Editor’s note: This article is part of a series that highlights the Pay it Forward movement with stories of ordinary people benefiting from acts of kindness and how they choose to pay that kindness forward.
BANGOR, Maine — Miriam Kates-Goldman, 22, of Bangor has a new camera. With it came the responsibility to Pay it Forward by telling a story. By doing so, she will become the transmitter of an oral history that originated during the World War II era. Kates-Goldman describes herself as “having a talent for talking to elderly people.” She loves hearing their stories. She loves history and wants to preserve it. That goal led her to her job as a tour guide for Fort Knox in Prospect.
“I get to teach people about history on a regular basis,” she said.
On May 2, Kates-Goldman and a friend were walking in a Bangor park when they saw a man in his late 60s taking photographs. She introduced herself to the man and struck up a conversation. The man, whom Kates-Goldman identified only as J., mentioned that he had spent time in the military and that he lived in Massachusetts. In the course of the conversation, he revealed that he was nearing the end of his life due to a brain tumor.
Turning their talk to other things, Kates-Goldman admired J.’s camera, a Nikon D70 digital single lens reflex model. And to her amazement, J. asked her if she wanted it.
“I was speechless,” Kates-Goldman said. “This was my dream camera.” She had been wanting such a camera, but couldn’t afford one. “I asked him, ‘Are you serious?’”
J. was serious.
“But there is a catch,” he said. “You have to listen to a story.”
Kates-Goldman said she’d be happy to hear the story.
“He took the camera, literally, off his neck and gave it to me,” she said. He also gave her accessories that included a lens, a battery, a charger, cords, lens cap, UV protector, hood, remote control and screen protector. The camera alone costs $600-$800.
Here is what J. told Kates-Goldman: When he was a young man, he was stationed in Norman, Okla. He had leave and was hitchhiking to Nacogdoches, Texas, to see his girlfriend. The driver who gave him a ride, a plumber, said he wasn’t going as far as Nacogdoches, but that was OK with J. The two got talking and the plumber missed his exit. He drove J. to a bus station and bought him a round trip ticket to Texas and back to Oklahoma.
J. told Kates-Goldman, “I wanted to pay him, but the plumber said, ‘Don’t pay me, listen to my story and pass it on.’”
This is the plumber’s story: After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that propelled the United States into World War II, the plumber’s son enlisted in the Marine Corps. This was a period of time when servicemen were trained quickly and shipped out immediately, without the usual period of leave before going overseas. However, there was a lottery system so one man out of a unit would get to go home before shipping out. The plumber’s son won the draw. The son set out hitchhiking from San Diego to Texas to see his family. But rides weren’t plentiful and halfway home the young Marine realized he’d never get to Texas and back again before his overseas departure date. He turned around and started hitching a ride back to the base. He was given a ride by a traveling salesman, who, when he heard the young man’s story, took him to the nearest bus station and bought him a round trip ticket to Texas and back to California. The Marine visited his family, returned to his base and shipped out. The visit was the last time the plumber saw his son, who was killed overseas. The plumber said he was buying J. the bus ticket and passing his story on to J. in hopes that it would somehow find its way to the salesman or his family so they would know how much the saleman’s act of kindness meant to the plumber and his family.
J. told Kates-Goldman he was Paying it Forward by giving her the camera — and the story. He said, “You don’t have to do anything right now, but you have to do something big for someone and pass on the story.” A story that now includes her.
As it happens, Kates-Goldman already has passed on the story through a Facebook page. She doesn’t know when the rest of her obligation will be met.
“I will see a need and when I do, I will fulfill it,” she said.