Talkin’ or Walkin’



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 you may have surmised from my recent columns, I have been considering the most meaningful ways to live this last part of my life, like limiting my volunteering to situations where I may best use the qualities I have developed to make a positive contribution to whatever nonprofit asks for my assistance. (Oh, so many good ones in this town!)

At the same time, I have been evaluating my characteristics of an outwardly cheerful and gregarious person; sometimes I am afraid I impose myself on others. Thank goodness this summer in my town has reinforced my natural inclination to want to meet and greet people and perhaps have even a brief connection. I am prepared for an occasional humph or frown, accepting that this person does not want to be bothered—certainly their right. I have lived long enough to sense when someone wants to be alone or quiet. Nonetheless, I exult when a new person or someone I haven’t seen for a while, or my friends and family, are pleased with our interactions.

Just this past week, I complimented or talked with strangers and was not rebuffed. Afterwards, I felt pleasure from those brief moments. Occasionally, we slipped into a conversation that was often delightful. For example, after a brief few moments with someone helping me volunteer at the (wonderful) Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, my new friend offered to help at any time during the three-day event if I was affected by the heat or feeling tired. Nice surprise!

I did not accost people at all during those days—certainly didn’t intend to intrude with the brilliant presenters who gave so much of their time and talent to eager attendees. However, the inspired teacher in me couldn’t resist stopping one of the writers who was walking alone and relating how her poetry had been such a special avenue of knowledge for my students when they studied English with me. When she smiled widely, I knew that it had been OK to make a sincere comment about how many students had appreciated her words.

We usually honor the privacy of celebrities in Idaho, where there is an unwritten rule to respect their privacy. I used to live in towns around the beach and West Los Angeles where I might be sitting in front of Cary Grant and his daughter at the movies; I didn’t bother them. In a Santa Monica restaurant, Barbra Streisand was sitting at a table near me next to a public phone. It was surprising how many diners “needed” to use the phone to peek at her. Once, in Malibu, I stood in a long postal line by Burgess Meredith, who said “Hello.” I felt free to tell him how much of a beloved actor he had been to me, my husband, and my friends. I then asked, “Was that OK for me to tell you that?” With a wide grin, he said, “Miss, I live for this! Thank you so much!” The line advanced and our talk ended. But how lovely! What a joy finding good words with anyone!

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