Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Kindness repayed?

My friend John told me this story of coincidence and how it can change things. Maybe.


John was from New York City, where his parents still lived, but at the time he was working in Washington, DC and lived in Virginia. The rush hour going home each day was a hassle, with several lanes of traffic headed out of the capitol city. This day there was a car pulled onto the wide median, obviously broken down. Four men stood around it. This was in the days before cell phones, and calling for help was much harder than it is today.


Although it was against his usual habits, John pulled off onto the median behind the disabled vehicle. He said that he had never done that before. He offered to take one of the men to the next off ramp and find a telephone to call a tow truck. (Aren't you glad we have cell phones now?) They did just that, and on the way back to the broken down car, John asked where they were from.


"We're from Acme Company (not the real name)," the man answered.  "We're here from New York City."


"What do you know!" John said. "My father lives in New York City and works for Acme!"


"Acme has two offices," the man replied. "One in New York City and one in Washington, DC. We have to close one of them, and we are visiting both, trying to decide which one. It's a hard decision."


By then they were back to the disabled automobile, where they parted company. A couple of days later it was announced that Acme was closing the Washington office. John's father kept his job.


If John had not stopped to help the stranded motorists, would the result have been the same? Or was John's kindness the little nudge it took to make the decision? If he had passed on by, would the choice been different? Or did those guys say, "You know, it's so hard to pick which location to close, and that man was so nice to stop and help, let's let his father keep his job." ? Or what if John had driven by that spot an hour earlier, or an hour later?  But he didn't.


Coincidence. God's way of remaining anonymous. Or maybe a test.



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I write fiction--I think.

Some time ago I wrote a novel that I titled "Broussard Court". I later decided to leave open the possibility of making this a series, so I added "The New Witch" to it.


It tells the story of several women who are drawn (by the 'spirits') to New Orleans, where they find rooms in one of the apartments surrounding a courtyard, known as Broussard Court. A shop is adjoining, and all are managed by Madame Clothide Badeaux, nee Broussard. Madame was the granddaughter of a slave who, as was typical, took the name of her owner as her own surname. Madame 's father was the son of the slave and the plantation owner, set free upon the owner's death. Lighter skinned, Madame's sister, Adeline, 'passed for white' and moved to the East Coast and kept her past a secret. It is Adeline's granddaughter who inherits Broussard Court, apartments and shop when Madame dies. Until then, Addie knows nothing about New Orleans or her black grandmother.


When I started the tale, I wanted typical French names, nothing too common nor too unusual. As is usual for me, I changed the names several times before I lit on ones that were 'just right'. Broussard is a common French surname in south Louisiana, so I picked that for the plantation owner and his slave, Madame's grandmother, and by extension for her father and his three children. For her married name it took a little longer. I worked with a name I had come across when in that area—Breaux (from the town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana). I changed it a little and it finally ended up as Badeaux.


Now we are getting to the coincidence part.


Quite some time after writing the novel, after I had it professionally edited and started sending queries to agents, on a completely unrelated interest, I had my DNA tested by Ancestry.com. Working on the family tree is an intriguing hobby. I now have 400 plus pages of people whose DNA matches mine. On many of them I can look at their tree and mine and see how we are related (actually Ancestry does that for me) but there are many more folks who I don't have a clue how we fit. I know they are kin, though, because the test shows we are from the same line of ancestors in one way of another.


So here is the coincidence:


I have a 4th cousin. The 'code name' she goes by is MsNancy. Already there's a coincidence, but nothing really special. MsNancy may be my 4th cousin, but I don't see any mutual ancestors on our family tree. What I DO see is:


Her several times great-grandfather was Jacques Francois Broussard. His son married Adeline, daughter of Claire Buteau (spelled differently but pronounced almost the same as my Badeaux.). Adeline, grand-daughter of Pierre Buteau) was born in 1685 in Ile Orleans, Quebec, Canada. I wonder if she too, like my character, had a sister named Clothilde? Eventually the family migrates to "the East Coast", New York.


So how am I related to the Broussards and Buteaus? By way of imagination, or maybe race memory, I guess. 

It's just a coincidence. Isn't it?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

It's a small, small world

It's a common occurrence to run into someone you know. You are shopping at Walmart and see someone from your church, or maybe you are shown to a table at a restaurant and sitting at the next table is somebody from work. We all have those moments. But how often are you on vacation and see someone from back home? It happens—at least it's happened to me.


And how often, when you are on vacation, do you meet somebody who knows one of your family members?


Let me explain what I mean. Often when on vacation my husband and I would strike up a conversation with another couple, and the usual question would soon be asked. "Where are you folks from?" Or maybe someone would have noticed something on our car that indicated we were from Arkansas. On every trip—we watched for it—someone would say, "We met a girl from Arkansas earlier this summer (or last summer, or two years ago.) She was working at the camp our daughter went to/running our vacation Bible school/teaching a class/etc. Her name was . . ." And you can bet it was our daughter, Holly. These vacationers might be from California or Pennsylvania or Florida. It didn't matter where. On a vacation, we'd meet someone who knew or had met Holly. I'll admit she did get around a bit on her summer volunteer projects, but to meet people who knew her in a completely different state far away from either our home or theirs was something else.  It was a coincidence that we came to expect wherever we went.


Another coincidence involving meeting people occurs regularly at our local genealogy library, The Melting Pot. It is a good sized place, having several thousand books. It is open two days a week, Monday and Friday from 10am to 2pm, and is staffed by volunteers. I work one day a month—the first Friday. It was already a joke that anybody who comes in to research their family tree always finds a cousin. That's because the 'regulars', the volunteers who work most often, were mostly born and raised in Garland County or the surrounding area, and are related to many of the founding families. A stranger can come in and when they leave they have a family.


I was working my Friday about six weeks ago. I was in a back aisle, matching index cards to books in the Texas section. I could hear what was going on 'up front', (we aren't a keep quiet kind of library) but I wasn't paying much attention, when I heard the name "Mehaffey". I spoke up. "I have Mehaffey's" I called out and went to where the conversation was.


I have to tell you first that although I and my parents moved to this county when I was a teen, neither I nor they were raised here. My parents were born and raised in Arkansas, but not in this county. Life took them other places and when they decided they wanted to move back to Arkansas, they chose this beautiful, artistic town to live. It is centrally situated in the state so they could reach their siblings and other loved ones within a few hours drive in one direction or another. Other than one of my children who now lives here, there are no relatives of mine in the county (but plenty of my husband's).


So the Mehaffey I was kin to wasn't in this county. Genealogists will recognize how I can stretch and find the kinship. My great-grandfather's sister married a Mehaffey in DeKalb County Georgia. He died (killed in the Civil War, I believe. Think the burning of Atlanta) and when the family moved from Georgia to Arkansas by covered wagon, sister Mehaffey and children came too. But not to this county.


So I went to the front of the library and explained the connection. The couple who were researching had come from Utah to find out more about her father's roots, and they came to the Melting Pot Library because of our size. In trading information, we never did find the exact connection between us, BUT (and this is important) she called up her DNA relatives on her laptop, and there I was. We ARE kin. We couldn't figure out exactly how, but we will.


What a coincidence! They came all the way from Utah, to a library that happened to be open the day of the week they ended up in Hot Springs, and it was the one day of the month I, a relative, was working, and I overheard the family name and recognized it.


Coincidence? Or God's way of remaining anonymous?