|It’s hard on the brain to spend too much time thinking of how certain events eventually lead us one way or the other in life, but every once in a while it’s fun. Last night my brother, Jeff, and I spent the evening up in the snowy mountain canyon of our youth, as we often do, just hanging out in the quiet darkness of the forest, enjoying a cigar or twelve, and the subject of fate came up.
Jeff’s wife knows a lot of “important” people in this town from her years of fundraising work for a local hospital. The two of them attend quiet a few social functions and were recently invited to one of the prominent townspeople’s 97th birthday party celebration. Ty, the guest of honor, had told a story that Jeff shared with me last night. He said that night’s get-together was one of his most cherished, but his most memorable had to be his 46th, back in 1962.
He said it was on a Friday that year and he had to make a quick business trip (Ty was a lawyer) to Helena, the state’s capital, which is about a two-hour drive away. His secretary told him he needed to be back by the afternoon because they had a lot of paperwork that needed to be dealt with before the weekend. He assured her he’d leave early, get his business done, and be back by early afternoon.
While in Helena that morning, he ran into Donald Nutter, the Governor of Montana at the time, who was an acquaintance of Ty’s. The Governor had a speaking engagement in Cut Bank, Montana, in the northern part of the state later that night and invited Ty to join him. He was honored by the offer and called his secretary to let her know he wouldn’t be back that day after all. There was silence on the other end until she finally replied in a serious and urgent tone that he had to come back. The work left was simply too important. Ty said he understood, but it wasn’t every day the Governor personally asked you to join him at one of his functions and he was going to do it.
His secretary paused again and then handed the phone to his partner in the firm who told Ty he hated to ruin the surprise, but they had a big birthday bash planned at the Florence Hotel in town that night and 60 guests were coming. After hearing that, Ty agreed he’d come back that afternoon.
While at his birthday party that night at the hotel, he received the news that the Governor’s plane went down in a blizzard on the way to Cut Bank and all six on board were killed. It must be strange to think your life might have lasted less than half as long and all those people listening to your story would have been off doing something else, completely oblivious to your existence.
In a far less deadly or dramatic fashion, I thought of how one teeny tiny simple otherwise forgettable event near the end of my senior year of high school altered the course of my life forever, and, of course, I didn’t know it at the time. I changed schools senior year, which really sucked. I went through that year never really knowing anyone or having those close bonds kids develop through years of daily contact.
Around the start of the final quarter that year, Helen, the French girl who sat in front of me in first period English class – and to whom I hadn’t spoken a word to all year – got in a little spat with her good friend who sat just in front of her. Homework papers were graded in class by swapping with someone close by and then having the teacher read the answers. This was a horrible system, by the way, ripe for corruption, but that’s how it was done. That day, since the two girls in front of me weren’t speaking to each other, Helen turned around and asked if I’d like to swap homework. I said sure, and as those final days and weeks of senior year dragged by, we began exchanging homework more often and chatting in and out of class. Before we knew it, we were going to the year-end prom together and beginning a relationship that would last over three years.
But perhaps the most important link here was her twin brother, Mike, who I grew to become very good friends with. We played guitar together, fished together, and when I wasn’t with Helen, or the two of them together, I was off with Mike doing something. Helen and I didn’t last and as things were dying off between us in that final year of our relationship, Mike talked me into joining him in moving to Bozeman, Montana, 200 miles away, to attend music school.
We both secured part-time jobs at a new restaurant in Bozeman, and the very first day I walked through its doors, the first person I laid eyes on was a gorgeous young woman who also worked there, sitting at one of the tables, eating a salad during her lunch break. She looked up and our eyes met and I thought….wow. That beautiful woman has been my amazing wife for the past 92 years, and it blows me away to think that if Helen and her friend hadn’t had their little spat (which only lasted a day, by the way), I most likely never would have spoken to her that school year and never would have become friends with her brother. I never would have moved to Bozeman.
And my kids would have been a lot uglier.
Oh, and another amazing thing? If I hadn’t received that home beer-making kit for Christmas, I wouldn’t have made beer!!! Doesn’t that just blow you away?!? Heh. It looks like I’ll have a good batch of Octoberfest Vienna Lager for the Super Bowl on Sunday, but the fermenting process can be finicky. Sometimes it takes a week, sometimes up to three. They recommend drawing some from the tap to taste and check the progress. They should add the tip, “If after drinking a few glasses, you feel a strong desire to wear lampshades on your head, pee in the corner of the living room, and hit on your boss’s wife during the office Christmas party, your beer is ready. If not, leave it a few more days and try again.”
I can’t stand either team, but…Go Ravens. I guess. I hate them slightly less,