Gail Strohschein walked into our office last week with an envelope of photos and a story to tell. It’s a story, she said, that is especially important right now. She mentioned the riots in Baltimore and Jon Krakauer’s recently published book on sexual assaults involving college students in Missoula. While those are important, she said another narrative is being overlooked.
“The main reason I came in here is because there are good kids out there,” Gail, who is nearing 80 years old, said. She sat down in my office to tell me about it.
A few weeks ago, high winds toppled a 90-foot tree on Gail’s property across the road in the Helena Flats area. It was quickly removed and sawed into pieces. Gail’s neighbor brought over a wood splitter and the two began chopping up and stacking about two cords of wood, which in a pile would measure 8 feet high, 16 feet long and 8 feet deep.
It was slow going. She began at 10 a.m. and continued working through the afternoon. At one point, a woman pulled over and asked if she could send some boys over to help. At first, Gail was skeptical of the proposition and asked the stranger if the boys knew how to stack wood. The driver assured her that they did.
Soon, nine very fit young men appeared and got to work. They were all wrestlers at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Just one of them lived in the area. The others were visiting and of varying backgrounds and ethnicities.
At this point in the story, she began flipping through her photographs of the nine smiling college students carrying wood, laughing and posing with a dog. They looked like they were enjoying themselves, laboring under the sun to help a stranger.
“I still don’t know their names,” Gail said. “I don’t know where they live. I don’t know nothing.”
But they had a lasting effect on her. Retelling what happened the afternoon of May 6, she choked up a bit, “You just look and see all these kids that come to help you. I would have worn out. I couldn’t have kept going all day.”
The boys, however, made quick work of the wood. “They were like bees,” Gail recalled, and had the wood stacked and her property cleaned up in about an hour and a half.
That’s Gail’s story. That’s why she drove to our office in Kalispell. To her, this is news that needs to be shared. And her telling also tells you something about Gail. She’s a self-described optimist and thinks others should be, too. And they should.
People in general tend to remember negative experiences more than positive. A 2001 article in The Review of General Psychology explains, “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones.”
In other words, even if far more good than bad events happen in our lives, we still remember the bad more vividly.
Here’s another Gail story that tells you a little bit about how she approaches life. When her lilacs were poisoned, she refused to let someone offer a reward to find out who did it. “Because I didn’t want to know,” she said. “Because I didn’t want to dislike any of my neighbors.”
So often in this job, someone stops by our office or calls the newsroom with a story about disagreements. It’s human nature. Then there’s Gail, a stranger who simply wants you to know, “there are good kids out there. And I’m praying for each and every one of them every night.”
I agree with Gail. There are good kids. There are a lot of good seniors, too.
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