The elevator in Norton Town Hall stopped dead in its tracks. Hank Gresham (lifelong resident) and Madilyn Baxter (resident of one of Norton's finest new subdivisions) were stuck together between the first and second floor. The two had strong opposing views about the future of the town.
For some reason the issue of raising property taxes to fund capital improvements in the schools influenced how these two otherwise kind and reasonable people felt about each other. Yet they didn’t even know each other. Even worse, it actually impacted how they treated one another. In the five minutes before the elevator shut down, each went out of their way to slow the other person down. Madilyn succeeded twice, Hank once.
Madilyn's stroller served as a boundary between the two testy stranded passengers. Madilyn searched her bag for her cell phone while Hank rattled his cane on the metal door to get someone's attention. She wouldn't find her phone. She realized she left it in her Lexus. Meanwhile, in the stroller, little Joshua was beginning to really crank up the volume on his wailing.
A voice yelled up the shaft from the first floor. He confirmed everyone was alright, said that it would be a few minutes to get the elevator working again, and asked everyone to remain calm.
Madilyn was trying everything to soothe little Joshua. None of her usual tricks were working. From on the other side of the stroller she thought she could hear singing over Joshua's wailing. It was familiar to her but she couldn't place it. She found herself following along but she was one beat behind. She realized Joshua must have started to calm himself because she could hear the singing more clearly. It was working, Joshua was listening.
By the end of the song Madilyn finally placed it. It was Bare Necessities from Disney’s Jungle Book. Her uncle used to sing it to her when she was a child. She gave Joshua his pacifier she and thanked Hank for the assist by way of a clenched smile. Then unfortunately the awkward silence began again.
Now it was Madilyn's turn. She commented on the weather. Hank gave a short reply befitting her weak attempt at small talk. Madilyn was disappointed in herself. She knew she should have come up with something better than the weather. Fortunately Hank raised the stakes. He introduced himself. Then he asked Madilyn how long she lived in Norton and what restaurants she liked in town.
The ice was broken. Little Joshua was fast asleep. The two strangers found themselves engaged in a rapid fire conversation on a broad range of topics. They both wisely and intentionally stayed clear of discussing the upcoming vote
With each wave of the conversation, they began to learn things about the other that never would be explored had the elevator not broken down. Madilyn talked about her volunteer work. Hank talked about his military service overseas. They talked about their mutual love of gardening, for Hank it was roses, for Madilyn it was heirloom tomatoes. Madilyn found herself charmed by Hank. More reserved, Hank could not deny that Madilyn was a truly nice person.
Every five minutes or so the voice gave the same progress report from downstairs, "It should be about 10 more minutes".
When Madilyn commented on Hank's beautiful wedding band a permanent bond was formed. Hank choked up explaining how he lost the love of his life and wife of 35 years to breast cancer. Madilyn then tearfully recollected her pain in losing her mother to the same dreaded disease. In a perfectly gentlemanly gesture, Hank produced a linen handkerchief for Madilyn to wipe her tears. Hank was astounded to learn that Madilyn had raised over $25,000 in donations in her annual walks to find a cure. She asked if she could keep the handkerchief as a keepsake to help inspire her on her upcoming 3 day fundraising walk in July.
They switched to less painful topics, her famous lasagna, his famous home brewed lager, a shared passion for hot fudge sundaes.
Finally a new voice yelled up with a reassuring update. The problem had been identified and rectified. Some systems needed to be reset and they would be moving in under seven minutes.
Madilyn cut to the chase and addressed the tax override issue. She told Hank that even though she disagreed with him, she could understand why he votes NO all the time. Hank looked down at little Joshua still sleeping soundly and said that he respected her point of view as well. They both agreed to have more respect for each other's perspectives in the future.
Hank said he would like to think their paths would cross again but realized it was unlikely. Madilyn vehemently disagreed and proposed a mutual pledge. She reached into her baby bag and produced two small bottles of Poland Spring water. The pledge had three components. They agreed, toasted with the spring water, and spent the remaining time working out the fine details of the pact.
Then, just as the whole ordeal started, it ended. The elevator jolted to life. When the doors opened on the second floor the pair who entered as hostile strangers emerged as friends. This time, Madilyn held the Open Door button and Hank helped pull out the stroller with his free hand. They both dismissed the offers of medical attention. Madilyn was too busy, Hank was too proud. Madilyn waved goodbye and Hank winked back.
As for the three part pledge, Madilyn Baxter continues her annual Breast Cancer fundraising but now she walks in memory of both her mother and Mrs. Hank Gresham. Hank is a contributor to her cause.
Secondly, on the first Wednesday of every month, Madilyn drives her Lexus over to Hank's modest ranch. She lifts the lid on the old Bliss Bros. milk crate on the front steps. She pulls out a six pack of Hank's signature lager and replaces it with a frozen tray of her lasagna. In the summer they also swap roses for tomatoes.
Finally, and perhaps most startlingly of all, on June 11, 2011, Madilyn Baxter did something she never would have imagined. She went into the school gymnasium, entered the furthest voting booth, looked over both shoulders, and made a big black X in the NO box on the ballot. She handed the ballot face down to the volunteer and said to no one in particular, "This is for you Hank".
Later on that historic day, Hank Gresham entered the same polling place. He hung his cane on the little shelf in the same voting booth as Madilyn. He took a deep breath, looked up at the gymanasium ceiling, then marked an even bigger X than Madilyn on his ballot. His mark was in the YES box. Their pledge had been honored.
Hank handed in his ballot, planted his cane firmly in the ground and strolled off to the old Ford pickup humming that old familiar tune from Jungle Book.