When we moved into Pleasantville I assumed there would be a small town welcome… you know, like in the movies, notes that said hi, welcome, here is my number if you need anything, or, come over for a BBQ while you are unpacking, or, let us know if you need tools…nope, crickets. We quickly realized this was no movie set, and there would be no welcome baskets arriving.
I love Jane Austen movies, Downton Abbey, PBS anything. I love the banter, the rules of society, the ridiculousness of it all. I find the gentlemen whose job it is to be…gentlemen…purely delightful. Their occupation…to know history, sit by the fire and read books, and every once in a while give a longing look across the room at the young new girl in town while she does needlepoint. I mean, can you imagine a time when it was a person’s job to read, learn, and share their knowledge?
Parents with toddlers do a lot of walking. In the city walks mean two kids in a double stroller, always. In the suburbs kids walk on their own, bliss. We loved this new reality, we walked to find leaves, to watch the trains come in…swooshing by under the overpass. We walked to the playground, the library, the fields to roll on the never ending grass. Let’s be honest, we walked to get the kids really really tired.
On our first few Pleasantville walks we met a man. Swoon, my first real gentleman…a man who read, who shared knowledge, who was charming…that was his job! He wore a tan suit jacket, always. He had white coiffed hair, always. He was often lost in thought until he got close, then smiled a huge smile, always. A man who was of a different era. He introduced himself. Well, hello, you are new here…I am Carsten Johnson. Welcome to Pleasantville. Who may I ask are you…you look like you are the interesting one in this group, looking right at our 18 month old daughter. He had my daughter’s number from go, and he asked about her first every single time he saw me. Kat, how may I ask is Olivia Rose? To this day she has only been called Olivia Rose by Carsten, and anyone who is angry with her… namely her parents.
Carsten was a sponge, he wanted to know everything about you… so that the next time you met, he would have some interesting tidbit for you. He was our town historian. If you had any question about Pleasantville he either knew the answer, or he would find it out. He was a walking encyclopedia who taught without ever making one feel less than. Carsten was able to keep a group of elderly scholars riveted on a subject they thought they knew everything about and could also wrangle a troop of squirrelly Cub Scouts. Did you know Cub Scouts behave like little gentlemen when on a walking tour with a gentleman? Carsten would walk the town, a gaggle of boys in blue Scout shirts following behind him, talking about where the old schoolhouse was, who was buried in the cemeteries, where the library used to be. He had them enthralled. He was magic.
Carsten. Sigh. Sitting at the coffee shop, greeting every single person who passed. A coffee, a cigarette, and a smile. He could make even those rushing to a train stop for a chat, because a Carsten chat was always worth it.
Years ago he was missing from his spot for a bit. I asked around to find out he was sick, in the hospital, I was told that he wondered if anyone would even know he was gone, miss him. This kind of killed my soul. I realized I really did not know him well…he knew me, he knew my family…he knew everyone. How on earth could we let this man wonder if anyone missed him, of course we did.
So, word got out, and people made cards, wrote letters, and sent in notes. We created a keepsake box, with a beautiful vintage feel. He would know that the community he loved…loved him right back. Long letters, little poems with drawings, thank you notes from Scouts and school groups. It was a box full of love…for a man who was used to giving and not receiving. We were so thankful we got to let him know how we felt.
When I heard that Carsten had recently passed away I knew he would become a Swoon. He is why swooning exists, to give public props to the special things that need to be cherished a bit extra. Carsten meant so much to so many people in this town, everyone seems to have a Carsten story…where he made them feel special, and noticed. It is pretty crazy that one person made so many feel so very good. He was a gentleman, he was the gentleman…The Gentleman of Pleasantville…maybe Pleasantville is like a movie after all. Swoon.