A Village Enigma

My Highland village is full of ‘incomers’ like me. I have found that some of them reinvent their past to create a history more interesting than the truth, and didn’t I miss my chance at that?! It never even occurred to me to embellish my past. I could truthfully say, for example, that I’ve sung at Carnegie Hall! Though I’d have to leave it at that rather than tell the full story which is that I was eight years old, we were there for a church service, and there were thousands of other people there singing hymns too… so you see where the reality differs ‘a wee bitty’ as they say here, from the initial true-but-incomplete statement. But I don’t go in for fictionalizing myself, nor do some others who have moved here to settle in quietly, their past not much of a topic, as they simply enjoy a peaceful Highland life.

Brian was one such gentleman. I knew nothing about him but often saw him sitting on his favorite bench or walking around the village, a large, slow-moving man who always wore a cap and usually had wellies (Wellington boots) on. I didn’t know his name so in my mind he became “Wellies.” He rarely spoke and his expression was always taciturn. He wasn’t rude, he just held himself in a way that didn’t invite conversation. But there was something about him that touched me, and I decided I would start a charm offensive at the earliest opportunity.

One day I was walking down to the village when I spotted Wellies trudging up the hill. His eyes slid over and past me as we approached, at which point I beamed at him and said, “Hello! Lovely day!” His gaze flicked over my face and there was the merest pause in his stride, a hesitation at having been noticed and spoken to. He nodded and made a greeting-sound, not quite a hello but not, “Leave me alone, you upstart,” either. So it went, over weeks and months. Whenever I’d see him I would say hello and smile, ever more delighted when I saw the thaw begin. He’d nod, the merest of acknowledgements that I was a person now on his radar, and then, oh! That glorious day when he said hello, first!

One tourist season I worked at a café in the village, and on my second shift who should walk in and head directly to a table as though he owned it, but Wellies! The café owner took me aside. “That’s Brian,” she said. “He comes in a few times a week. I know his favorites so he’ll just tell you what he wants, it doesn’t have to be from the menu. That and a pot of tea with two teabags, and also ask him what kind of sandwiches he wants to take with him.” She reckoned he was “somewhere on the autism spectrum,” and told me he might need help counting his change.

I saw the light of recognition in his eyes when I approached. He didn’t smile, exactly – Wellies never smiled. But his expression changed subtly and he said, “So you work here, now,” and placed his order. He ate methodically and then he counted out exact change without my assistance. I later realized it was because I just waited while he laid his money out, rather than chirping at him like a mad interfering bluebird, as the café owner was wont to do. After one last sip of tea he neatly stacked up his dishes, collected his sandwiches and left, all of it a well-practiced, deliberate routine. I’d see him around the village or in the café and while he didn’t greet me with glad cries of joy, I knew I had registered on his consciousness. I often wondered about this lone, quiet and bearlike man.

Last year I found out too long after the fact that he had died. It happened while we were away from the village, and I heard about it completely by chance. I was upset, as I knew his funeral wouldn’t have been all that well-attended since he had no “people” that I knew of, and no friends here in the village. I wish I’d known. I would have gone.

A short while later an article appeared in the local paper, written by a friend of Brian’s who lived in France. It answered some questions I’d had, and left me with more. Wellies was in the Highlands because it had been his lifelong dream to retire there. He had no “people” because he chose never to marry or have children – he had a medical condition he did not wish to pass on to future generations. Most surprising of all, he’d been an amateur astronomer and a lecturer of sorts. ‘Back in the day’ he’d given a series of lectures on the planets which had been so well-received and popular that he’d been persuaded eventually to have them transcribed and published. I don’t know what surprised me more; that he was a published author, or that he had actually TALKED – in public, no less, to groups of people! I found a copy of his book, though I haven’t read it yet; it is a bit technical, and my interest in astronomy stretches only a little past the, “Ooooh twinkly!” stage. I’m glad I have it, though. It seemed like the right thing to do, to buy it.

