Good things come to those who wait

About ten vendors were set up at the St. Marys Community Market last Saturday, in 40-degree temperatures. Most of them were selling honey and handicrafts. The name “community market” should have tipped me off — there was only one produce vendor. There’s a huge advantage to such a limited selection; I was able to get all my shopping done in five minutes!

It seemed silly to ride my bicycle all that distance without spending a little more time in town, so I took myself to a nearby cafe for breakfast.

The only problem was, all the tables at the cafe were full. To kill some time while I waited, I walked into the adjacent art gallery. That was where I met Cindy, who was sitting at the sales desk, painting miniature houses.

We started chatting, and I mentioned that I was from Seattle. Hearing that, she lit up like a Christmas tree — Cindy grew up in Seattle, 50 years ago. She was overjoyed to have someone to talk with about the Pacific Northwest.

She arrived in St. Marys many years ago, in a move that was intended to be temporary. Her husband’s job was associated with the nearby submarine base when “peace broke out,” she says with a wry laugh. Because of the job, the family had to stay in St. Marys for years, instead of returning to Seattle. When they finally divorced, Cindy still couldn’t leave — by then, her children had met and married local people. Meanwhile, out in Seattle, her mother, father, and brother passed away.

Cindy told me how she longed to see the pink sunsets on Mount Rainier again and ride a Puget Sound ferry. She described the Pike Place Market in the 1950’s, exploring the labyrinthine lower levels as a child. She and her family had spent time on Camano Island, camping near Utsalady Point and nearly buying a house there.

As she reminisced, Cindy told me that she’d even written to Starbucks, begging them to open a store in St. Marys. “Whenever I sit in a Starbucks, I imagine Mount Rainier through the window,” she told me. “It takes me back there.”

I lost track of my reason for stepping into the gallery, which was to wait until a table opened in the cafe. I lingered, talking with Cindy for over an hour. When I finally tore myself away and sat down for breakfast, every table was empty. I had the place to myself to think about Cindy’s story and her fierce homesickness for the Pacific Northwest.

The definition of an expatriate is a person who lives outside their native country. Is it possible to be an expat without even leaving the country?

Cindy’s story is proof that it is. The culture of St. Marys is completely different from that of Seattle, and she can never go home again. But with three children and many grandchildren in this part of the country, all she needs is a Starbucks to be reasonably happy.