Archive for January, 2012

Identity crisis?

The picture at the top of my blog was taken in Death Valley while we were hiking several years ago.  Just to the left of center, if you look closely you will see a person hiking in the sand dunes.  This person is not me.  I often have to say, “No, not me”.  I don’t have to say no, not me to defend myself, it is because strangers and even a few people who know me think I am somebody else.  My secretary in the office where I once worked would sometimes mistake me for my office partner and good friend George.  Robin Williams, David Letterman, these are the men people most often mistake me for in stores, restaurants, airports and on the street.  I have to explain who I am not.  Not who I am.  I have been mistaken for a former wrestler at the University of Northern Iowa and I have been stopped and asked the question, “You look very familiar, weren’t you a teacher I had in high school?”  One person thought I was my son, and she introduced herself as the professor of my father when I was actually the student of hers in 1993.  Confusing?  How would you like to be me explaining that I was the father, not the son.  I was the student!  I have received phone solicitation calls and I have been asked if I am Russ Grimm, the former NFL football player.  Last month I was at the T J Maxx store in Rochester, Minnesota and I began to feel uncomfortable when I noticed that people were gathering around me.  They would come close and then back away only to come close again.  Before I had a chance to figure out what was going on a middle aged man approached me and said, “Good morning Mr. Williams.”  I always explain who I am not but this time instead, I walked away.  This was a mistake because a number in this group began looking for me.  When no one was watching I hid by sitting on the floor, under a rack of women’s long winter coats until they left.  It’s a bitch being famous when you are not.  Two days later Linda and I were in Des Moines.  While Linda did some shopping I went to an assisted living program to visit an old friend, Larry.  When I arrived I was told that Larry had died a few months earlier.  In our discussion, Joan, who was wearing a name tag that read “ambassador”  asked if I would be willing to share some information about Larry and how I knew him.  She gave me a sheet of paper and I sat in the open community area writing, recounting memories of Larry, a man Linda and I had met professionally in 1972.  Over the years he came to our home for dinners and had played with our sons when they were very young.  As I was writing I could not help but notice residents passing by me, many in wheelchairs or using walkers and others with oxygen tanks moving towards the dining hall for their evening meal.  Larry’s death and now this parade of reality of those who did not die at a younger age, presented for me, a very sobering experience.  As I was completing my writing I noticed a couple in their forties come down the stairs, we made some eye contact and they approached and asked, “We just placed our mother in this program, do you enjoy living here?”  I got up on my own, walked to the office with no assistance and gave the sheet of paper to Joan, I didn’t say a word and I left.  It’s a bitch being a resident even when you are not.

Identity crisis?  I know who I am.  My wife, sons, daughter in law, even my two year old grand daughter know who I am.  My relatives and friends, we are all on the same page, united in the fact that I am Russ Grimm.  I’m not worried.  Everyone else is going to have to figure it out on their own and until they do I guess I will have to continue denying who I am not.

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In late spring, Linda and I returned from a vacation in Scotland and England.  Our vacation was spent in a large part, hiking.  We hiked footpaths, many of which are centuries old, throughout England and Scotland.  These footpaths are fantastic ways to see the countryside, visit with others, and experience little, out of the way places.  These footpaths are unique compared to what is available in Iowa and for that matter probably anywhere else in the United States.  They crisscross all parts of the country and what would puzzle the American way of thinking and for the hiker, is that most of the footpaths are on private property.  We hiked farmland, walked next to farm buildings, homes and among herds of sheep and cows.  We hiked through private timber, pastures and cropped fields.  We crossed streams on narrow bridges and in some cases walked on stones placed in the shallow water centuries ago.

In pastures with herds of sheep, Linda and I could walk next to stones placed in circles older than Stonehenge.  There are fences to separate the cows and sheep with clever gates for hikers and travelers to move from field to field while leaving the animals in their friendly confines.  Many of these footpaths were once the roads that went from village to village.  One of the footpaths we hiked was called the Coffin Trail that linked the villages of Ambleside and Grasmere in the Lake District of England.  It has this name because St. Oswald’s Church was located in Grasmere and until 1821 the village of Ambleside did not have a church.  Prior to 1821, when a friend or relative died in or near Ambleside they would be carried in their coffin to Grasmere where the church was located.  Along this trail there remains large flat stones that were once used to sit the coffin so that those carrying the deceased could rest.  While the original purpose of these centuries old footpaths has changed, they continue to be traveled on extensively today by local citizens and visitors.  Sharing, showing respect for each other, an expectation of togetherness was evident in the heritage of these footpaths and when we hiked these trails these feelings and ideas were felt by us.

The footpaths invited us to explore.  For me these footpaths are symbols of the paths we all take alone and with others throughout our life.  Which way to turn?  Move forward or retreat and look for another way?  Is there enjoyment on the paths being taken?  Decisions to be made.  Paths I take on my own and those with Linda and others.  Much like the information gathered in day to day life to help shape and move forward down our footpaths, there are small books to read and maps to follow with explanations on how to navigate the walks.  So, while we hiked we read, discussed our options, at times disagreed and had to compromise and in the end we moved down the path , the direction we would take.

While in England Linda and I visited with our friends Alan and Joan who live in the suburbs of London.  Alan and I have known each other for more than 47 years which is the longest friendship that I have had with anyone in my lifetime.  I met him in September 1964 when he visited my aunt in the United States.  I invited Alan to my school and he was very accommodating and came to my English class.  1964, remember the Beatles?   Well, I had this young Englishman in my classroom and this was my opportunity to score big on the popularity scene.  I thought I had found a less traveled footpath to popularity.  It did not work exceptionally well, however my English teacher told me that Alan’s presence saved my grade.  Popularity can be a fleeting moment in time when one is a teenager but that passing grade is there forever.  Thanks again big guy!  Alan carried on this tradition with visits to both of my son’s school many years later.  I guess in this case for Alan, some footpaths you just have to stay the course.  It was wonderful seeing Alan and Joan, their children and their children.  Wow, these are some awesome footpaths we have traveled over the years.  We had many great conversations, philosophical discussions, cycling stories and many laughs.  Several houses down from where Alan and Joan live, a sign with an arrow reads, “public footpath”.  What more could I have expected?

For as long as I can remember I have been interested in the footpaths that are less traveled.  When I was a child there were adults who mistook my questioning of how things were done.  I was a “why?” child.  Adults at times saw me as troublesome because of choices I would sometimes make that did not fit their norm.  I was told that I was a dreamer and that I should instead, be satisfied.  They must have thought that I was not a happy child, but I was very happy and excited in the belief that there was more than what I had seen, felt, or was told was in front of me.  For as long as I can remember I have looked for the opportunity to do things a little different.  When I have traveled less conventional footpaths I have been surprised at what I have discovered and what I have learned.  If I ever start doubting why I should take a less traveled path I remind myself of how I met Linda.  I was hitchhiking.  Linda picked me up, we fell in love, we got married and we had two sons.  This path has continued with a daughter in law, a grand daughter, more family and our son’s friends.  Where would I be if I had not taken that unconventional footpath?  My life would have certainly been different.  What I do know is that I am very happy.  There are so many more paths for me to discover.  I believe I am going to leave my hiking boots on.  It seems to work for me.

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