Being Invited In

I’ve always loved newspapers. The last customer on Berkley Lane had a strangely folded newspaper delivered to them every day, because I read that paper as I delivered to their 50 neighbors. I rang every doorbell every Saturday to collect $1.10. Neighbors invited me into their living rooms while they dug for that extra dime, so I got news in two different ways because of the newspaper.

It’s no different today, except I don’t ring doorbells. You readers still invite me into your homes every week, and I still hear some of your stories. So, thanks.

These pages of the newspaper invite such feedback. Letters to the editor are published every day, over there to the left. We all scan them for names we recognize. It’s a conversation. That conversation builds community. It creates connections.

Looking back on 2010, I’d like to share one connection with you. It involves a woman, but it’s not what you think.

Let’s call her Bonnie, since that’s her name. She read a column I wrote about returning to my Chicago neighborhood. She opened her stationery drawer. “Dear Don, are you the son of the Don from Chicago I knew in 1950?”

I am. I tried to call her, but she had written the wrong number. The phone rang and it was her daughter in California, where Bonnie lives most of the year. The daughter recognized my name, gave me the correct number, then called back the next day to say she had misspoken. She had confused my father with another Chicago photographer from the 1950s that her mother had told her stories about.

I reached Bonnie and we agreed to meet for lunch in Reedsport. She recognized me immediately, and even before that. She said she could tell by how I drove into the parking lot that I was my father’s son. My father died before I got my first merit badge, so I didn’t learn my driving from him, at least not directly.

Bonnie had dated a photographer when she and my Dad were both students at Northwestern University, just north of Chicago. Several times, she said of my father, “He was just so easy to be with.” After graduating, the military ordered her husband overseas and she wanted to make one stop before shipping off to Germany for several years. To Chicago, to see my Dad.

She tracked him down at a camera store where he worked. He invited her out to see the new house he and my Mom had bought in the suburbs. It seemed like a long drive, back then. The highway system was just being proposed, not yet built.

She remembered that my Mom had been ordered off her feet during her pregnancy to avoid another miscarriage. I mentioned my six younger siblings, and Bonnie expressed shock. Last she saw my parents, they were hoping against hope for one child. They got seven.

I had never known my mother had a pregnancy before me. My parents must have determined it wasn’t a story worth talking about. I suspect I became a storyteller because I grew up with too many not being told.

Both my parents died when I was young, so harvesting stories from people who knew them has been important to me. Bonnie’s not the first to find me this way. My father left an impression. His college roommate also contacted me, after he reading what “sounded like something Don might have written.” He was just passing through town that day from Klamath Falls to Seattle. Bill Johnson turned 80 last year. He’s become one of my best friends.

Bonnie wanted me to know that she’d never forgotten my father, but didn’t know anyone to tell. I think she fibbed. My guess is her California daughter wasn’t confused as she had claimed to be, that she had heard my name before. Bonnie wouldn’t say so and I didn’t ask, but my father was special to her. Half a century later, their story hasn’t lost its sweetness.

Now I can be part of it, because she invited me inside. 2010 was a good year. For Bonnie, and for each of you, I’m grateful.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs.