The whole concept of what a lighthouse is and can mean has always been a big deal to me.
The idea of a place serving as a beacon of hope and safety to desperate folks enduring their worst possible times forms a perfect metaphor to how a person may want to position himself or herself when it comes to aiding their fellow human beings.
Nancy has bought me models of lighthouses, photos of lighthouses and even a chess set made up of lighthouses over the years. But until two weeks ago, I had only seen one in my life.
Lighthouse overload was one of my high points of three weeks of travel halfway across the country.
After a whirlwind trip to Jackson Hole for a meeting we took our motorhome to western Iowa for a wedding and on to eastern Iowa to visit three siblings. Then we decided to head to the Great Lakes to personally see lighthouses up close.
During our visit to northeastern Wisconsin, we did get that fulfillment from seeing half dozen lighthouses. We also got to experience that feeling of folks reaching out to you when you are a confused traveler.
We needed to mail some letters and could not find a post office in Manitowoc. I was driving slowly and holding up traffic as I wandered from street to street, seemingly assuming it would obviously be in this spot or that.
We pulled into a convenience store, and a car pulled in beside me that had been behind me.
The guy jumped out and, boy, I assumed I was going to get an earful.
Instead, he was a big happy guy with a nice wife and a couple of kids. He came over and said, “You are not from around here, are you?” That must have been obvious by my Wyoming license plate.
“What are you looking for?”
When I told him, he kept his big smile and told me I was two blocks off and gestured in the direction I needed to travel to find the Post Office.
The whole exchange was stunning. Then, still smiling, he wished us a good day, got back in his car and left.
I looked at Nancy and she looked back to me. “Now wasn’t that nice?” she concluded.
It really was nice because I had been in a bad mood. I was stewing about being 1,500 miles from home where a big snowstorm was wrecking our trees plus two of my kids were traveling long distances across Wyoming in blizzard conditions. We had been pretty grumpy up to that point.
The kindness of that stranger helped a lot. Nice town, Manitowoc, we decided.
As we pulled out another guy gave us a big wave. A really big wave.
What the heck is wrong with the people in this town?
We rolled down our window and he did, too.
“I see you are from Wyoming,” he said. “I love your state. I am in the reserves and spent some wonderful times in Guernsey at the National Guard range there. You Wyomingites treated me very well.”
“Well, you Wisconsin folks have been treating us well, too,” I told him, with a smile.
We quickly found the Post Office and everything seemed much better in the world.
In Algoma, we had lunch at a nice eatery and gaggle of hens (women 65-plus) was playing cards in the corner. Nancy had a Jackson Hole tee shirt on and we were going through a stack of maps and brochures trying to decide how to get to Sturgeon Bay to see some lighthouses.
A gal named Jeannette jumped up and left the room. She came storming back and put a map and local newspaper in front of me and recommended these as guides. Also, she said we were just an hour from Sturgeon Bay but take County Road S, which is more scenic
“We were in Wyoming two weeks ago and everyone was so nice to us. I hope that I am returning the favor.” She and her husband Ken had traveled over 4,000 miles by car to North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. When she saw Nancy’s shirt and my traveler’s confusion she wanted to help us.
They were so darned nice, I happened to have a copy of my new Wyoming book in the car, so I signed it and gave them a copy as a souvenir of their trip to the Cowboy State.
Everyone left that restaurant happy that day, and we had experienced three more examples of people serving as beacons of help to confused travelers.
Sort of like lighthouses.
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.