You Just Never Know ...

We’ve all heard the adage, “Life is uncertain … eat dessert first”.  This week the Mountain Farmgirl got an all-too-vivid glimpse of how true this actually is. Join her as she considers how we all impact the world – for better or for worse -- and how brief some of our journeys might turn out to be, in “You Just Never Know…”

In our brief time on this earth, we should ever be mindful that our centers of influence have the ability to impact others both far and wide. This is an obvious fact for celebrities and people who are generally in the public eye.  But it’s equally true for the rest of us who lead quiet, more private lives as well. The ripples of our thoughts, actions and our attitudes can be far-reaching indeed! 

I shared a teachable moment about this in the car with my kids a few years ago. It involved a run-of-the-mill sort of incident, the type that we might all encounter every day and never give a second thought.  But this one has stayed with me ever since and given me plenty of food for thought.  On that particular day we were embarking on a little trip  and all feeling rather on top of the world. As we stopped at a convenience store to get some gas, one of the kids came inside with me to check out, and the man behind the counter was an employer’s worst nightmare. I mean this guy was a wretched, miserable old dude! There are, unfortunately, far too many times that we encounter poor service as the norm these days, and almost come to accept it, if not  expect it. But this guy noticeably stood out to the point we all talked about him after we got back into the car. What a 'downer' meeting him had been! As we tried to imagine why he could be so unhappy as to make us temporarily feel that way too, the kids had some good ideas as they tried mentally to ‘walk in his shoes’.   Hypothetical ideas ranged from an unhappy marriage, a serious medical diagnosis, to being broke … all things that could make even the best of us extremely melancholy. But then one of the kids had a thought that was not quite so obvious.

“Maybe he hates his job because it’s not very interesting or important”.  Now here was an idea that was a diamond in the rough, and worthy of further discussion. Teachable moment, indeed!  As we drove away from the pump I jumped on it in a flash, because I firmly believe that ALL of life is an opportunity, and everything is important. Sure, there are some dead end jobs that may be stop gaps along the way to bigger and better things in all of our futures. But everything we do is an opportunity to make the world a better place; the people we meet feel better; and a way to learn and educate ourselves, making us better people.

Nicely said, in theory that is.  Not so easy to accept when it hits close to home. For instance,  I smile when people tell me that they dream of being innkeepers someday, because there are days when it just isn’t all that sexy! Toilets overflow.  Phones ring at midnight. Most meals are interrupted by the front desk bell which beckons us literally 24 hours a day. Some people are unpleasable ... a few downright unpleasant. Sometimes I don’t want to get up to make those blueberry muffins and cinnamon rolls every morning at 5 am.  And when one or more of these events hits me on a ‘down’ day, even  I start becoming like the gloomy old geezer at the convenience store, grumbling to myself that I don’t like my ‘job’ and I should be doing something more meaningful at this stage in my life.  Truth be told, much of innkeeping (at least the part the public doesn’t see) IS so mundane! 

Well, when those thoughts start bouncing around my balmy little brain, it is a wake-up call for a major attitude adjustment!  Because an innkeeper, like everyone else in any profession, has important work to do, too, and it can be one of the most fulfilling things in the world. I have the ability to make people happy. In any of a hundred different ways, I can change the world one guest at a time. And nobody, not even my lesser self, can say THAT isn’t important!

I am reminded of the time about 10 years ago when I drove with my sister to take her son to school.  The school didn’t have a bus system, so if the kids couldn’t get their on their own steam, the parents had to drive them.  There was a huge line of cars as we approached; I mean probably close to a block long! Believe me, it was long enough to make all these sleepy, coffee-deprived  parents facing another day of work  at the office be REALLY annoyed to be sitting there for so long. But there was an older, retired man directing traffic as each car let their kids off at the curb. A common scene all over the country I suppose … except that this man had a gift, and in over a decade, (although I don’t know his name or anything about him), I have never forgotten him.  He was one of the happiest people I have ever met, making everyone smile and feel good – no … feel GREAT … during that brief encounter! For some parents it may have been the only time they would feel truly happy that entire day!  Now would you ordinarily say that a traffic guard is an “important” job?  Probably not, but this man was changing the world one car at a time, and few people could ever be more successful at it, no matter what profession they may be in.


