Day 88: Marie Celton

Dear Marie,

One of life’s great joys is the time we sometimes take reflecting on friendships and the circumstances bringing them together. But for a change in occurrence here or there, a different route taken, a departure or arrival of a moment’s difference, our life is forever altered in the people we meet.

And I’m so happy that we met, you and I.

As fate would have it, three of us elected to spend an extra two euros for a lower bunk that night. That was money well spent. You and Barbara from Germany were my companions for the night. Too bad about all those bedbugs she’d encountered the night before.

I’d never heard of Reunion Island. When you described your home there I slipped away a moment to locate it. Maybe you do have a house there. Maybe it is an occasional resting place. What I see so clearly now is that you’re truly a citizen of the world.

It’s so enjoyable watching your travels here and there. It takes a special person to travel solo. We must eliminate the fear. Remember our conversation that day? There was such wisdom in the things you said. My prayer is that you are finding the answer to life’s greatest questions. At least you are looking. Not everyone has the courage to go looking. Keep looking, Marie.

I hope you are smoking fewer cigarettes (which was one of your purposes for camino) and the plastic bag addiction is long a thing of the past. Ha!

You were one of the loveliest walking partners with whom I enjoyed time on the Way. Thank you for sharing your time.

Love and admiration always,

Steve Watkins

 

 

 

 

 

Day 87: Bob Scheidt

 

Dear Bob,

Perseverance. Toughness. The ability to overcome. Great qualities all, and worthy of admiration.

When I think about you, these are the words that rush to mind.

Your Facebook “bio” is an all-time favorite.

“Forty-three years of living with Type 1 diabetes; 108,000 miles walked since 1973; two continents down, five to go.”

A bit of the past, a touch of the present, and aspirations toward the future with no sign of slowing down. If I came across this description by accident, I’d think, “…now there’s a man I’d like to meet.” Yes, I want to meet a man who’s walked a hundred thousand miles.

 

Thank you for all your kind and encouraging words in my two walks across Spain, Bob. They truly meant so much coming from someone like you. It’s a great pleasure watching you there now. If there’s anything I’ve learned back home, it’s if you can’t be there in person, it sure is nice having someone you can cheer for who is.”

I see you walked into Burgos today. Enjoy the city and have some nice chocolaté con churros for me.

Ultreia, as you make your way toward the Norté, and have a buen camino, my friend.

Your admirer,

Steve Watkins

 

Day 86: J.R. Blackburn

Dear J.R.,

Having good neighbors is such a pleasure. It’s difficult calling it a neighborhood without the good neighbor part.

We will miss you so much in our little Culberhouse Cove.

The “For Sale” sign remains, but you and Terry are gone now. I love the way you cared for everything – the grass, neighborhood common areas, a clean truck at least once a week – always busy, always doing something. We’re so glad you were here for a time.

Best wishes in the new home, and thanks for leaving our neighborhood a better place than you found it.

Your friends and neighbors,

Steve and Dana

Day 85: David Landis and Anna Dintaman Landis

Every morning’s typical breakfast routine, planning the day ahead and thinking just a bit about tomorrow.

Dear David & Anna,

Everyone approaches things differently, I suppose. Some people try planning every detail as much as possible. Others go at it knowing almost nothing. Getting ready to solo walk 40 days across a country, I wanted a balance somewhere between the two. Your guidebook was the perfect planner.

It may be true that anticipation of an experience like pilgrimage is one of the very best parts. As part of my anticipation, I searched all the popular guidebooks and chose yours as my companion before, and during, the walk. It seemed it had everything a person could need.

Adventurers and authors, David and Anna Dintaman Landis

Reading through the sections in the weeks before departure, your descriptive narratives, elevation charts, beautiful photos, and historical sidebars only increased my excitement. If the trip was as good as the book, I was bound for a great experience. Just before departure, we purchased two additional books for my wife and mom, and for their own daily account of my progress across the Iberian peninsula. Dana carried hers a year later in 2016.

On arrival, and from Day 1, the guidebook was among my top three most valuable possessions. There was a quick routine study every morning, lunchtime, and just before bed. Your work became a trusted daily planning tool, and even remedied a few jams along the Way.

