telling me to get out and start dating again. I told them I’m too old for dating, but you certainly have giving me a fresh outlook on the whole dating scene.”
I go into instant panic mode thinking that Bart was thinking that he and I were becoming an item, but he continues on before I could show my fear. He tells me that after our evening together, he thought he just might be able to start checking out some of the older women in town.
“You know, Betsy, there’s this one woman in town who works at the local feed store. She’s always baking me pies and things like that. I think I’ll pay her a visit soon.”
I smile knowing that Bart had finally broken through the loneliness barrier and was ready to move one with his life.
By 11:00 p.m. I was ready to leave. Bart was kind enough to find Sarah at a table full of young men totally enamored with her. She was in “stud” heaven, but she didn’t complain when Bart told her that I was ready to head back to the campground.
He gives us a ride there, something I was truly grateful for since the moon wasn’t shining much due to extensive cloud cover. I give Bart a big hug when we get to the park. He thanks me for a great evening. Sarah pops out of the truck and heads to the bathroom, as I start scooting my way to that side of the truck.
Bart grabs my hand, pulls me towards him, and gives me a gentle kiss and says, “It’s a shame you are on this mission from God, but I thank you for spending some of your day with me, and I wish you the best of luck in all your travels.”
I touch Bart on the face, something I never pictured myself doing to any man, and said, “The pleasure has been all mine. I wish you good luck with your lady friend.”
As he pulls away I feel a tug at my heart. I wonder why God had set-up this meeting. Was He trying to tell me something, or was He just saying “Hey, here’s a lost soul who needs a little encouragement.”
Sarah comes back from the bathroom grinning from ear to ear. “Aunt Betsy, Bart seemed to really like you.”
“Yes, and I liked him, but he lives here and you and I are being called away from here to serve the Lord in ways that differ from Bart. He’ll find a good woman here, I’m sure of that.”
Sarah starts asking me all sorts of questions about what Bart and I had talked about and if I ever saw myself being married.
I tell her the easy stuff first, what Bart and I had talked about. Then I ponder her question and think, “Will I ever be married?” What came to me was this; God has given me such a wonder life filled with all sorts of different gifts that waiting and wondering if I’d ever be married would be a waste of time. So I tell Sarah, “If God wants me married, I know it will happen, but for right now I’m going to enjoy all that He’s given to me; you, this bike ride, the company of Bart for an evening, and all the people I’ve met and will be meeting.”
Sarah seems to be satisfied with my answer and says, “You always manage to keep me focused on what’s truly important in life. Thanks Aunt Betsy.”
We go to bed and sleep right through what ended up being a pretty big rain storm; another gift from God.
And in my real world, I often ponder how I’ve touched upon people and didn’t even know it. I had a roommate years ago who told me the day before she moved away, that I’d never know what a difference I had made in her life. I asked her what it was I did and all she said was, “Just know that you changed my life for the better.” To this day, I truly don’t know what it was that I did that made her feel that way, but it brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it for I know that God must have been working through me. It sends a chill through me to know that He trusted me enough with my roommate’s life to make a positive impact.
I hope we all recognize the gifts God gives us each day and that if those gifts were given for us to use and help others, may we have the fortitude to do so. God bless you all, especially those people who may be feeling a bit lonely. Know that you are loved even if it’s from afar. And as always, let’s keep going the distance