Thursday, October 1, 2009

It's a Small Handbell World

OK, this one isn't that surprising -- the handbell world really is small, and you keep bumping into the same people no matter what you do. However, this series of coincidences is notable for the sheer number and variety of them; an independent observer would probably conclude that one of the people involved has been stalking the other (but as far as I know, neither of us has been orchestrating this).

In the mid-90's, we lived in Kansas. I was teaching at K-State, and ringing bells at First UMC in Manhattan. We went to an AGEHR Area VIII festival in Omaha in 1996; the next year, although we had moved to Virginia by then, we returned to attend the national festival in Kansas City. Both times, a teenager named Kendra Flory performed in one of the (non-massed) concerts; I believe she did a duet with her sister once, and a solo the other time. She was very good, and her name stuck in my memory because Daniel Flory was the founder of Bridgewater College in Virginia, where I started teaching in the fall of 1996.

A few years later, I was attending a start-of-the-year reception at the college president's house, and he greeted me by saying, "We've got a new student who is a bell ringer." Well, it turned out that Kendra was indeed related to the Bridgewater Florys, and was transferring from McPherson College to Bridgewater for her junior and senior years. Her father was involved in the leadership of the Church of the Brethren, with which McPherson and Bridgewater are affiliated (and which I had never heard of until I took the job at BC...), and he had arranged for her to do some solo ringing at the annual conference, where she was introduced to the president of her new college.

During her time at Bridgewater, Kendra and I became friends, and we worked on some duet and small ensemble music together. She also gave a solo concert at the Methodist church up in Harrisonburg where Eleanor and I were attending (I wasn't involved in setting this up, so it might count as another mini-coincidence that she showed up there), and joined our bell choir on occasion as a sub. After she graduated, she moved to somewhere in Pennsylvania, and we lost touch for a bit.

Now we get to a brief non-handbell tangent, where it starts to get a bit spookier. While in Kansas, I attended a couple of the Great Plains Programming Language Workshops, and I met a number of PL people from Kansas and the surrounding states. In 2001, somewhat out of the blue, I received an invitation from one of these people to give a pair of lectures at his school: McPherson College. I traveled there in October, gave the lectures (one about design patterns, and the other about automata), and spent the day visiting in classes there and talking to the faculty. In conversation with one of them, Kendra's name came up -- not only had she attended the school for a while, she had grown up just a few blocks away (I think her father had been on the faculty), and had been friends with my CS colleague's kids!

Giving those lectures at McPherson helped me decide to leave Bridgewater; in fact, I used the automaton talk when I went on job interviews. In the fall of 2002, we moved to Indiana and I started teaching at DePauw. We joined the Methodist church on campus, and started ringing with the bell choir. In 2003, and then again in 2005, the Area V festival was held at DePauw (it is apparently a popular site for the festival -- the first time I ever visited DePauw was for the 1983 festival, with my church's high school choir). Some of our choir rang in the 2003 festival, but by 2005 our director had moved away, our AGEHR membership had lapsed, and we didn't even hear that the festival was coming back to DePauw until it was too late to sign up. I did manage to get tickets to the concert by the featured choir, the Raleigh Ringers (they're very good). After the concert, someone familiar came up to say hi -- it was Kendra, who, unknown to me, was attending a Brethren seminary on the other side of Indiana!

I had in fact seen her once between her graduation from BC and 2005: one year (I forget which), I was asked to join my mother's bell choir back in Cleveland (the Presbyterian church whose high school choir went to DePauw in 1983 -- see, I haven't always been a Methodist...) for the Christmas Eve service. I went to the rehearsal, and found that they had another sub -- it was Kendra. I forget why she was in NE Ohio that year (this is about the point where you could really make a case for her stalking me...), but somehow she had made contact with my mother's bell director and gotten herself invited to ring there.

OK, that's almost the end of the story, except that while writing this I decided to Google Kendra and see if I could find out what she's doing now (since I assume she's graduated from the seminary). She turned up as a member of the Circle City Ringers, the community group over in Indianapolis where I subbed a few years ago. Now I'm planning to attend one of their concerts this fall (but I suppose that wouldn't count as a coincidence then). Who knows, maybe we can keep this up for years to come?

It's a Small World, Kindergarten Division

Continuing the theme of stories of odd coincidences from my life, here's a short one in which I played an important, though passive, role.

My Kindergarten teacher in Cleveland Heights was Mrs. Sugimoto. I suppose she had a first name, but it didn't really occur to me as a five-year-old to ask such a thing, certainly not of Mrs. Sugimoto. She was Japanese, and during the summer a year or two after I was in her class she traveled back to Japan for a visit. On the way, she spent a few days in Honolulu.

My aunt and her family were living in Hawaii at that time, and it happened that her mother, my grandmother, was out there for a visit (although her home was in Cleveland). One day she went to a restaurant at one of the hotels on Waikiki Beach (we could pretend that it was the Royal Hawaiian, but it doesn't really matter). It was busy, so she agreed to share a table with another single woman. They got to chatting, and were surprised to find out that they were both from Cleveland. Furthermore, they were both teachers. When my grandmother heard that the other woman (who was, of course, Mrs. Sugimoto) taught Kindergarten in Cleveland Heights, she asked whether she knew me, and was astounded to learn that she had just sat down with her grandson's teacher, 4500 miles from home!