Recently, a guest at our home asked how my oldest son had become so entrenched in Italian language and culture to the point of making a career as an Italian wine specialist. I recited the familiar story: On a trajectory to law school, he needed two years of language credits that he wasn’t so enthused about. He spotted a poster on campus offering credit for a year while only studying six weeks in Italy. Perfect, he thought, and off he went.
What he didn’t know was how quickly he would speak fluently, how he loved everything Italian, and that by the end of six weeks, he was being mistaken as a native on the street. Back at the University of Oregon, he changed his studies to Italian.
Our visitor commented, “Isn’t it amazing how a single moment can be life-changing?” For my son, that was seeing the poster. Pivotal moments are points in time when something big or little happens that shifts a person’s direction.
Intrigued, I thought of two newcomers to the valley who I was sure would have had a pivotal moment prompting a move from New Jersey to the Methow. Jimmy and Melissa Cahill graciously accepted my request to interview them at their home in Liberty Woodlands.
I listened carefully while Melissa talked about her high-powered job in Manhattan, wearing business suits and heels every day, commuting two hours plus to her subway stop in the World Trade Centers. She arrived at 8:30 on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, a bright-eyed 20-something, and walked across the street to the building where she worked some 50 floors up. She survived that day because of one of those choices made without knowing why. Watching the horror from the street, she decided she should get away from there. She walked hurriedly to Chinatown and watched the aftermath on TV. Four of her co-workers were lost.
Was that the moment that she and Jimmy decided to move away? No, they both stated emphatically. To the contrary, it was more reason to stay, so as not to give in to the fear of terrorism.
It was Jimmy who first began to question what their life was all about. Raised by a single mom in a rough Jersey hood, he rose up and became a successful contractor, working long hours. With two incomes, money was not an issue; but, it was spent on newer, classier cars, clothes and shoes, and upgraded housing. He began to visualize their world as becoming ossified. Generally referring to bone formation, it is also defined as a state of being molded into a rigid, unimaginative condition. Status quo. Their mold didn’t feel right. Melissa said it took her longer to come to the table. She was embedded in corporate America.
The day came when Jimmy asked Melissa if she would still like him if they lived in a place where they saw each other more than a few minutes each day. Absolutely, she replied. She was all in. So began their quest for a different life. Traveling around the country, they landed in Florida for a while, then Maine. The journey west took them to Boise, Bozeman, and, eventually, to the Methow where Jimmy’s aunt and uncle live.
Why did they stay here? Finally, the pivotal moment: Lou, their Jersey dog, loved it here! Jimmy and Melissa love it, too. Asked what they like most — first, Melissa said the pure, clean water from the tap. Then, both love the sense of community and the warm welcome they have received and, naturally, the beauty. Jimmy says it’s another country from the East Coast, but at least they didn’t have to learn a new language.
What do they miss? Melissa quickly says “an Asian restaurant.” When I prompted her to please open one — since she is Korean by ethnicity — she said, “It would not be Asian, but Italian.” An Italian family adopted her and her twin sister when they were 3 months old. Thus, Italian cuisine is her cooking expertise. Jimmy has continued his contracting business here; his skill set is extensive and extraordinaire. You can find Melissa volunteering at Winthrop Gallery or helping out Dave at the Wine Shed, among other things.
Jimmy quipped that if he wrote a book about moving to “another country,” his advice would be to join Kiwanis (as Melissa has) or become a volunteer firefighter (as he has). There is so much more to write about the Cahills’ amazing journey, but if you see them around the valley, get to know them!
Rodent update: I heard from a Wolf Creek resident who told the ultimate rodent story: $3,500 damage to the duct system under her house!
Woodstone Pizzeria, Friday, Oct. 4, 1:30-2:30 p.m. Next up: Mazama and the mail.