Everyone has odd things happen in their lives, and most people agree that the universe works in mysterious ways. After walking the planet for as many years as I have, I’ve started to amass a collection of “Well, that was strange…..” stories. This is my collection of events that make me wonder what it was I was supposed to learn.
#12) The Smiths of my ancestry
I recently received some information that I had only half kind of known, and had some of the facts wrong even then. I wrote about it in more detail here: Telling My Story
Recently, I was curious to find more information, and ventured out onto the Internet to discover what I could about my 4 times great grandmother, a full blooded Cherokee woman from North Carolina, named Mary (Lee) Amstay. I eventually navigated to a site for the Cherokee Museum and cultural centre in Cherokee NC, and thought perhaps curators or guides there might be able to give me some pointers for a deeper genealogical search. As I looked over the contact page, one name jumped out at me, the Education curator with the last name of Duncan– the same as my home town in British Columbia. She did reply with some helpful info, and mentioned that Duncan was her husband’s Scottish surname, but that she had heard of my part of the world. This morning as I looked over my family tree notes, I noticed that my paternal Great Grandfather was also born in the town of Duncan, but Duncan Oklahoma– a whole country away from me.
#11) I DO know that guy in Toronto!
In fact, the city is Scottsdale, Arizona, but it’s still all very Needle meet Haystack. But one of the reasons why this entry is remarkable to me is because I didn’t, at first, realize how remarkable it was. Think of it this way-choose a describable segment of society: natural blondes, lefties, people from Albania. Now, imagine this script: “You are from (Toronto)? I know this guy Pete (from Toronto). Do you know him?” We have all laughed at that scenario, but I have lived it. (On Facebook, not in Toronto). I have “real” friends and “virtual” friends on Facebook, but I less and less make the distinction–they are simply my friends. One of whom recently posted about something he wished would come to Arizona, where he now lived. I had not realized he had moved there, and because he identifies as a particular sort of human being (let’s say Cigar Aficionado–not a euphemism, honest), I was suddenly struck by the realization that an old school chum of mine not only shared my friend’s human particularity, but had owned a club devoted to it. Our Facebook conversation went like this:
Me: HEY! I didn’t realize you were in Arizona!! Are you guys anywhere near Scottsdale? And if you were, would you stop and say hi to my friend (Buddy’s name)? He owns a private Cigar Lovers club (and you guys are Cigar enthusiasts, right?) and my head would explode if you did. Completely explode. He’s a high school buddy…..
Friend answers that not only does he know the club, HE HAS BEEN TO MY BUDDY’S CLUB FOR REAL!
But here is the thing that added a layer of awesome to it… it was a few days before it sunk in that of the thousands of Cigar Aficionados that would have visited my buddy’s club over the years, what are the chances that I would know someone who had been there? Especially given that I myself am not a Cigar Enthusiast (well, I like them alright, but not on the same level)? And then I realized, I don’t actually even know this friend, our original tenuous connection was through another passion we used to discuss on another social media site, but liked to share, so we connected on Facebook some years ago. When I think of the possibility of my “virtual” (cigar-loving) friend meeting my real high school friend, and MAYBE even sending me a picture of the them and their partners together… well, that is how I know it is possible I might one day meet Pete from Toronto. Anything is possible, especially magic.
#10) The art of Fimping
I have started to collect a number of artists as friends. Foodies and chefs too, who are also artists, but artists who work in paint and colour and film are the ones I suddenly find myself most often in the company of. When I made a FaceBook connection recently with a girl I’d gone through school with, but had not seen in over 30 years, it was no surprise to me to find she was now doing art full time, both because of my penchant for artists, and also because I remember her being very talented in visual media. She took note one day of a couple of paintings I had created and shared photos of. I had taken a class with a local artist friend of mine (who had grown up elsewhere, and eventually settled here a decade or so ago–this is germane to the story– keep reading), and my school friend was fascinated by the end result. I shared the technique name with her, and also “digitally introduced her” to my local artist-friend. Fast forward a few months, and my old school mate is planning a visit. We arrange to meet, and to also surprise some of our mutual friends with drop in visits. I post one such picture, and within hours my local artist friend sees my post, and sees the picture….
and recognizes my friend as someone she went to Art school with 22 years ago, in another city a few hours from here, where neither of them stayed to live after… and I, the vehicle of the coincidence, recorded that moment when they reconnected, for real, because of me (and facebook, but mostly me) .