People will already have started to forget old Wellies, who struggled more and more in his latter days. He certainly won’t be remembered for being a lecturer of astronomy. I didn’t learn a single planetary fact from him, but I did learn something. Everyone has a story. You never know who people really are, or who they once were, I suppose, especially not when they prefer it that way. Isn’t it worth it, though, to try to connect, if only to nod and smile, to let someone know they are noticed and recognized? It seems a very good way to be, and I need to do it much more often.

I kind of hope, though, that I was an unexpected bright sparkle in Brian’s solitary universe, while we, for a little while, shared the village we called home.

Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands. Equally surprising to her is that she now has a small business restoring and selling old fountain pens. These two facts have convinced Deb that life is either beautifully random, or filled with destiny created by someone with a sense of humor. She hopes the fine north state residents will accept her as an honorary member, since she has some cousins in California who she visited once, but even more importantly because the north state folks she actually knows are fabulous people, who are also the reason for her presence here on anewscafe.com. An enthusiastic amateur photographer, Deb is grateful that she lives in a place that’s about as point-and-shoot as it gets. Her tortoiseshell cat, Smartie, rates her as an average minion, too slow with the door-opening but not too bad on the food-dish-refilling, and her husband hasn’t had her deported back to the States yet, so things must be going all right there, as well.

Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands, sharing life with her husband, a Highlander she stumbled across purely by chance on a blog site. They own a small business restoring and selling vintage fountain pens, which allows Deb to set her own schedule and have time for photography, writing and spontaneous car rides in the countryside. She is grateful to the readers of ANC for accepting her into the North State fold.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

38 Responses

  1. Avatar Dharma says:

    What a lovely sentiment to start off my day. I think I shall have to find someone to charm 🙂

    • Deb Deb says:

      Dharma my lovely, you could charm the birds from the trees already! Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

  2. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    Oh Deb, this is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming. I love that you saw him, actually saw him, and he became a piece of your world. As you say, everyone has a story and you told us a part of his. It’s too easy for other people to become invisible, and I’m glad Brian wasn’t. Thank you for this.

    • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

      PS. We should all go on charm offensives occasionally.

      • Deb Deb says:

        I love the charm offensive tactic. I used to use it at The Company when Higher-Ups didn’t think they should say hello to lowly staff like me. Most of them were responding with friendly smiles before they knew what hit ’em!

    • Deb Deb says:

      Thank you, Matt! Glad you enjoyed it! I still miss seeing ol’ Wellies around the village. I think it’s because I didn’t know he was gone until he’d been gone for a few weeks, y’know?

  3. Avatar Janet says:

    Great article thank you Deb for not only a glimpse of a place I would love to visit some day. Hey Matt you could organize a group trip ??, but a reminder that kindness can bring light and new awareness.
    A random charm offense sounds like a plan!

    • Deb Deb says:

      Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Janet!

      We *do* have lots of B&Bs in the village, should a group trip come together!

  4. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    I like that, Matt. The Charm Offensive! Thank you, Deb, for reminding us that no man is a island, even if only we share the same water.

  5. Randall R. Smith Randall R. Smith says:

    Another gift from the Highland. Thank you Deb. Wish there were a way to get close to those who strap bombs on three year old innocents. We wander without knowing.

    • Deb Deb says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Randall! Not sure where it made the leap to bomb-strapping monsters for you, but there ya go.

  6. Avatar Hal Johnson says:

    I loved this.

    I suppose most of us have people in our lives who occupy that funny little netherworld between strangers and acquaintances. Maybe we don’t think of them often, and maybe they don’t seem important to our everyday lives, but it can really be surprising how much we miss them when they’re gone.

    For years, I went through New Orleans airport regularly. It was common to see the same mature gentleman working a skycap position where I’d enter the terminal. He reminded me of an older version of Forest Whitaker.

    We started out just saying good morning to each other. After a couple of months, we’d talk about the weather. After a year, we were talking about our families, and our twenty second exchanges had grown to several minutes.

