Saturday, November 6, 2021

Simple Gestures and Wistful Memories


It turns out a long drive half the distance of the state this weekend became a chance to trigger some memories—and learn some new lessons from old places.

Our training company had an engagement this weekend in San Diego. Sometimes, it is just easier to drive to such events, rather than pack up for air travel all the unusual items featured in my husband's unique presentations, so we carved the five hundred mile journey into two segments and set out by car.

At the end of the first day's drive, we decided to stop at a hotel where we had stayed many times in the past. This was the host hotel where the Southern California Genealogical Society held their annual conference when it was still live in Burbank—before the pandemic, that is. Even though it's been a while since we last could attend Jamboree in person, I couldn't help but wish there was another one coming up soon. I miss seeing everyone, their smiling faces, and the buzz of excited attendees gathering together over a subject which means so much to us all.

Yes, we'll soon emerge from this genealogical social isolation and maybe someday we'll wonder if we could have handled things a bit differently. Still, I wonder whether the pent up demand will factor into registrations for another live conference which will occur on our side of the continent—the annual conference of the National Genealogical Society, held in Sacramento, California, next May 24 through May 28.

Unlike the regional conference Jamboree, the NGS event is a national conference with a bigger reach. Drawing more big-name speakers and a wider variety of subjects, it will likely also attract a larger crowd from far more locations across the country—and perhaps a few intrepid researchers from other nations, as well.

Even though attending the upcoming live conference in Sacramento will be just the antidote to genea-isolation I've been craving, the difference between the regional Jamboree and the national NGS conference may embody another message which can speak volumes to us—at least to those of us involved with local societies.

I don't know about your local genealogy gatherings, but in the past twenty months—yes, I've been counting—of nothing but informational Zoom meetings, our genealogical society has seen some changes. Some are changes we wish we didn't have to undergo, of course, though some did turn out to have a positive side. Sure, we miss seeing each other in person—and so many members have directly expressed as much. Yet, being forced to have an online presence for our meetings has had an unexpected benefit: we gained new members from across the continent.

The down side is: those were the only new members we've gained in these dreary on-going months of social isolation. Gone have been the many outreach programs our society conducted in the past—programs which, besides the community service offered, also served to recruit new members locally. No face-to-face classes, no one-on-one ask-a-volunteer sessions at the library, no booths set up at local fairs meant no new members.

That, over the years, can evolve into a big problem. And I have a feeling it will take a different mindset to navigate the reversal of that process.

On our drive south this weekend, though, not only did our first hotel stop make me homesick for those wonderful years of face-to-face convening at Jamboree; I was gifted with a moment to learn a lesson about the importance of re-introductions.

It happened at our customary first stop along the highway after leaving home. Driving through the center of the state on our trip to southern California means spending hours with very little to break up the agricultural scenery. We've settled into a routine for those requisite rest stops along the way. The first stop occurs near the crossroads of the Interstate and a state highway. There, very little besides a restaurant, a gas station, a couple hotels, and a Starbucks coffee shop compete for our business. I always opt for the coffee shop.

While every time I travel this route, I always stop at this coffee place, with the limitations of the pandemic, it also meant that I hadn't been a customer there for nearly two years. Yet, this happened to be the day the company was rolling out the festive decorations and menu offerings for the holidays. Though I ordered the same choices as always—a plain latte and breakfast sandwich, plus a brownie for the road—this time, the service was different.

When the routine changes at places where we expect things to remain the same, we take notice. Unlike before, this time the barista, after warming my sandwich, placed the order in a small shopping bag, and walked out in front of the counter with outstretched arms, calling my name. It wasn't until I unloaded the car at the hotel that night that I saw the one added value to her gesture: she had written a greeting on the shopping bag along with my name, wishing me a happy holiday season. Made me wish I lived close enough to make that my regular stop every morning.

How small a gesture, when unexpected yet sincere, can elevate its importance to the recipient. You can be sure I'll be thinking about that small token far more than the time it took that employee to grab a pen and draw a smile and a greeting.

More than anything else, though, it carried the same unspoken message we all yearn to receive: "I'm glad you're back. I hope we can see you again." I'm pretty sure the local members of our own societies are yearning to hear those words, as well. 

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