Hello, Helloes

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BY JOELLEN COLLINS

JoEllen Collins—a longtime resident of the Wood River Valley—is a teacher, writer, fabric artist, choir member and unabashedly proud grandma known as “Bibi Jo.”

As I was shuffling up the steps of the Ketchum Post Office, eyes on my feet, I heard a “Hello” from the top of the stairs. I immediately said, “Oh, hello,” thinking it was someone I knew. When I looked up, I saw a boy of about 13 sporting earplugs and a mobile phone. I was slightly embarrassed, so I said to him, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t know you were on the phone and thought you were greeting me.” He replied, “I WAS saying hello to you.” I thanked him and pointed to his phone. We smiled, and I went on.

As I got in my car, I thought about this brief exchange for many reasons.

One embarrassment for me has been interrupting phone talk when I am next to someone and don’t see them fully and think they are talking to me. I am learning to be more observant with the people around me, checking whether they are already speaking to someone else. I am also learning not to ask a question or make an observation when I even glimpse a phone in hand. New etiquette required.

More than that reminder of my lack of sophistication when it comes to contemporary communication, however, was the pleasure I felt when I realized that this boy had even bothered to greet me, a rather elderly stranger. I was immediately impressed and refreshed by the idea that he would take the time to greet me.

I enjoy living in this town for the proximity to friends and acquaintances in places like the market or the post office. I often joke that I don’t want to run errands on a bad hair day, because I will undoubtedly meet someone I’d rather impress than revolt. My sense of community is often heightened by my market basket bumps and pauses in full rows to wave or say “Hi” or a simple “Thanks for moving your cart.”

These simple exchanges are signs of the inherent good in most people—the daily chitchat about the weather, a chuckle over dog behavior at the dog park, motioning from my car to a biker while pausing to let him or her cross the road, or a mouthed “Thank you” and wave when someone facilitates a left turn or lane change in a difficult spot. Positive interactions with salespeople, waitpersons, and others only take a minute, and work is easier when people are polite.

I love the Wood River Valley because of the courtesy and friendship of most inhabitants. In spite of a negative political climate, perhaps we still are kind and forthcoming citizens of our communities.

Last year, when I interviewed local teenagers, I was inspired by their consistent courtesy to me. Hurrah for them, and also for the boy at the post office. Let us not despair at the manners of any generation, but perhaps remind ourselves that what is learned at home is revealed by these brief interactions with our neighbors and others. Maybe we can be optimistic about keeping our humanity intact.