A nice gesture by a nice woman

I don't remember what brought Marci to the frozen north. For me it was a family thing. I left California to live with my dad and his second wife; things hadn't gone well with my mom and me. Marci's husband had a cushy accounting job, so maybe that's what brought them to Anchorage, Alaska. The state's lousy weather and remoteness ensured above-average pay for average jobs.

Marci had taken work as a substitute high school teacher. This was another example of the remarkable northern pay scale: It was possible to make more as a sub in Alaska than many full-time teachers make in the lower 48.

I first met Marci through my parents, though. My dad had sold her folks a place in Wenatchee, Wash., before he moved north.

So I was a sad ninth-grader. You know, changing schools and families at that spectacularly awkward age. Besides being socially inept, I worked every day after school. Making friends wasn't going well.

We lived in a hotel for a good part of that year. My stepmom had a government job that moved us to Alaska two months after I had changed families, and they would put you up in the Inlet Towers until you found a place. The plumbing there didn't work to my dad's satisfaction, though, so partway into the year we moved into a nasty condo in a nasty part of town. My first year of high school just got worse all the time.

I'd take a city bus for the 12-mile, hour-long ride to the car dealer for my job. Then I'd walk a mile from the bus stop to the dealership. If there was sufficient snow on the power lines, I kept myself entertained by giving each power pole a good kick as I passed it.

There, I swept the floors, installed studs in snow tires, and emptied the trash.

One day, though, Marci intercepted the bus. I was standing on the corner hoping all of life wasn't going to be like this, and she drove up, barely, in what was left of a rusty VW bug. She told me to hop in. Nice. At least a friendly ride would break up the dreary life, I thought. She had been subbing at my school that day and thought I needed rescuing.

But then she said we were not going to work. She had arranged for me to have the afternoon off. A good afternoon had just gotten better.

Marci has to be one of the nicest people in the world. She had been enduring the duties of a substitute teacher day after day, yet she wanted to deal with an adolescent boy in her off time.

I've kept up with Marci ever since high school - a long time - and she's been full of this kind of generosity. We visited her as she was raising babies; she liked meeting ours. We took her kids sledding when they were little. Hers played fort with ours when we came to visit. We helped her daughter get settled into her freshman year of college. Our love was with her when her husband passed away too young.

Ice cream was the first stop that hooky-playing afternoon, of course.

The second stop was ... the Honda motorcycle dealer?

We went inside and she spread her arms wide and said "Tell me everything about Hondas, Douglas."

I knew learning about motorcycles was not really her point. I was a geek, not a fool. It was kind of an awkward thing, her feigning interest in what she knew to be my passion. When I rode motorcycles there was no talking, no goofy hair, no family, and she knew this. It was a silly gesture; I couldn't even fake a response to her invitation. We just looked at each other and laughed.

So I got to wander around with someone who liked me just for me, and look at the newest models for a few minutes. Minutes with someone who had no agenda. It wasn't complicated or frustrating or burdened with history. She was just a nice lady doing a nice thing and I dug every minute of it.

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