How many people have you met like this? Like me, you can maybe think of a few – not MANY, but perhaps one or two. For me there was an ancient old lady on a playground when I was a toddler. I can still picture her: wrinkled, smelling of perfume and wearing too much rouge. She had a big fur coat and an old lady hat.  I never saw her again, but I remember her because she was so kind to me. I think of her once in a while, even though I couldn’t have been more than 3 years old when I met her!   Then there was a man I saw on the news when I was in high school.  He had been a passenger on an airplane that crash landed in a river.  He had silver hair and a goatee, and he was helping passengers get out of the ice cold water. He never made it out himself, but he was such a gentleman, putting the needs of others before himself.

It doesn’t take such a life or death sacrifice to make a difference in this world. It just takes kindness, a listening ear, a smile, or whatever your personal gift may be.  I knew a couple once who was searching desperately to make the world a better place.  They traveled to Africa, to India, to Hawaii to try to make a difference … but always looking ‘out there’ somewhere to do it ... and never quite finding it. They didn’t know that it can happen NOW … RIGHT HERE … without ever taking a single step.  And this brings me to the whole point of this story, and and the shock that prompted it.

Last week in our local paper there was a small news clip about a local woman who had gone ice skating in the rink at the town park with her family. She had fallen on the ice, and was unconscious for about 5 minutes, so an ambulance was called.  When she woke up she was mostly just embarrassed and laughed it off, but went to the hospital to appease her family. And you know what?  She died in the hospital.   The article didn’t mention any names, as it was too soon after the accident, but the next day it revealed that it was a 56 year old woman named Cindy S., who worked as the Front End Manager at our local grocery store. The area is in shock.

I’m guessing that most people, myself included, didn’t really ‘know’ Cindy beyond her name, if even that.  But then again, everybody knew her.  She was the smiling face that was always helping out the cashiers at the various checkout lines.  She’d bag food if it was needed; she’d help override a register mistake; take care of customer service questions; train new staff; address your problem if you had one. She did everything … and she ALWAYS had a smile and a good word for everybody. ALWAYS.  Few people like to shop; fewer still like to stand in line, and then empty their wallets at the register … but regardless of that, and the unpleasant fact that you would soon have to lug all your groceries out to the car and again into your house …  If you were lucky to have contact with Cindy, you left feeling that you had a pleasant experience and feeling better than when you came in. Cindy had the ‘Magic’, and she gave it away as freely as she did her beautiful smile. It makes me wonder, “Did I ever smile back at her in a way that would make HER day?”  I honestly can’t remember … We often take so much for granted in life … and we can get so rushed and busy that we don’t always ‘give back’ they way we would want …


 Our community has been in shock over this tragic loss. Three memorial tables were set up in the front of the store, where dozens of very large poster boards were set up for people to write messages on to her and her family. It makes me teary to even think about it, because this one person, who had what could be considered a very mundane ‘job’, impacted SO MANY people’s lives for the better. The thousands of comments, the flowers and gifts left for her family are visible proof of this.  They are also powerful reminders that despite such things as youth, good health and financial security, life IS uncertain. How will we impact the world while we are here? One smile at a time ... starting right NOW! You just never know …

Until next time, Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from

Cathi, The Mountain Farmgirl


By: Patricia Yellename
On: 02/20/2012 14:07:00
Wow, thank you for your very wise words today - you made my day, and I will be so grateful for what I have, and remember to smile, and hopefully make some one elses' day pleasant. I as much look forward to your blog.
By: Lisa
On: 02/20/2012 14:53:51
Hi Cathi,

I just wanted to say hello to you and thank you! I love that you wrote about the people in the world that truly make such a huge difference in our day to day lives. My heart agrees completely with this philosophy. You have been an awesome example to your children and to many around you, I can just tell.