    Eight years or so went by. One day, he stuck out his hand. I put down my bags, and I introduced myself. We’d never called each other by name prior to that morning. I’m usually early, but that time, I was especially early, and we talked for a good fifteen minutes. I shook hands with Ben again, and said goodbye. “See you next time,” he said.

    He wasn’t there the next time, nor the next. It took three months before I learned from another sky cap that he’d died.

    That was several years ago. Even today, I’m surprised at how much I miss him.

    • Deb Deb says:

      Thank you for sharing this story, Hal. What a beautiful connection you made, with Ben, and how lovely that you had the chance to introduce yourselves properly and shake hands, before he died.

  7. Deb, what a lovely, sweet column. What I love about your writing is that you weave within your stories gentle life and love lessons that apply whether you’re in Scotland or Redding. Thank you!

    What I also love is how well you interact with readers, and keep a conversation going that extracts our stories, like Hal’s beautiful post above.

    I’m so glad we have this place at A News Cafe.com for these human connections that reach across the miles.

  8. Deb Deb says:

    Thank you, Doni! I’m glad that these little bits of Highland life are relevant no matter the place, and I always really appreciate it when people open up with their own stories and experiences as well. I’m loving the readers here at anewscafe.com and am so glad that you all have opened up your hearts and stories to/with me!

  9. Avatar Jeannene Miller says:

    Deb,

    Loved the article!!! It was nice to hear about where you are and see your smiling picture. My Sister – law comes from Scotland and I’m going to share with her!!! I can’t believe its been so long since I’ve seen you its great to know your doing well!!

    Jeannene

    • Deb Deb says:

      Hi Jeannene, it’s nice to ‘see’ you here! I hope your sister-in-law will enjoy the article, too – I’m glad you liked it. If you click on my name at the top of the article, you will see the past articles I’ve done here too – you (and your s-i-l) might enjoy those too, and the photos too. Thanks for commenting – I hope you are well!

  10. Avatar Laurie says:

    “So you work here, now.” That made me laugh. However unbidden, you definitely registered as a bright spot on his radar. Good for the both of you!

    • Deb Deb says:

      It made me laugh at the time too, Laurie!

      I hope he felt good knowing someone had noticed him and was glad to see him. Even if I hadn’t found out about his interesting past, I’d be glad we at least glanced off of each other on this ride…

  11. Avatar Ginny says:

    Thank you for another beautiful writing and photos.

    One never knows what may touch another. Just know that you did touch your Wellie. And, for that, I am sure he was forever grateful.

  12. Deb Deb says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Ginny. I’m glad I knew him, however briefly.

  13. Avatar Jennifer Mitchell says:

    Deborah, I read to my mother and started to cry. This touched me straight in my heart. There was a man who came into the bank, where I used to work. He was probably in his middle to late eighties and had a definite scowl on his face. He really didn’t want to talk to anyone and never smiled. I always said a special hello and asked him how he was. He answered, Terrible”. every single time! He couldn’t get away from me though because he needed my help or someone else’s help to do his banking, so I continued to smile and try to connect with him. I know what you mean about a charm offensive. I was challenged by him somehow to get through that tough exterior. Not sure exactly why. But, I found him so interesting.. He came in at least once a week.. and started waiting in line, letting other customers get a head of him so I could help him. He still said, “terrible” but now with a smile! We got to know one another and sometimes when I was not a teller for the day, I would have an office and he would come in and talk to me for as long as I had no others waiting. He was so warm and the stories he would tell me would make my jaw drop. I left that job, and I don’t know if he is still around or if he has passed on, but I still smile when I think of him.. and am so glad I didn’t just see him as he portrayed himself.. A grumpy, old man. He was the best of my day when he came in. and I am forever grateful for that. I felt I needed to tell you and I think the connection I had him was why I was so moved reading it to my Mom. xo Love this story!

    • Deb Deb says:

      What a beautiful story, Jennifer, thank you for sharing it! It’s clear that you were the highlight of his day, too 🙂

  14. Avatar Mike says:

    Please tell us the name of the book. It would complete
    a wonderful story. The story is a great reminder of the
    value of each person we pass through out our lives.