I still have it. It survived a nearly white-out, seven-hour blizzard down O Cebreiro, the constant dampness across the Basque countryside, and even a few accidental spills of a refreshing second-breakfast San Miguel. Dog-eared, worn, and crinkled from so many wet-dry-wet cycles, it sits on the bookshelf as a prized, trophy-possession of perseverance and the best of times with new friends and great adventures.

Thank you for your gracious endorsement of my own book due out in a few months. It’s such an honor. In a different sort of way, I hope it contributes something just as special to the body of literary works dedicated to the place that means so much, to so many.

Buen camino, y vaya con Dios.

Your friend,

Steve Watkins

Day 84: Monette Class of 1984

 

Dear Classmates, (all 23 of you)

How can Day 84 pass without each of you coming to mind? My original society. My gang. My tribe.

Weren’t we the lucky ones living in the heart of small-town America, free to come and go and find as much trouble as we could, even though there was honestly so little trouble to be found? For 12 years we propped one another up, laughed until we cried, and tasted the beginnings of how we’d write our individual life stories.

When I think of you all, I think not of who I wish to be, but rather the heart of who I truly am – a small-town farm boy from rural Arkansas.

Cruising main, ball games every Tuesday and Friday night, maybe a Saturday night movie and pizza in Jonesboro if it had been a good week. There was much predictability to our young lives. I think we rather liked it that way.

If you have as many fond memories of those 12 years as I, you occasionally get lost in your thoughts as you sit in the stands at a grandchild’s ball game or a sixth-grade graduation. You reflect on the most innocent times when your priorities were consumed with things such as finding time for your next car wash or who wouldn’t completely turn you down for a date to the junior prom.

Memory still smells the hallway smells, and hears the familiar voices, and it still hears young cheerleader voices reverberating through that old gym I called home:

We’ll be loyal to you, MHS, to your colors be true MHS; We’ll back you to stand as the best in the land, for we know you have pep, MHS, rah, rah. So, answer the call, MHS; We are backing you all MHS. With brain and with muscle, we’ll get right down and hustle, and win for you all MHS, Rah, Rah!

M-O-N-E-T-T-E! MONETTE! MONETTE! MONETTE! RAH, RAH!

(In memory of Shawn Perrin, student council president, teammate, friend.)

 

Day 83: Paula Miles

 

Dear Paula,

I’m not certain if everyone does this, or even if it’s good or bad, but at some point a few years ago I realized a subconscious pattern where I’d file away certain thoughts, and even create categories about the people I’ve known.

Paula Miles (left) and Linda Hinton.

There’s a small file for the troublemakers, a special file for the mentors, one for the people whom I really need to do something nice for some day, and another that I just call “the good people.” There are dozens more files actually, but you get the idea.

During the times I’ve reflected on you and Rick, you’ve both always been at the front of “the good people” file. It may not sound like much, but it’s one of my favorite, most treasured files.

This all came to mind a few days ago when you volunteered to send a letter of support for something I’d asked about, and shown an interest in pursuing. You went out of your way in doing something really nice, and it was such a kind gesture. We live in a time when that kind of thing should really be more appreciated. Some people have a better understanding than others that the mission field begins right outside our front door.  I’ve always seen you and Rick as two people who get that.

Well, I do declare…

So many great things in Arkansas have been set in motion with your help – treasured histories helping us recall our connections to Ernest Hemingway and Johnny Cash, the Southern Tenant Farmers movement, Lakeport Plantation, and the Sultana tragedy.  The low-key role you’ve played in so many things is the true indication of a pure servant’s heart.

Thank you for all the big things, and for all the small things. Your gesture toward me a few days ago may seem small to you, but it was a big deal to me.

Thanks for being one of the “good people.”

Your friend,

Steve Watkins

Day 82: Sophie, Averie, and Maggie

 

Averie, Sophie, and Maggie

Dear Girls,

Well, it’s time to pack up and hit the road for home. Another spring break at the beach has come and gone.

When this season rolls around every year I’m afraid you three will be too grown to let me share this trip with you. The day is coming, but luckily for me this is not that year, and I pray it won’t be the next. We’ve made some good memories at this place.

It’s always a pleasure to be in the company of good kids. Thank you for being the kind of kids where there are never any worries or concerns. Thanks for just letting me come along. You three are the best. You’ll always be the darlings of Period Key to me.

