Monday, May 22, 2017


I have come to realize that the choices we make in life frequently affect us in completely unexpected ways. That is an unavoidable fact. With those choices, we can be assured that there will be certain irreversible consequences. If we made all our decisions with thoughtful, considerate care; acted without emotion or spontaneity; and were extremely fortunate, the ramifications might not be so dramatic. The hope is that our actions will not cause harm to others, since we have an obligation to protect our fellow human beings. That, however, is not always the case.

Last week an elderly gentleman and his two female traveling companions strolled into the store and taught me a good lesson about making choices. Having worked at the trading post for just shy of 40 years, I have developed the ability to become acquainted with people in a very short time. Within a few minutes, I knew that Mr. Ernest Thomlinson was from Omaha, Nebraska; was 81 years old; and was traveling with his wife Emma and her widowed sister Erlene. I also learned that they had recently sold their large home, purchased a condo and dispersed most of their possessions to their three children---bad news for a salesman. Mr. Thomlinson and his wife were in what we call the de-acquisition phase of their lives! They had never before ventured into the great Southwest, were awed by the unique rock formations and thought the 80-degree heat was excessive and the air far too dry. They were, however, having a good time. Mr. Thomlinson was also an amateur photographer and had already snapped well over 3,000 images on this trip alone.

Mr. Thomlinson and I talked for a while and traded a few jokes. In short order, I became convinced he was sprinkling the conversation with a few white lies. For some time now, I have made a concerted effort to resist outright lies or even stretching the truth, otherwise things would have quickly gotten out of hand. Altogether, we had a pleasant visit and I felt I had met a genuine character. All too soon we shook hands and Mr. Thomlinson made his way out the door and down the front steps. Emma and Erlene followed Ernest, thanking me for "corralling" the old timer so they had more time to browse. I watched them through the large plate glass windows as they ambled out to the middle of the parking lot. Mr. Thomlinson then lined up the two women for a photo in front of the Twin Rocks.

The parking lot was busy with lunch hour traffic, and cars were weaving their way around the small group. Mr. Thomlinson was unconcerned with the vehicles, focusing only on getting the shot. His partners were more aware of the danger, shuffling from one position to another to dodge cars or comply with the directions of their diligent photographer. Because of their large size, it is almost impossible to frame a photograph of the towering Twin Rocks with family or friends in the foreground. The difference in elevation between the twin spires and our parking lot is drastic indeed. Mr. Thomlinson, however, had a solution. Before his wife or sister-in-law could stop him, Mr. Thomlinson kneeled down, placed both hands on the ground and sprawled flat out in the gravel. Rolling to his side, Mr. Thomlinson brought the camera to his eye and began redirecting his stunned womenfolk. That was not a good choice!

Witnessing this potential disaster in the making, I moved towards the door, concerned for the safety of my newly found friend. I could see in my mind's eye the headlines that might arise from an associated accident. I knew without a doubt that we would be dubbed "The Road Kill Cafe" if I didn't get the old man up quickly. Emma and Erlene were way ahead of me though; they quickly positioned themselves for Mr. Thomlinson's photograph and instructed him to get out of the dirt. Mr. Thomlinson captured the image and, as quickly as his old bones could, moved to his knees. Seeing his progress, I backed into the building to avoid embarrassing him. Placing his hands flat on the ground, Mr. Thomlinson first straightened one leg and then the other. And there he stayed, he could move no further without an odds-on chance of losing hide and hair. He looked like a stink bug with his rear end sticking straight in the air, warning off any would-be attackers.

As I watched, Mr. Thomlinson made several determined efforts to bring his torso up and gain his footing. It was not going to happen; his 81-year-old muscles were having none of it. He was trapped liked a mired Mastodon. I again headed out the door to save the poor man, but Emma and Erlene once again beat me to the punch. The two women quickly moved in, grabbed him by the suspenders and hauled back with all their might. The effort was just enough to raise Mr. Thomlinson's palms off of the ground and lift his torso to a level where he could move his right foot forward. His feet began to move in sequence, first one foot then the other, then again, faster this time. The chaotic affair was not yet over.

As with most men of his age, Mr. Thomlinson's center of balance had migrated. His well-defined stomach began to move him forward at an accelerated rate. His feet were spinning on the gravel, and his momentum was bringing him dangerously close to a disastrous end. The greater problem was that Emma and Erlene were still attached to the suspenders, leaning back with all of their willowy strength, but being dragged forward and down all the same. I began to run towards the threesome, knowing full well that I would not arrive in time to avert a catastrophe. I was frightened by the potential outcome, because I had witnessed, and experienced, many a gravel crash rash in my time, and knew it would take this group a long time to heal.

Mr. Thomlinson had not given up hope, however, and made a last-ditch effort to gain his balance by throwing his right foot forward and hauling back with every ounce of strength his tired body could muster. At that point, I witnessed a miracle; Mr. Thomlinson's foot connected with solid ground and caught just long enough for him to regain his footing. The three elderly adventurers gathered their wits and smoothed their feathers. I halted my forward motion and peeled off behind a parked car just in time to avoid detection.

Mr. Thomlinson now had to deal with the long-term consequences of his choice. Emma and Erlene tag-teamed the old boy with verbal abuse, venting the accumulation of adrenaline they had so recently acquired. Things got ugly quickly, so I slipped away and silently wished Ernest Thomlinson well, realizing the bad decision he had made had rippled out and caused a tsunami effect on those he held dear. It was lucky for him, and all concerned, that total disaster was so narrowly avoided. As I contemplated the affair, I came to realize just how much our bad choices effect those we love. The lesson Mr. Thomlinson taught me that day is live, love, learn, listen, react well, and mostly . . . look for forgiveness early and often.

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