Editor's note: In our holiday series "The Gift of Generosity," the Herald- Leader is inviting readers and writers to share stories of how they were helped during a time of need. Perhaps it will inspire you to give of yourself this holiday season. This is the third in our series. Look for more throughout December.
It was the squirrels. Absolutely. Although it was almost 41 years ago, I remember that it started with the squirrels.
It was June 1969, and my sister Pam was graduating from Earlham College, a small Quaker school in Richmond, Ind. The actual ceremony is now a faded memory, but I know it was outside and I had been on the campus recently.
At age 8, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the territory. During the pomp and circumstance of the commencement ceremony, the usual expressions of hope, future, memories, gratitude, yadda, yadda, yadda, I was calculating which direction I needed to head to find the clump of trees where, on an earlier visit, I had watched with joy and awe some squirrels at play. It wouldn't take long, and I'd be right back; a piece of cake.
Being the last of eight children and one of dozens of grandchildren from a large extended family, it required several vehicles to transport everyone to and from the event. Not long after the graduation, back at my grandmother's restaurant, the Heritage House, 25 to 30 miles away, the many family cars unloaded for the graduation party.
It didn't take long for my mother to take a head count and come up one short.
Meanwhile, back on campus, my squirrel expedition did not quite pan out as expected. With so many hundreds of people milling about, applauding and squealing with excitement, it did not occur to me that squirrels would make themselves scarce.
Disappointed, I meandered around and returned to the rows of outdoor chairs, which were empty with few people in sight.
Finally, a kind and thoughtful couple asked me whether I was lost and where I needed to be. I gave them only "Heritage" as a clue. At the time I did not have the full name of my grandmother's restaurant or that it was near Blountsville in the northern part of the adjacent county.
I do not remember many details of this strange man and woman, but I do recall the woman smiling often, which was reassuring. The man was patient, calm and understood I had limited information to give.
Back then, of course, I was not fully aware of the predators and pedophiles who look for such opportunities, so in many respects, I was very lucky.
I don't know whether they were parents of one of the graduates or just a couple strolling through the beautiful Earlham campus to watch squirrels at play, too. But they changed whatever plans they had, deciphered "Heritage" to the little-known diner many miles away and drove the distance to reunite me with my family.
We do not have the names of the friendly couple from 1969 who took the time to help me out, but they are remembered nonetheless, and are part of my history.
They delivered at a time of need, and I'm very pleased to have met them. Looking back, I did find joy and awe that day, but in a whole different kind of package.