The nicest thing

6 December, 2015            The nicest thing

Partners in crime

Partners in crime (Bottoms Up Pizza, ~2005)

This is a picture of me with my old friend Skye at Bottoms Up Pizza a few years ago. We used to get out a lot but he moved to North Carolina to be closer to his family. We catch up a couple of times a year now but not as often as I’d like.

His speech is difficult to understand if you don’t know him well. Once we went out for dinner and it was my privilege to witness what may have been the nicest thing I ever saw.

I’ll write about it at more length at the end of this post. So you can slog through the usual drivel and amateur photography or go straight to the bottom.

Actually this first shot isn’t “the usual drivel and amateur photography” – it’s me holding my handsome new nephew Wesson at 7:30 this morning in Blacksburg. Photo courtesy of his father, my brother Shane:

See how sweet he looks? He's even sweeter!

See how sweet he looks? He’s even sweeter!

He took that with my camera, which doesn’t love indoor light. This is an example of what it does outdoors; I took this picture Saturday afternoon when we arrived in Blacksburg:

Mockingbird on a winter morning in Blacksburg

Mockingbird on a frigid morning in Blacksburg

When I get a cooperative subject in nice light like that, if they don’t leave, I take a lot of pictures. Here’s another one that turned out well: 

Closeup of the eye and head. I just love the detail.

Closeup of the eye and head. I just love the detail.

Of course speaking of bird photography, I always include a photo of the neighborhood Red-tails if they’re around. This was on December 4; December is the eighth consecutive month I have photographed Red-tails in my neighborhood. I continue to be delighted. Although you can’t get as close to a Red-tail as you can to a mockingbird: 

Population control for small mammals in our neighborhood

Population control for small mammals in our neighborhood

I took a cute picture of a phoebe in Bryan Park on Thursday but the light was poor and I won’t use the picture. Phoebes are subtly colored and they benefit from better light. I’ll get one soon, maybe at Pony Pasture. I did have one cooperative subject that perched in the sun in Bryan Park; these sweet gum balls are always pretty:

Sweetgum ball toasting in the sun

Sweetgum ball toasting in the sun

Sometimes when the light is nice and I see a lot of subjects I enjoy, I get manic and take way too many pictures. I did that yesterday in Blacksburg at my brother’s and again this morning. Those mockingbird pictures are the result of that though; it’s nice when I get a good one. This morning it was foggy and 22º and the fog froze on the pine needles. This is a nice December image:

Frozen fog on pine needles

Frozen fog on pine needles

I haven’t put up pictures of the dogs lately. Kristin and Shane and Wesson and their lovely dog Tara welcomed us into their home this weekend – and I didn’t get a picture of all three dogs together! Next time I will. She is a doll. Here are my two buddies. We went for a hike in the woods this morning near Shane’s house since Pony Pasture was far away:

Mackey and Turner enjoying Sunday morning in the woods

Mackey and Turner enjoying Sunday morning in the woods

Enough of the first part of this post – I hope you’ll return next week. I also hope you’ll read this next piece. It’s been forever since it happened. But I was in the food court at Regency Square last week and I had a huge flashback. It was like it happened five minutes earlier.

Have a great week,



The nicest thing I ever saw

My buddy’s name is Skye; some of you know him. Skye uses a wheelchair and although he’s a gifted communicator, his speech is difficult to understand if you don’t know him. Skye loves Italian food (and about a hundred other kinds) and we ate at the Food Court at Regency Square regularly. He grew up here in Richmond but moved to NC a few years ago to be closer to his family.

Regency Square is a nice mall, but it’s not as busy as it once was. It opened in 1975. The food court is great. One evening we had gotten our pizza and sat down just a few feet away from the register. The person behind the register was a young, handsome black guy with a relaxed smile. The manager came up to have a word with him about something. The manager was big and tired looking and overweight in late middle-age. He gave the impression of a person whose life had passed them by, and they knew it. Whatever he was saying to the young guy, it wasn’t going over well.

They weren’t raising their voices, but their postures grew angry and stiff and tense. There was finger-pointing and angry glares. I’ve been in management; you can get yourself in interpersonal situations that have no graceful means of exit. It was painful to watch. It was obvious they both wanted it to be over, but there is just no way to exit a situation like that gracefully. This was probably ten years ago and I feel all my personal anxiety sensations ratcheting up even as I type this.

The food court was sparsely populated, and a young couple came in at the far end looking for something to eat. They were hispanic, probably from Mexico. They looked lost and uncertain. Their daughter was in a stroller. She was about two years old and she was stunning. She was beautifully dressed and her hair was tied in a small bow and her brown eyes were so dark you couldn’t tell where her pupils ended and her irises began. And they were huge. She was taking in every bright sign and decoration on every side, and she was fascinated.

The two men arguing behind the counter were focused on each other, and the little family was focused on food. They decided the menu posted above the two men looked best, and approached the register. The whole family was beautiful. The two men behind the counter were not unattractive, but they were acting so ugly toward each other it made you want to turn your head away.

The couple walked to the register and the young man became aware that they were waiting for his assistance. And his face turned from the angry glare of his manager to the vision in that stroller and as I watched his face was utterly transformed – in less than one breath – and split into a smile nearly as beautiful as the little girl in front of him. And instead of saying “can I help you?” or “may I take your order?” or “what will you be having this evening?” he said “You have a beautiful baby!”  

It was the nicest thing I ever saw. Two grown men were locked in a painful struggle that was like a knot tied by a torturer. The harder you worked to get out of it, the tighter it got. And this gorgeous tiny human being rolled up in her stroller and untied it without even knowing there was a knot. It was the nicest thing I ever saw.

It’s been ten years since that happened but the way it’s etched on my brain it feels like ten minutes. Because as I watched it happen, as I watched that lovely little family stop in front of the register, as I saw the young man’s angry glare transformed, I knew in that moment what a privilege it was to watch this happen. I didn’t realize it later; I felt it inside my heart and lungs and soul while I sat there in that food court with my friend. If I live to be a hundred, I have no need to see something more beautiful – that was enough.

Have a great week,




About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Birds, Dogs, Fun, mockingbirds, People, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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