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Susan Bruce: Serendipity

 

The Oxford Dictionary defines serendipity as the occurrence and the development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. Other descriptions include: a happy accident, pleasant surprise, or fortunate mistake. Serendipity is the act of finding of something good or useful while not looking for it. The Urban Dictionary defines it as, “A very good coincidence, often leading to something really awesome.”
The term serendipity comes from “The Three Princes of Serendip” by Horace Walpole. It’s a fairy tale that takes place in the country of Serendippo, where the sons of the king were heroes who “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” Serendipity has been voted one of the ten hardest English words to translate. It is a word that is nearly impossible to say without smiling. It is a word that feels good in one’s mouth.
It was one of David Emerson’s favorite words. He saw serendipity everywhere, happening all around him, all the time.
David and I met at the Conway Library, and bonded over a discussion of the sorts of cards Hallmark doesn’t make, but ought to. They don’t seem to make cards for unusual family situations — or for unusual families. Over the years we laughed often about the differences in our childhoods. He was surprised (and a little horrified) to learn that my family didn’t raise chickens. Of course he grew up on a farm, and I grew up in middle class suburbia, which was not chicken friendly in the sixties and seventies. Neither one of us turned out the way we were supposed to. I was supposed to marry a doctor and David was supposed to become a Baptist preacher. Oops.
David loved chickens, an enthusiasm I never shared. I came to embrace some of his interests, but not the chickens or any of his birds. Some who are reading this will remember David’s giant turkey Jerome, who loved to ride with him in the car. Jerome didn’t love me. He had a parrot named Darwin who talked incessantly to him, but never said a word if I was in the house. Fortunately he had plenty of bird-obsessed friends, so it didn’t matter that I didn’t share his enthusiasm. He often went on chicken related adventures that resulted in some excellent stories, like the night a guy in a Wal-Mart parking lot taught him how to artificially inseminate a chicken with a plastic spoon. Those were the kinds of things that happened to David with some regularity, and the kinds of stories he most loved to tell.
My family belonged to a small ski club in North Conway when I was a child, something that David relentlessly mocked me for, in the way that only a native can. (Or would.) We came up on ski trips in the winter and work weekends in the summer, where the men would work on the club building, have barbecues, and then we’d all swim in the Saco. It was always my parents’ dream to move to North Conway, and in 1974 they did, not long after my daughter was born. They went to live in the mountains, and I stayed in the city in Massachusetts. In the late seventies my father went to work at the Reporter, the old weekly newspaper. For a couple of years he gave me a gift subscription. The papers would arrive every week, and I would read them with great curiosity. What I saw in those papers bore no resemblance to life as I was experiencing it. I was a young mother living in a city, reading about rural, northern, small towns. It was like visiting a foreign country.
The Reporter had weekly columns from town correspondents, a tradition that is carried on to this day by The Conway Daily Sun. The content was a bit more formal back then, with updates on the social lives of various town members who received callers all very formally written: “Mrs. Alexander G. Bell received Mrs. Model T. Ford and Mrs. Oscar Myer for tea on Wednesday afternoon.” These weeklies were an important source of news and carefully couched gossip for the community. It’s sad to see them disappearing or being taken over by conglomerates that churn out sanitized blandness as a means of selling advertising.
In the Reporter, my favorites were the columns from Stow, Maine, written by the late Gwen Tarbell. Stow sounded like the strangest place in the universe to a young city dweller. Gwen Tarbell lived on a farm, and that was what she wrote about. One year she wrote about getting a bunch of new chicks in the spring, and naming them all Doris — or something like that. They all got the same name. Her stories of the farm, the comings and goings of her family, and the doings in Stow, Maine were all told with warmth and good humor.
I’d never been to Stow. I had no frame of reference — and this was long before Google. It was a strange, almost exotic place for me, and I was fascinated. One of the regular characters in Gwen’s stories from Stow was a young man who lived up the street. His name was David Emerson.
Serendipity.
There was no way to know as I was reading those stories that 25 years later I would marry that young man.
Serendipity.
I’m sorry that I never got to meet Gwen and tell her that story, but she was long gone by the time David and I figured it all out. I like to think she would have gotten a kick out of it. We certainly did.
“History is an intricate web of timing, people, circumstances, and serendipity.” Don Rittner
David Emerson: March 27, 1949 - August 30, 2009

Susan Bruce is a writer and activist who lives in the Mount Washington Valley. Visit her blog at susanthebruce.blogspot.com.

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