Very Sincerely,
Your Farmgirl Sister,
Lisa (Elkaye)
By: Angie
On: 02/20/2012 15:34:56
Thank you. Good timing on this post from where I'm sitting recently. So sorry for your loss of Cindy. All the best to you & your community.
By: Laura
On: 02/20/2012 15:52:01
Such a lovely and touching story. We are reminded of how important it is to reach out to each other. Thank you for writing a sweet and sincere message.
By: cindy
On: 02/20/2012 15:55:42
What a beautiful message and reminder Cathi, especially with the celebration of Valentine's Day last week. It is a simple thing to extend a kindness. God gives us so many opportunities each day. What a difference it would make in our world if each of us took advantage of that. Mother Teresa says "You can do no great things, only small things with great love"
By: Deena
On: 02/20/2012 16:13:08
Dear Cathi, This was a soul searching blog today. I feel so strongly that we can one by one change our world with a smile and a helping hand. My children were so use to be volunteered to help out with things that they would greet me at the door asking what I had volunteered them for this time. Now that they are all older I don't volunteer us as a family. It warms my heart to see them continue the tradition by themselves.
Thank you for sharing what must have been a difficult article.
By: Vivian Monroe
On: 02/20/2012 16:31:38
Cathi, how sad and how true is it that we do not always take the time to just give someone something as simple and priceless as a smile. A genuine smile. One that reaches our eyes. I know this story has made me aware of how I walk in this world, and I hope I will be a better steward over my feelings for others. So sorry for the loss in your community. Now she is lighting up heaven with her beautiful smile. Be Blessed and thanks for reminding us to smile more
By: Maria Horvath
On: 02/20/2012 17:31:54
Thank you, Cathi, for this beautiful meditation. It's perfect for this week, with Ash Wednesday, when many of us will be beminded of our mortality, -- from dust to dust, from ashes to ashes.
By: Heather :) :) :)
On: 02/20/2012 18:29:41
Hi Cathi,

You said this so beautifully, that I don't know what to say know. one thing I do know, is that you can never tell what's going on in someone's life just by looking them :) :) I know what it's like to get bad service. All I can do is pray for that person, because there might be more to the story than what I encountered :) :) I'm sorry for that lovely lady at your store who lost her life. You just never know. I think it' so important to bloom where we're planted...and start with a smile. Yes, that can make a HUGE difference :) :) :) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather ;)
By: Jan Gibson
On: 02/20/2012 20:01:01
I too thank you for sharing your heart with all of us sisters out here in this great country. I look forward to your blog arriving in my inbox each month! There is so much that can be done...simply by beginning with a smile. I so appreciate your words of wisdom, and desire to put them into practice at once! It is so true that "it is in giving that we receive" and in blessing we are most truly blessed! Blessings to you and yours!
By: Lisa Bicknell
On: 02/20/2012 20:17:25
Thanks for the reminder, just when I'm in need of a little attitude adjustment.

I enjoy reading your blog posts!
By: Christine
On: 02/21/2012 04:07:33
Thanks again for sharing. Such a wonderful story. I know of some people like that, never seem to have a down day, always smiling. When I come accross someone like the guy in the gas station, I have to wonder if they are only looking at the not so good in stead of the good. Most of the time there is more good than bad. I have to remind myself of that sometimes, when things get tough. I have a roof over my head, food on the table, I'm warm in the winter, I have a job, and a husband who loves me, and so on. Most of all God always loves me!!
By: nMary Jane Walsh
On: 02/22/2012 05:19:07
I love to read your enteries.
This one is especially inspirational and I thank you.
Have a wonderful day!
By: Mary J
On: 02/23/2012 11:37:58
By: Betty Benesi
On: 02/23/2012 13:23:01
As I have gotten older (just turned 60), I often think what will I leave behind when I am gone. Your story about Cindy reminded me that it is just Love. Every day, we can make a difference in someone's life.
By: joan
On: 02/25/2012 04:30:47
Cathy, I just read the article to ed and loved it. I was just talking about the same thing to some friends the other day. Sorry about the loss in your community.

Love you


I just bought a new computer so now I can read all you back articles, before they would jam up.

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir

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