Oh, you might be wondering what the title if this story means. It’s a term the three of us invented while we were together, that this meeting happened because I was always bragging about my friends on FaceBook…. FaceBook Pimping….Fimping.
And here is the three of us. What a great memory.
#9) Read the fine print
I have a story that I have dined out on for years. My married-last-name is “Read”, and because that is a less-common way to spell that surname than its cousins Reed and Reid, it does spark my interest to find another Read. But the best Common-Read story is the fact that although I married a fellow named Steve Read, I had in fact dated a fellow with EXACTLY the same name and spelling years previously. Couple this with the fact that we live in a very small town, and the two Steve Reads are in no way related, it’s a comical, quirky coincidence. Fast forward thirty or so years to the time of Facebook. I had noticed some of my friends were friends with another woman whose last name was Read. She and I would often comment on the same threads and once in awhile she would ask one of our mutual friends to post something teacher-related to my wall. After the third such one of these by-way-of-intermediary shares, I sent her a friend request. She accepted, we had a little chat, and then decided to meet for coffee since we lived near by.
Turns out, and yes, you have probably already guessed it, Read is also her married name…. and she had married the original Steve Read after I had known him.
And then there is just the Steve and Lisa combo itself:
#8) The 50% solution
I was shopping a few weeks before Christmas, killing time waiting to pick up the GirlChild from some social event, and was standing on line at Canadian Tire. It was quite busy, naturally, and there were only 2 tills open. The lady ahead of me turned a time or two so see how the line up was developing behind us and we exchanged that friendly “eh, what are you going to do?” stranger glance. Eventually, another teller came to open up, carrying her cash tray, and cut between me and the stranger-lady ahead of me. S-L turned and said “Why don’t you go to that till?” and I replied something about already having invested time in this one, and I was in no hurry anyway. Then it was her turn to ring up, and as she stepped forward, I say a large-denomination bill on the ground. Now, I’m a good person, but not a GREAT person, so as I reached down to pick up the bill, I thought briefly about my odds–had this fallen out of the cashier’s drawer when she cut through? If so, would Canadian Tire miss an infinitesimal percentage of profit? But would the girl get in trouble? Or worse, have to make up the shortage? But then maybe it’s the stranger-lady’s? In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I was sure it had to be my fellow-line-waiter. So I picked it up, and an argument ensued. Basically, it went like this: “Excuse me, you dropped this”
“No, I didn’t”
“Yes, it has to be yours”
“No, it’s not, I’m sure it’s not”
“Well, it was on the floor behind you, and I haven’t got there yet– it must be yours”
And so S-L reluctantly takes the bill, and after rifling through her wallet and seeing that the same-denomination-bill she had was no longer there, accepts that perhaps it was hers after all… even still, she asked the cashier to break it and gave me a $20, which I argued about taking, but did (PS, I went from there to a cafe and left my server a $10 tip on a $15 bill in an attempt to pay it forward).
All of this might have you wondering why this story, lovely-ish as it is, is on my Coincidence Page? Because… I posted a brief recap on Facebook, and within hours found out that the Stranger-Lady was only the mom of a colleague of mine… oh and there is more…. the colleague and I shared a job once, 50% each, and to this day call each other “Fiddy” (as in fiddy-fiddy, fiddy cent, etc).
Oh and one more coincidence. The bill? Yes, that’s right. It was a Fiddy. A big old pink Fiddy.
