We were in Oberlin, Ohio, last September, visiting my nephew who had just joined as a freshman. It’s an old town, established in 1883, with a population of just over 8000, but buzzing with the energy that college and university towns have.

Friendly, with parents hailing other parents with a “Hello, John’s  mom!”

The main street has a few specialty stores selling touristy things and the rest of the space is given over to eateries. Bakeries and pizza places, cafes and bars, Middle Eastern cuisine and Korean. There used to be an Indian restaurant, too, we were told, but it shut down.

Bowls of water are placed outside several shops and restaurants for dogs and there are also lower, smaller fountains with more bowls next to water fountains in the park. Garbage bins are disguised with flower planters placed strategically over them.

My sister-in-law and brother, who were there to drop off their son, said Ginko Gallery was a must-visit. It was a bright space, filled to the rafters with locally-made arts and crafts. Suncatchers, ceramic jewellery, colourful waistcoats, beautiful scarves, little wooden animals and cars on wheels, glassware... and cats. “This used to be where we stored art supplies for local artists,” said Liz, the super friendly owner. Now it’s where we keep our cats.”

These are cats she rescues, gives dollops of TLC to, and tries to find new homes for. A sign on the wall says, “Unattended children will be given shots of espresso and sent home with a cat”. That’s the sort of place it is.

Also the sort of place that hands out gifts to complete strangers. Liz placed a large giftwrapped box on the counter and said, “Happy Labour Day!” She explained that a gentleman called Gene Getty carves items out of local wood and then gives them to her to give away. “He used to sell them, but is retired now and creates the items for the pleasure of doing so. He used to give them to strangers himself, but as I am more likely to meet people in the gallery than he is at home, he gives me a box for every holiday on the calendar. I am to choose someone and give it to them.”

She chose us that day. We opened the box to reveal an absolutely stunning bowl crafted out of walnut wood.

I told a cousin who was visiting from India about Mr Getty’s bowl and he said, “That’s nishkaam karma, the performing of a deed with no expectation of anything in return”.

I don’t know if we will ever have the privilege of meeting Mr Getty, but his bowl now occupies pride of place on our dining table and I tell everyone who comes home about a man in Oberlin who just gives away beautiful objects he creates. A true labour of love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


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