A chance encounter in Ottawa with someone who knew my nephew-by-marriage on the West Coast provokes thoughts about our connections.
I turn, in some surprise. I don’t usually answer to ‘Blair’ but the chatty guy behind me in line has just identified the first name of my nephew-by-marriage. How did two strangers arrive at this point? Thanks for asking.
Every six months, Mary—a woman I’ve never met but who maintains a phoning list of once-and-possibly-future customers—calls me from the small community of North Gower. Do I want tickets for the upcoming spring (or fall, as the case may be) community supper? The spring supper is roast beef, and once was enough, but the fall supper is turkey. Given my sad history with this bird, I jump at the chance, schedule permitting.
And so it is that the Big Guy and I are standing in line to pick up our set-aside tickets, so that we can stand in line to get seated in one of three ‘pods’ of chairs, so that we can sit in rows with twenty-eight others for one of eight thirty-seater tables to come free in this community gymnasium. As on the Prairies, turkey suppers are popular here in Ontario.
It isn’t long before the grandparents and two pre-school grandchildren standing just behind us reach a parting of the ways: she heads off to the playground with the munchkins; he holds their place in the first line. Having lost his conversational partners, and apparently needing some, he starts talking to me.
In perfectly sensible stages we progress from him identifying a former mayor of North Gower, standing ahead of us in the second line, to a non-partisan political discussion, to a lament about how things have changed in government work, to him asking me if I work for the government, to me demurring and pausing just long enough to realize what my next move must be.
What department do you work for?
Upon hearing that he is recently retired from Environment Canada, I mention that I think my niece’s husband works there, too.
What’s his name?
I tell him the last name but he looks puzzled, and shakes his head.
Well, you wouldn’t likely know him. He works in Vancouver.
And that’s where we came in.
It’s a common experience: finding a connection with a stranger, or an unexpected connection with an acquaintance. There was that fellow at work, whose great-uncle ran the butcher shop in the town near the farm my mother grew up on. There were the B&B owners in PEI, whose daughter ran the Calgary bridal shop patronized by the CEO of what was then my company. There is the neighbour I know only to wave at, who started this month with a company I left eleven years ago.
It’s so common an experience that the question sometimes seems to be not whether there is a connection, but, instead, whether I will find it.
Was the mother’s name Kitty?
We’ve already ascertained that the woman sitting beside me at the Calgary funeral has, like me, just been at the curling trials in Winnipeg. Now we’re in the process of confirming that she lived near the childhood family home of a former colleague in a small town just east of Calgary.
These are not profound connections, as connections between people go. But maybe any connection, however tangential, will encourage me to look for more. And maybe that’s profound enough.