#7) Bacon and Unicorns
I’m a pretty gregarious person (as evidenced in an earlier coincidence about Sasquatches and coffee shops) so it’s not unusual for me to hit it off with people I meet. Especially when those people are also teachers (we are weird that way). But this is the perfect “new” friendship story for this page. It’s a small world? Sometimes it’s downright infinitesimal. I went to Kelowna one autumn for a professional development conference. (Kelowna is an hour or so flight from where I live, and the conference was being hosted by the Teacher-Librarian association–I called it the ‘Lock up your Grandpas Tour’). I arrive and am checking into my hotel, when I hear a woman near me asking directions to the same event I am heading to. We introduce ourselves to the conference organizer who offers to give us a ride to the kick-off wine and cheese that night. My new acquaintance and I then head to the elevators to find our rooms and get organized. “Do you want to exchange phone numbers?” she says, in case we get lost later. A solid plan, and I enter her name in my contacts. “Where are you from?” I ask. “Duncan” she replies. At this point the retelling needs to kick into high gear or it will take forever. The next 4 seconds sounded like this:
“Ohmygod so am I”
“Where do you teach?”
“Where do you teach?”
“What was your maiden name?”
“OHMYGOD” “OHMYGOD you are KIDDING me!!!”
Turns out, we both grew up in the same town, our moms worked in the same legal office for YEARS, I lived RIGHT next door to her aunt and uncle and across the road from her Grandpa… over the years we had to have crossed each others’ paths dozens of times and probably seconds apart on many occasions. And yet, were meeting for the first time hundreds of miles away in a hotel.
Bacon and Unicorns? Well, our new and coincidental friendship was cemented when we were washing our hands and I expressed my disappointment that the bacon dispenser wasn’t working:
And the Unicorn was on my Tshirt, though it queered her first impression of me, because, well, I was wearing a Unicorn TShirt. However, when you look closely…..you could see the darkness…..that’s when she knew…..
The shirt I gave away a few years later. It turns out that the coincidences continued. A good friend of hers is the mother of several of my students. Turns out that she has a running joke with one of her sons about unicorns. When this discussion came up at a party, what other choice did I have but to give her the shirt to create a “special” graduation gift for him.
It all came full circle at my last birthday, which I learn falls on Mexican Independence Day. Important only because her husband is from MEXICO. And the “cake” she baked me? Well…. a picture and a thousand words and all that…..
#6) Have you seen this dog?
This story is in someways a Coincidence story, and in some ways it’s an example of “thin slicing”. (See more in this fascinating book by Malcolm Gladwell called “Blink“), but I was a bit stoked about this incident that happened in our backyard. We live on the Koksilah River. Perhaps not the coldest river on the planet, but it seems like it might be. Not germane to the story, just sayin’. Frequently The Husband and dog go down to the river to hang around. On this one particular day, he happened to notice 2 dogs tied up on the opposite bank. When he or our dog got too close, they behaved a little aggressively, so he assumed that someone was nearby, and didn’t think anything of it. The next day I was driving home, and stopped as usual for the mail at our community mailbox. As always there were flyers and posters and notices about garage sales posted, none of which entered my conscious mind….or so I thought. The Husband is just getting up from the river when I arrive, and he almost in passing mentions that the 2 dogs he saw the other day are still down there. One has a leash tangled in a bush and the other won’t leave it. We both say “Huh. That’s odd.” but as he’s walking away, he says “Yeah, they are sort of like big poodles”. And almost without thinking the words, I say “There was a sign at the mail box that said ‘Lost Labradoodles’ I bet that’s them. “. He looks at me strangely for more details, and I can’t picture anything about the sign, what it looked like, or even if it was at the mailbox…. perhaps I had seen it earlier…..on a telephone pole…..or…. and the more I pondered it, the more the threads slipped away, much in the same way as when you try to recall a dream upon waking. But it was enough of a clue to go on, and he knew, intuitively or otherwise, that there just wasn’t something right about the dogs being down there for so long. End result? He drove back down to the mail box, found the sign that said “Lost Labradooodles” and telephoned the number. Within minutes a very worried and grateful owner appeared and within the hour the dogs were safely home, in their bed, and the owner gave us a frozen chicken in thanks. I explained it like this on Facebook: ” He actually saw the dogs there Saturday, but thought they may have belonged to someone camping down there. They didn’t look distressed, and from the other side, they looked like they were tied up, and they could reach the water. When he went back down today and saw they were still there, he was suspicious…. he went out part way and could see the one was tangled and figured out the crack of it… however, the dogs seemed quite aggressive, and our dog was there too….. you can see the problem. So, he came up to make some phone calls to neighbours or to the SPCA, when my subconscious started leaping up and down and saying “HEY! YOU KNOW THE ANSWER”. It was kind of cool. And the chicken looks tasty. 🙂 ” This led to many comments, including several from my American friends who think we have some weird custom in Canada where we spend frozen poultry instead of Currency. No, he was just a grateful doggy owner, who also raises organic chicken.