How long will I bring you on spring break at the beach?

As long as you’ll let me.

Love,

Dad/Steve

 

 

Day 80: Stephanie Curton Kenley

Dear Stephanie,

When it’s time to assemble a team, you’re always looking for people with diverse qualities and individual talents. The pieces and parts should come together to complete the whole.

Stephanie and husband, David.

When it came time to hire a new development officer for a growing and diverse team eighteen years ago, you entered the picture at a moment when we needed something fresh. Some energy. Some spunk, if you don’t mind my saying. Every team needs a bright, young, spunky player who will challenge the old ways of thinking. I knew it would be you before the applications were ever mailed – before you even graduated, honestly.

Life moves so quickly.

A few days ago, Dana mentioned from across the room that you were off on a 40th birthday celebration vacation. It bewildered me.

“She’s not 40. She’s not even 30. You’re way off on that one,” I said.

“Well, that’s what it says,” she said.

“Something’s wrong. There’s no way that’s right.”

Sure enough, you’re celebrating the Big Four O today. I’m so happy for all the ways you’re still using your gifts and talents.

Stephanie and sons.

You have the family you always dreamed about and I know the responsibility you take most seriously is wife and mom. You’ve always known that family is the core of everything real. I suspect you learned that as a child.

You’re now a successful medical professional – a labor and delivery nurse ensuring the safety and care for new moms and babies as God creates new families at Arkansas Children’s Hospital every day. It’s hard to imagine you fulfilling a calling that fits you better.

I’m glad we were on the same team for a time. We all learned some lessons in fundraising we can apply to whatever it is we pursue, wherever we might pursue it.

It’s not even my job to be proud of you. I’m proud of you, nonetheless. I hope that’s okay.

Happy, birthday, kiddo. You’ll always be that spunky kid to me.

Your friend,

Steve Watkins

 

 

Day 79: Dan Wagaman

 

Dear Dan,

It’s funny how times change.

When I was a teenager spring break meant my dad got a week of free labor as we readied for cotton planting season. The suggestion of a vacation would have been laughable. My kids have almost always thought spring break is an automatic ticket to the beach.

It was a late-season, last-minute call last week and I knew it wouldn’t be easy finding a place. Thank you very much for going out of your way to accommodate a condo for a few days. I have to take these opportunities when they come. Every year I fear my youngest daughter will be too old for me on the next.

Thank you for helping us, and again, for going above and beyond the call. That’s increasingly a lost art in this world.

See you in about 8 hours. We’re Perido Key bound for SBMMXII.

Bringing the check,

Steve Watkins

Day 78: Trudy Ramirez

“No story is a straight line. The geometry of a human life is too imperfect and complex, too distorted by the laughter of time and the bewildering intricacies of fate to admit the straight line into its system of laws.” ~ Pat Conroy

Dear Trudy,

Sometimes, the most unassuming people are the ones who quietly and unexpectedly command your attention. Oftentimes, they’re the ones who make the real difference.

Such was the case with you as you became the first person I “followed” across the Way of St. James. It was invigorating coming along on your journey as you told your story from the inside out.

You weren’t looking for attention. But you surely got it.

Trudy Ramirez, who shortly after her pilgrimage, made a bold move for a new life in France.

Every day, hundreds of us checked the status for Trudy Ramirez. How far did she make it today?  Did she hold up across those mountains? I hope last night’s bad sleep didn’t affect her too much … We knew you’d tell the story exactly as it happened with no sugar-coating and, moreover, that we’d get a strong sense of it all from your soul. That’s what drew people to you, Trudy. You weren’t just story telling. You were soul telling. You brought us along.

My walk began two short months after yours, so it was exciting reading your daily accounts. But there was more to it than just enjoying your story. Your attitude did much to shape the manner in which I’d ultimately tell my own. For some, telling the story is as much a part of pilgrimage as the walk itself. What’s the point of even doing some things if you can’t tell the story? Some of us don’t even know what we think until we see it in the written word. It’s just how we process life. Occasionally our own therapy is working for an unknown greater good. That’s how your story worked for me.

Thank you for your transparency, and for telling the story your way. It’s safe to say I’m not the only one you impacted. Your footsteps made a lasting imprint on so many hearts.

Ultreia.

Your fellow seeker,

Steve Watkins