Silence holds stories for those who listen


Not long ago, I came upon a friend in the Valley of the Sun, one whom I hadn't seen for some time. She asked me where I was living. When I told her, she frowned and asked, "Strawberry? Where's that?"

"Oh, just below the Mogollon Rim on Highway 87."

"Really?" she answered. "Isn't it very quiet up there?"

Her tone and her question were asking me whether it wasn't too quiet for someone who has spent many years living in the bustle and din of a large state university in a sprawling metropolis.

Yes, Virginia, this is a quiet place; and it's good to be here.

I called to mind an earlier conversation with a friend a priest, no less who had gone to spend a week at the cabin of a kindly physician, just south of Flagstaff. When he returned, he told me: "My God, it was quiet! Boy, was I glad to get back in the Valley. They didn't even have a television in the place!"

Obviously, his only justification for going there was defeated. How could he help people to find a "quiet place" when his own life was so oppressed by sound and bluster that he avoided both silence and solitude?

Oh, I admit that sometimes I get a bit fidgety, even bored, in this quiet place. But I tell myself, fidgety and bored are good. They teach you to find what you don't know you're looking for. Children need to learn that bored is good.

Actually, this quiet place below the Rim is filled with all kinds of beautiful sounds and stillness. You just have to be patient, to wait for the unexpected. This place is full of stories. Here are people who decided to retire to a quiet place. Here are others who want to live and work here, even if they have to eke out a meager daily bread, often just a step above subsistence. The only ones who don't seem to belong in this quiet place are those who want to get rich they should do it in the Valley or on Wall Street.

I walk into the Strawberry Lodge for lunch. There sits a feisty elderly man 88 years, I think. He's been where all of us are going. His crankiness is just an epidermis. You wait and you listen. This man lives by himself, his wife has been gone for many years. But he remembers World War II, maneuvering a train on the Santa Fe from Gallup to Winslow, delivering German prisoners of war on the way to internment in Phoenix. He remembers the Korean War. You may get the same story more than once, but you learn to listen and ask questions. This man lives in a quiet place. That's all he has except an occasional kindly listener.

When you get right down to it, that's all any of us has.

The people who work at the lodge work in a quiet place. The gentile woman who has owned the lodge for 30 years she has stories that will set you straight about faithfulness, simplicity, and the best doggone pies in all of the West, partner.

There are cooks who make it the way you want it just ask nicely. And there are two servers just the loveliest, friendliest, and most efficient people you'll ever meet, anywhere. One is from Mexico. She teaches me Spanish. The other used to run an Italian restaurant in Phoenix.

The woman who keeps the books well, she'll stun you with a kind of sassy beauty that speaks quietly: "You want to know what it's all about? Well, wait for my story."

Richard E. Wentz is Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University and resides in Strawberry. He is the author of numerous books and articles and is also a professional storyteller. His column appears on the first and third Fridays of each month. Dr. Wentz welcomes comments and questions that may be sent to the Payson Roundup at P.O. Box 2520, Payson, AZ. 85547 C/O Richard E. Wentz.

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