When I originally left Poulsbo to go to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, I had no job, and no real understanding of what it would take to get and keep one, and so I didn't! My Mom paid for outstanding school fees after financial aid, and covered all my living expenses. Then, at the end of the year, my Mom's place of employment burned down. She was out of a job and since I had not become any more independent, I had to move home.
For a young gay man in the 1980s, it was the worst case scenario. I had escaped my hometown, but due to my lack of initiative, skills, and maturity, I was falling backward into the gravity well of anti-gay from which I had only recently escaped. There was no hope left.
On the last ferry trip back to Poulsbo, I encountered two musicians. Steve and Kat, whom I had seen many times busking on the Seattle to Bainbridge route. They were as charming and folksy as ever, but they sensed somehow that there was a troubled soul in their midst who needed their help.
Kat asked me if I was OK, and I told her my story. She nodded and had a short conversation with Steve. They ended their set with a song called "The Mary Ellen Carter" about a sunken ship that was raised again by its faithful crew. The chorus goes "No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend, be like the Mary Ellen Carter: rise again." There was something in the way that both of them emphasized the word "home" that told me that the song was for me.
Time passed. I finished my college years in 1989 and went to work in the student loan industry; still commuting from Poulsbo each day. Those first couple of years were rough. I didn't actually "rise again" until 1994 when my bandmates Stan and Marisa Lanning offered me an affordable basement suite in their house.
Tonight at Folklife after my set, which I thought of as extremely important, I did something that was actually important. I walked into the beer garden and Kat was standing there with some mutual acquaintances and I knew that I was being given an opportunity.
I approached her and told her about the day she and Steve gave me the gift of reassurance on ferry from Bainbridge Island. Her eyes widened "That was you?" I didn't have any expectation that she might remember. She did remember, though. I finally got the chance to tell her about all the nights and days that the refrain of the song she and Steve sang for me rang in my ears and kept my spirits up until it was time for me to move back home to the city again.
The upshot of this story is that if you get the chance to speak with someone who made your life better as a young person, say something. Tell her or him that she or he made a difference in your life.