On a planet that has almost 57 million square miles of land surface upon which trod nearly eight billion people, it’s indeed hard to see the world as small. Now, having been to Magic Kingdom once upon a young father’s time with my one-time little ones, Shannon and Katie, I can still hear the melody of that song playing when we took the ride It’s a Small World, one Walt Disney introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.
However, there can be those moments as we traverse life’s paths when we encounter someone in the unlikeliest of places, either someone from our current world or, in some cases, from a world in which we haven’t lived for a very long time.
On the trip I detailed the last couple weeks, I believe I had one of those small-world moments that would rival any you’ll hear, given both the physical distance of almost 800 miles and time travel of more than 50 years.
During Lady Jane and my biking day in the Port Royal Sound area on Hilton Head Island, we stopped to walk through the site of what was once an earthwork Union fort constructed in 1864.
As we were reading the informational placards detailing the fort’s history, we saw only one other person, a lady who was filling one of the informational station’s boxes with some brochures. The congenial historical site representative saw us, walked over and asked where we were from.
Of course, as people tend to do when conversing with strangers and asked that question when on vacation, we identified ourselves first by our state affiliation. After she asked what city, Lady Jane proudly proclaimed her stomping grounds to be Montezuma, and I told her Lima. It was then her eyes widened, and she said, “What’s your name?”
When I told her my first and last, a wide smile crossed her face and she said, “I’m Linda Hartman.” There was no need to follow the natural progression after I identified the town in which I did my growing up because, once I heard her name, I not only knew she had grown up in Lima as well, but she did that growing up in the house right next to our small ranch on Latham Avenue.
Linda is my sister Joanie’s age, three years older than I, and often typical of next-door neighbor kiddos, sis’s best neighborhood pal. She was the daughter of Roy and Elizabeth and a public schooler, as were the rest of the kids on the block, save those two Catholic Grindrod kids who moved to Lima from the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn in June 1958. Of course, given my chronological junior status, I was more pest than pal to both my sister and Linda.
Linda had a dog named Chiffon, one I didn’t remind her was quite vocal. In canine parlance, Chiffon was somewhat of a yapper. If we’re talking Grindrod lore, a salient memory was one starring my father, who was in the process of taking a weekend summer late afternoon nap on the couch under the window that hummed with the whirring blades of a fan during a time when only the Rockefellers of the world had air-conditioning. It was the window that overlooked the single-car Hartman driveway, less than 10 feet away. My father, awoken by one too many yaps, hoisted himself up on that warm, lazy day and yelled through the fan blades, “Shut up, Chiffon, or I’ll put ya in a bun and eat ya!”
Quickly doing the math, I reckoned 55 years had passed since I last laid peepers on Linda Hartman. She asked about me, and I briefly spoke of my life’s path, and, of course, she asked about Joan. I snapped Linda’s photo with my phone and vowed to send it to Joanie and also gave Linda Joan’s cell number so that they could reconnect after more than 50 years.
Linda told me about her life’s path, raising her family in Atlanta and moving with her husband to Hilton Head 17 years earlier. Like people who once lived a childhood the width of a single-car driveway away and hadn’t seen one another in that amount of time, there wasn’t a whole lot more to say, so, as the late-afternoon shadows grew longer, we parted ways.
Later, my sister told me Linda called and they’d spoken. Joan also sent me the photo she still had that, I’m sure, she also shared with Linda, one of her with her beloved poodle Jake and Linda with her Chiffon in our back yard.
While once upon a time, Walt Disney surely had a broader global message when he introduced his attraction It’s a Small World, my one-in-a-million chance encounter with my next-door neighbor off Latham Avenue back when there was an Eisenhower in the White House and a poodle named Chiffon that my father threatened to surround with a hot dog bun in the house but one single-car driveway away.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]