    • Deb Deb says:

      Thanks, Mike, I’m glad you enjoyed the article! As to the name of the book, though… I generally keep some things private online, like the name of my village and people’s names as well. That’s why I didn’t name the book, either. I hope you will understand.

  15. Avatar Dawn Grigsby says:

    Deb,
    I look forward to each article that you send to us and the beautiful pictures. I think it is wonderful how you were able to connect to him. Thank you so much for your beautiful writing and pictures.

    • Deb Deb says:

      Thank you, Dawn! I’m so glad you enjoyed this one, too. I’m glad I got to meet Brian, even if we never did get to sit and discuss the cosmos – or anything much else, really. Just connecting is important sometimes, I think.

  16. Avatar Mary Adamson says:

    What a heartfelt story. I loved it! You are so right. Everyone has a story and I bet given more time with Wellies, he would eventually have told you about some of it. You obvious,y touched a clave in his heart and remarkable mind. I love your articles and your stories about your village and the Highlands. It really makes many of us visit. I. Looking forward to your next article.

    • Deb Deb says:

      Thank you, Mary! I would have liked to know more about Wellies, that’s for sure. He apparently kept up a decades-long correspondence with his friend from France. There was definitely a communicator in there somewhere 🙂

  17. Avatar Anne Gibbons says:

    Thank you again, Deb, for such a captivating story. You not only told us about Brian wi’ the wellies, but about yourself: your capacity for caring; your ability to connect; your empathy. It’s nice getting to know you.

    • Deb Deb says:

      What a beautiful thing to say, Anne, that’s so lovely and thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the story, and in a way I’m glad that more people are hearing Wellies’ story just so that he’s not forgotten for that little bit longer.

  18. Avatar John says:

    Deb
    Great story. I love your writing style. You paint a vivid picture. Very well told

  19. Avatar Vicki says:

    I love this story. Thank you for letting us get to know Brian a bit as well. Interesting to consider what brought him to the Highlands and why he chose a solitary life without letting villagers in except to a certain point (i.e. the cafe owner who knew his routine, probably others in town who knew him for certain requirements he had like mail pickups or other regular life stuff). Maybe he spent most of his life interacting with others and had just gotten tired of it, and interacting with the Highlands was how he wanted to spend his final days. The juxtaposition of the bench with him and without was poignant and eloquent, just like your writing and this article in general. Thank you again and keep on keeping on with that charm offensive which I know is innate to your inner core!

    • Deb Deb says:

      Thanks, Vicki! I think of Wellies every time I go by that bench. He did apparently have arguments with his neighbor about an overgrown hedge on his side, and I think in general people sort of avoided him, which is a shame though in a way he didn’t invite warmth, if that makes sense. At least I got through a little bit, though!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

  20. Avatar KarenC says:

    Another wonderful story that touched my heart. Years ago, when I was a volunteer at Mercy Medical Center, there was a doctor I would see on my duties for the pharmacy and recovery room, he was always well dressed, but had his head down and never smiled.
    One day, I asked a nurse who this Dr. was…she told me not to bother him because he was a grouch, a good doctor but not much of a talker. I did the same as you, started greeting him with a smile, calling him by name..then, soon he responded back.

    One day, as I was out for my chores, I saw a sign in an old building in west Redding, and there was his shingle. I decided to stop in and see if he had an appointment open for an issue I was concerned about. I walked in, gave my name and he saw me right away. He was a charmer! From that time on, he greeted me on my hospital rounds. A beautiful man, that I was pleased to have met.

    Sometimes, you just pass each other for a very brief time, and those become very special….amazing, isn’t it?

    • Deb Deb says:

      Thank you for sharing your wonderful story, Karen! What a lovely thing that you persisted and got beyond the ‘grouchy’ perception, and to the charmer beneath. I’m sure his days were made much nicer as well, having someone (you!) make an effort to show kindness and friendliness, rather than avoiding him on sight. Good for you for not heeding the ‘warning’ you were given, and going ahead with a charm offensive!