My wife and son and I are circling the parking lot. Still no parking places. People around us are getting desperate and parking in ever increasingly creative ways, but I’m sure we’ll find a parking place soon, so we circle again. Besides, I see park rangers circling the parking lot too. I’d prefer not to get a ticket on this trip…
We are at Dierkes Lake in Idaho. One of the readers of People Story Network has invited me to her family picnic. I’ve never met her, I’ve never met her family, but I’m here to eat their food and meet some great people. If I’m completely honest I have to admit it feel a little awkward as I pull into the parking space we finally find and get out of the car to walk into the mass of people that are here for the 4th of July. I’m not even sure what my hosts look like and there are a LOT of people here. But my wife and kid are with me, someone has to be brave, so I smile and tell them it’s an adventure and we walk into the park.
One of the first people we meet is the grandfather of this clan. I think I remember correctly that he and his wife have ten kids, only five are here with their spouses and kids, but it’s a mob. I’m being introduced right and left with no hope of ever keeping all the names and faces straight in my head… but there are lots of smiles, there are cute girls for my boy to talk to, and there’s lawn chairs spread in a circle under the shade of a giant tree.
As I’m introduced to Jerry he’s hustling around trying to get the burgers ready for us. He knew we were coming, but they aren’t quite ready. He pauses for a moment to shake my hand. His clear blue eyes meet mine and he smiles easily as he shakes my hand. I’m sure he’s glad I’m here and I feel welcome. He’s tall and lanky, and the strength of his handshake tells me he’s not a stranger to hard work, although I never did hear what he does for a full-time living…
He asks if I like pineapple on my burger. I liked him plenty already, but that question makes me like him more. There’s something about the way he asked that… yep, I like this guy.
I catch up with him later and we sit under the tree and talk for a long time. He tells me lots of stories, some that broke my heart, and he hears a few of mine. It’s an easy conversation that flows from one topic to the next. It’s good to be in this place.
Right out of high school Jerry joined the Marines. He just wanted to serve his country he said. So off he went for four years to see the world, more of some of it than he’d like, but he did what he said he was going to do and four years later he was back in his home town in the general store buying some bait with a couple of his buddies…
His Mormon bishop was in the store and came up and shook Jerry’s hand. He asked Jerry what he was going to do now, and Jerry said “go fishing”. His bishop told Jerry that he’d like to talk to him about becoming a missionary for the church. Jerry pauses telling the story here, smiles and shakes his head and adds as explanation “I was standing there in my t-shirt with all of my tattoos showing, an earring in my ear, the last thing I looked like was a missionary”.
Jerry was intrigued and pursued this new opportunity. Soon he found himself in Salt Lake City talking to one of the leaders of the church. The leader asked him if he wanted to go on a mission, and Jerry replied “if you’ll have me, I’d like to serve”.
The way Jerry is telling me the story, he’s highlighting all the parts that he thinks are funny, and are amusing to him as he thinks back on his life. The line “if you’ll have me, I’d like to serve” is not one of these things. It’s really just a parenthetical detail that he skips over to get to the next big highlight in his narrative. But it sticks with me. I can feel it sink into my heart and it stays there as he continues…
He served as a missionary for his church in New England for two years, and came home. Once again he finds himself in the general store and a couple of his buddies are telling him about life in the reserves. Jerry is sure he can’t serve, but goes and talks to a recruiter and finds he has a few days left in his eligibility to sign up for the Air National Guard. He signs up and serves 17 more years before finally retiring.
There’s that word again “serves”.
I sat there and talked with Jerry for a long time, and left completely impressed with what a genuinely good guy he is.
As I’ve thought about the few hours I spent with this amazing family, I find it interesting how much that question about wanting pineapple on my burger affected me. I was so impressed by such a simple question. Was it the way he said it, was it… I just couldn’t figure it out.
Now as I sit here typing this I realize the two statements I remember best from Jerry are related. “Do you want pineapple on your burger” and “if you’ll have me, I’d like to serve”. This is a guy who likes to be of service. I think back on the kindness that he showed to everyone at that picnic – some where his family some where not – but he was there to make sure they enjoyed their day.
I think back on many of the stories of his life that he shared with me. The theme of “service” came up over and over. Jerry has a big heart, and he likes to help those around him. I’m sure of it.
“If you’ll have me, I’d like to serve”. I think I’ll try to work more of that into my life. I’d like to be like Jerry when I grow up.
People Story Network continues to bless my life. What an amazing thing to be invited to a family picnic with a family I’ve never met, and to feel that welcomed. All three of us had such an amazing time as guests of this amazing family, and I learned so much from the people I talked to in those few hours. I started this People Story project pretty sure that people are good, that the vast majority of the world is simply people that are trying to be happy the best they know how.
People like the Wells family let me know I am right. These are great people. Thank you to you all for a great day.