The party we attended last night was having its 31st consecutive outing, but this was our first invitation.
The first people we met at the party were the parents of five children, two of whom–12 year-old twin boys–were with them, drinking Coke and sparring ceaselessly with each other. “Which of you was born first?” I asked. “I was. Can’t you see the good looks?” came the sharp reply from twin A. I talked with their parents and in no time found that we were linked religiously: they were also Episcopalians, who attended St. Paul’s. We talked about the challenges of church finances and got to the matter of pledging, which was a problem for their church. I explained the role that I had been playing recently at my own church to help get more parishioners to contribute. We shared ideas about how to raise their congregation’s awareness of their important financial role. We had connected and talked more about our children and our churches. Chance had brought us together, and we had gone a little step further.
As with parties, we rolled around trying to meet other people. My wife tried to get me to talk to a man with whom she had struck up a conversation. However, before he and I could get into very much, he’d been given the sign by his wife that they needed to get their young children home, but he planned to come back and finish the story he was telling–which involved the couple hosting the party. Could I wait?
As he left, two other people passed by me. One was a lady who told me that I needed to compliment her friend on her shoes. I was struck not by the random suggestion but by the accent. “Wotcha!” I said, “That voice tells me that you know what that means.” A few seconds later the two women came back. I gave my compliments about the shoes, which I’d been told were luscious red. I got my Brownie points, her male friend told me.
The wotcha lady and I got into a conversation as we tried to figure out our English connection. “Are you Lawrence?” she asked, “I was told there was another English person invited,” she added. We went through the usual list of questions and answers about places and dates and found that we were not far off in age and had been living close to each other in west London sometime in the past. That was enough to smile about. But something about her was not gelling: her accent had a twang that suggested she had a strong north of England connection. We talked about football (soccer to you, maybe): she had been a Manchester United fan since age 10. “What about that win over Man. City last week!” Aha! There it was, the northern connection. I told her about my connections to Manchester.
But, her love of the Red Devils was not the whole story. We talked about watching English soccer early on Saturday mornings, and I told her that today’s game between Man. City and Newcastle would be on at 7.30. At that, she called over to her mother with the news. She introduced me to her mother, who was sitting, smiling in a chair by a fire. Her mother had been raised in Northumberland, but now lived in Canada. I said something to her in Geordie, and a huge grin came across her face. As our conversations went on, I talked about a great friend at university, who was from Newcastle (pronounced New-kass-el), who could never believe that he’d become his family’s first university graduate. Her mother told me that she’d really come from Carlisle, on the opposite side of England to Newcastle, but moved around England living on Royal Air Force bases. I told her about walking on the beach at Maryport and eating ice cream, and other joys of life in Cumberland. “Not my favourite place. I preferred Blackpool,” the mother said. We talked instead about eating Cumberland sausage–more smiles, as our stomachs remembered this particular delight. So it went on for a few hours, as others joined our group and tried to figure out why we were laughing so much.
The man came back and told us his story, which also explained how he’d met his wife, who was living with the party’s hosts at the time. Total mischaracterizations of each other on both of their parts could have meant that a life together never got a start, but they got past that and ended up going out from their first meeting. Another chance meeting leads down its own path.
The lady with the luscious shoes rejoined us and I took a picture of them. One of her friends complemented her on her shoes, and her foot wriggled. “Feet don’t lie. They’re happy,” I explained. I pointed to another lady, wearing sandals, who was also being complimented on her footwear: she took her foot out of her shoes, and wriggled her toes as if to show how thrilled they were. Later, the luscious shoes lady told me, “I want to write.” “Try to give your feet a voice,” I suggested. She liked that idea. “You never know where that may lead,” I added.
You never know where you will wind up.