#5) I know a guy in Canada…
We took the kids to Europe in the summer of 2011 (See my companion blog “Reads About Europe” for more.) One day as we were bumbling about York, looking for a place to lunch, we happened upon an elderly gent shambling down a little back ally with a cart full of posters and art cards (which turned out to be for sale). He greeted us, and of course if he hadn’t already spotted us for tourists, he knew immediately we spoke that we were from Canada. He asked which part, we told him an Island on the West Coast….he said “Vancouver Island?” We said yes, and that we were near Victoria. “Do you know Duncan?” he asked, and being that is where we live, and it’s a small town, of only about 50 000 in the town itself and all the outlying areas, we were suitably agog. The conversation continued, revealing that he had spent a summer, many, many decades earlier on a farm not 15 minutes from where we live. We bought some of his art and carried on. But really….what are the chances?
#4) Meanwhile, in other Small Towns…
A buddy of mine created this project (which is amazing in its own right) and I share it here, as it out-coincidences all the other coincidences, ever. Amazing, and worth the watch even if the story weren’t so shockingly, well, amazing:
Click: Until that Moment or Copy: http://web.unbc.ca/~gpotter/?p=596
#3) Sometimes the World is just another Small Town.
I grew up in a small town, my parents having moved us here when I was a tiny baby. The town I was born in was even smaller at the time, and while both settlements have grown since the 1960’s, they are still both Small Places. (Which does have bearing on this tale). The Husband was born here, grew up here, never left here, and while he has moved 5 times in his life, every house he has lived in was on the same street, within a mile of one another. An odd enough set of circumstances, made odder when the last move was made. The house in question was one we had lived in together for 13 years. It was time for us to move on from this “starter home” and as it happened, a young couple just starting their life together wound up buying it. As our conversations progressed, we discovered that while we didn’t know either of the pair personally, the fellow’s last name was familiar– it turned out that his dad was a the Principal of the same small school The Husband had attended, and had also been his grade 7 teacher. This good omen of coincidence led to the eventual sale of the house. It was only when the final conveyance was being done that the amazing coincidence was revealed. My mother was still working as a legal assistant, so we put her office in charge of the paper work. As she was assembling the facts, figures and correct spellings of the names, she asked the fellow’s partner (who had a different surname) about her name, as it was quite unusual. For pseudonymous reasons, let’s say her surname was “Loopwood”. The conversation went like this:
Mother: “Oh, your last name is Loopwood. Isn’t that odd…..that’s an unusual name”
Miss Loopwood: “Oh, I know– I haven’t met a Loopwood yet that I wasn’t related to”
M: “Hmmm….did any of your relations ever live in Williams Lake?” (Note: Williams Lake is a ferry ride and a 10 hour drive from where this conversation was taking place)
ML: “Yes, as a matter of fact, my grandparents lived there for many years. My Grandpa was…..”
ML: “Yes! Did you know him!?”
M: “He delivered Lisa when she was born”
Coincidence? Yes….. but more than that, it was the end (or maybe the start) of a journey.
