Monday, 4 August 2014


These are the three biggest coincidences I've experienced in my life thus far.  Names have been changed to protect the innocent, except of course mine, because I was not innocent in two of the incidences.  They all took place during my youth and I recall them through that lens.

1. As a child, my family and I were vacationing on a very tiny island in Maine.  We needed directions to somewhere, a beach perhaps or a restaurant.  My father spotted a bicyclist on the side of the road, towing a child in a seat in the back.  We slowed to a stop and my dad opened his window and indicated to the man that he had a question.  The man stopped.  My father asked him for directions and received them, and then he said, "I see you're wearing a University of Michigan shirt.  What is your connection?" My father had attended graduate school there.

"I have a graduate degree in anthropology from Michigan."

"No kidding," said my dad.  "I'm head of anthropology at Penn State.  One of our professors whom I hired got a graduate degree at Michigan.  John Doe.  Do you know him?"

"I was students with him!" said the man.  "Hey there's a park down the street.  Let's pull into there and talk some more."

We did.  The adults talked.  My sister and I played with John's daughter, a bit younger than my sister.  After a time John invited us to have dinner at his home.  We accepted and followed him there, to the gorgeous summer house they owned above a rocky Maine beach.  His wife was out somewhere and would be back soon.  Until that time we walked down to the beach and picked through the rocks and tide pools for mussels, which we would later steam and eat for dinner.

After some time had passed, his wife came home home with their other daughter, my age.  They came to join us by the waves.

"Nice to meet you.  I'm Beth Deer," she said, using her maiden name to introduce herself to my parents.

"Beth Deer?"  My father said.  "You grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland on 123 Maple Lane.  Your mother had breast cancer as did mine, and your brother had heart open heart surgery."

We, all of us, even us kids, stood and stared agape at the two of them.

"Yes," Beth said.  "How did you know that?"

"I'm Ken Weiss.  We lived next door to each other until I was 6."

Their eldest daughter and I became pen pals for years, they visited us on a few occasions, and our family has stayed in touch with theirs at least occasionally, for all the years since.

2. I was playing with my neighbors (all boys, and all a part of nearly every day of a the first decade or more of my life).  We were in the basement toyroom in one of their homes.  For reasons that I can't remember, I put an appealing tiny plastic dinosaur from his toy collection into my pocket.  I am not sure why I fell in love with this little dinosaur.  He felt like some little friend I suppose. I believe it was a brontosaurus, green.  Small.

One summer afternoon my sister and I, as we usually were then, were entertaining ourselves in my mother's office at work for the afternoon while she did lab work on another floor of the building.  We had run through our usual list of activities, which I realized only later must've been incredibly annoying for everyone else working on the floor; pushing each other up and down the hall in our mom's office chair, playing teacher using the blackboard, etc.

Eventually I pulled a piece of blank white paper out of my mother's printer and used my colored pencils to start an oft-repeated game I'd play with myself.  I drew a birds-eye landscape on which my little dinosaur would exist.  I'd color in some blue ocean on the edge, stipple some sand on a beach, draw foliage for him to eat.  I would narrate his activities and the circumstances of his life in my head, writing a story about him.  On this day I drew a bush and on the bush drew red fruits.  To myself I said, the dinosaur lives out here on this island.  He eats those berries which provide perfect nutrition for him.  Nobody can come and get them from him because they rot very quickly if they're taken off of the tree.  They taste like bananas and they only grow here.  I moved him around his little paper island, making him swim in the sea and feast on his fruits.

My mother brought us home in the afternoon and after dinner I went to my room to play or create.  I was sitting at my desk (the same one I now use to make jewelry) and and NPR was on the radio in the background as it was every evening.

A segment began on pawpaws, the fruit.  As the commentator spoke, I sat in increasingly stunned silence and felt chills.  He explained that the pawpaw is almost nutritionally perfect for humans.  It has a banana-like taste and cannot be sold easily in markets because it rots quickly after being picked making it hard to transport.  It is rare and grows only in a few select geographical locations.

I wish I could re-find an archive of this piece because I could occasionally wonder if this one of all the coincidences was a dream.  Except that it wasn't.  I sat in almost afraid silence as he perfectly repeated the characteristics of the fruit I had invented, and the little dinosaur still lives in a box of old toys in my parents' attic.

3. I did not make a habit of theft nor do I now, but I realized while writing these that two involve childhood theft. I guess it is another coincidence that coincidences occurred involving the only two incidents of theft I can recall of my youth.

I was playing Barbies with my best friend in her basement as we often did. She had an extensive collection of accessories for them and one of them was a set of small plastic Coke bottles. As a child I was captivated by the realistically miniaturized. I did not like toys that were chunky, brightly colored, caricaturized versions of adult items. I wanted them to be perfectly realistic smaller versions. I wanted my babydoll stroller to look like a child sized version of the same thing.  I wanted my play food not to be chunky wooden representations, but detailed and realistic replications.  These Coke bottles looked like the real thing, transparent syrupy brown and the size of a child's little finger.

Soda was rare in our house and I found the little bottles to be tantalizingly irresistible, and reminders; I could imagine tasting the cola inside them. I slipped one into my pocket.

That evening my parents brought me to a dinner party at the home of some work colleagues. I was sent downstairs to spend time with their daughter whom I didn't know at the time because she was a few years older than me (though she now lives a few doors away from me and I adore her).  We went to her room and hanging from her wall above her bed was a corner set of shelves, each little compartment holding a miniature.  I of course went to examine what she had.  I can't remember what else was on the shelf; I should ask her.  But what I do remember is that in one of the bottom shelves was a tiny six pack of Coca-Cola in a little cardboard box, just like those that real six packs came in then.  Except that one of the bottles was missing. She'd lost it, she said. And the bottles were identical to those my other friend had.  And the one I'd stolen was still in my pocket.  I took it out, and put it into the six pack, completing the collection, and some circle of coincidental absolution.

1 comment:

  1. That desire for miniatures? Comes from, I believe, a part of a need for emotional self-regulation. If you struggled as a kid with feelings of lack of control over your world, your instinct would be to want to construct a world that was smaller and more manageable. With boys it tends to be aggression based, tanks, guns, cowboys, Indians, Luke/Vader, but just teeny tiny. With girls its the dollhouse effect.