Hey everyone and happy Sunday! I hope all of you are having a wonderful, relaxing weekend. This past Thursday, I had to venture out to the Tri-C campus in Parma, Ohio for an extra credit lecture. Because I’m literally never in Parma since I don’t attend that campus, I decided to make a post on my Facebook to let my friends in the area know that I will be there for the afternoon in case anyone wanted to meet up afterwards. My friend, Danielle, replied and we decided to meet up at the bar that she works at in Lakewood which was about fifteen minutes away.
Because Danielle’s work didn’t open until four, we started at a bar that was down the street called The Patio. Danielle was treating me to twenty-first birthday drinks even though it’s over a year late so that’s what made me justify drinking at the bar at three in the afternoon! About halfway through our time at The Patio, an older gentleman walked into the bar and within ten minutes he came up to us and asked if we liked Playhouse Square (the beautiful theater in Cleveland).
Being an avid lover of the theater, of course I replied with an enthusiastic “YES”. This sent who I now know was Weldon Carpenter off to his car to retrieve a photo album and a surprise treat. While Weldon was at his car, the bartender explained to us that he was a historian and photographed Playhouse Square and the surrounding theaters since their openings. She also told us that he used to work as the personal chef to the one and only Miss Judy Garland.
Just as the bartender was finishing up her briefing on Weldon, he came walking in with a thick photo album and two teddy bears for me and Danielle. He told us that he has over one hundred and fifty little stuffed animals that he keeps handy just to make people smile. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a stuffie sitting on the bar that he must have gifted to the bartender when we weren’t looking. “Aren’t they beautiful?” he asked as Danielle and I held our new bears on our laps. And they really were. The beauty lied in the gesture and the bear he picked for me couldn’t have been any more perfect considering it was sporting a black t-shirt!
After we settled in with our drinks and teddies, we began to look through Weldon’s album, page by page. With every picture of each theater, there was a story or memory that went along with it and I was just mesmerized. To watch him smile and speak enthusiastically about the memories that he loved so much was something that was really special to me. None of my grandparents are alive so I haven’t conversed with someone in that age range in quite some time. Speaking with Weldon felt good and safe. It made me want to curl up in a blanket and hear more.
With every page turned, Weldon insisted on either one of us taking whichever photo we liked. “Don’t worry, I have plenty of copies and I give them all away for free”. His gentle prodding led to both of us picking out a photo that we loved and you could tell how pleased he was that we did. This man genuinely loved sharing what he felt was beautiful – and it was.
After we finished looking at Weldon’s photo album and listened to a few stories about how he met Judy Garland at his friend Mae West’s party we unfortunately had to part ways. Danielle had to be at work so we had to head down the street to the bar for a night of serving for her and more drinking for me. But all evening, I was still enraptured by the kind stranger who we spent a half hour with in the bar. The man who bore gifts and treats for complete strangers and left them feeling like they had just met their guardian angel or long lost friend.
When I got home, I Googled Weldon and found so many articles boasting that he was one of Lakewood’s local legends. Pages full of articles telling tales of theaters, photos, and stories similar to the one that I just told you. I felt proud. I felt proud that the city that he seemed to love so much loved him back. I felt proud that he was sharing his beautiful spirit and stories with the world. I felt proud that I just met him.
Will I ever see Weldon again? Maybe, if I head up to Lakewood around three or so, I’ll find him at The Patio enjoying a glass of red wine that he will be diluting with shaved ice. Maybe I’ll see him sharing a photo or a stuffed bear with another person at the bar. But until then, I’m so happy to consider Weldon Carpenter as A New Friend.