#2) The Sasquatch and Caffeine Connection.
As in any number of small towns, funky little coffee shops have sprung up all over my home town. I don’t frequent any particular one, and am just as likely to go into a Starbucks as an independent place, and so it was with no particular purpose or aim I found myself on two separate occasions in two different coffee shops engaged in two of the strangest conversations of my life.
Random Stranger #1. On the first occasion, I had ordered my beverage and had moved down to the Beverage Assembly area to wait for it. In line behind me was a young man, outwardly normal in all respects, if slightly disheveled (but no more than any other Grunge-something in town.) My first mistake was the offer of a friendly smile. Apparently, that is an open invitation to share one’s life story. And so, the young man began telling me all manner of things about his recent whereabouts, miles he had clocked up and down the island, and how he was looking forward to taking a few weeks off. Oh, and also, how he saw a Sasquatch AGAIN just the other day. That’s when the conversation took a really strange turn. In the time it took for my caramel latte to be brewed, I learned of the three separate occasions when Bigfoot had revealed himself to my new best friend, and on a couple of these occasions he was not alone…..but he was still the only person who could actually see the creature. This did make me want to ask if maybe, perhaps, he might have considered the possibility that maybe there was a reason WHY the others hadn’t seen the 7ft primate too? But that seemed a little forward.
Eventually our coffees came and I was taking mine to go, and so go I did, but wished the young naturalist safe journeys. As I headed out the door, I grinned to myself, wondering what could possibly be the probability of a random stranger approaching you in a coffee shop and telling you about having seen Sasquatches (plural)?
As it turns out, if you are me, the chances are pretty damn good!
Random Stranger #2. A few months later, I was in another local coffee shop, this time waiting in line to order, when a young man beside me remarks on one of the events fliers posted on the wall. The event had something to do with a hike in the forest, and this fellow expressed the opinion that She would not be likely to reveal Herself to a group of people in the woods. Who was this She he spoke of? Yep, you guessed it–he called her the Wild Woman of the Woods-another name for Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti….etc. It was hard to focus on his next few sentences, as I was pondering just how it was possible that I had found myself in this situation again. Yes, they were two different fellows, and two different locations, and yet they felt compelled to tell me about Sasquatch theory. Weird. I wonder if Leprechauns get talked about in Tea Shops.
#1) The Ring Completes a Circle
This isn’t really my story to tell, and it certainly isn’t a pretty story, but it’s one that has stuck in my memory as One of those Lessons from the Universe.
My Grandmother passed away (this is many years ago now–this story is almost 20 years old, and yet the details fresh in my memory). As is often, unfortunately, the case when there is a death in a family, rather than coming together, the family was divided. My grandmother had 3 children, and although they were all in they 50’s and 60’s when she died, they still (on this occasion) behaved like any quarrelsome siblings. It may have been clearly stated in Grandmother’s Will, or it may just have been talked about, but there was an understanding that the two special rings my Grandmother owned (one her mother’s engagement ring and the other her own) were to be given to her two daughters. The son was, presumably, to inherit other less girlie things.
Well, the siblings were at war, none of the aggravation in any way related to the rings, but they became the icon for the battle. In the end, the brother had both rings, but allowed that one of the sisters could come to collect one of them. In the intervening melee, the sister ended up taking both, and left her brother’s house for the last time. He has since passed away, and to my knowledge, neither sister ever spoke to her brother again.
With that bad mojo already resting on the rings, the end result is not surprising. The two sisters met so that the one could pass on the other’s legacy. She still has her grandmother’s engagement ring, but the rest of this tale is about the second ring. Their mother’s ring was the wrong size for the sister, so she put it on her pinky finger, behind a ring of her own that she usually wore on that finger. Her flight home was about 2 hours, and by the time she returned home, not just one, but both rings, her own and the one she had fought with her only brother about, had somehow, somewhere, slipped from her finger and were gone, forever.
If that’s not the Universe talking, I don’t know what is.