03 Feb

You never know who you’ll meet in Norman

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Between presentations at an elementary school in Norman, Oklahoma, last month, a woman around my age approached me and introduced herself.

I blathered a little bit about that morning’s proceedings, how glad I was to be there, etc., and then she said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

I didn’t. Not at first, anyway, but my brain started going like sixty trying to figure it out. Was she another children’s author who happened to live in the area? A blogger or other children’s literature enthusiast that I’d crossed paths with online? Someone with the school district that I’d previously been in touch with?

That last possibility was correct, in a sense. About 30 seconds into our exchange, I realized that this stranger was a former classmate of mine — not just briefly, but for eight entire years in our hometown of Sulphur Springs, Texas. (In my defense, she had spent considerable time hidden inside our school-mascot costume during the last two of those years.)

We’d been in school together from fifth grade through high school graduation. And graduation had been the last time I’d seen her until, nearly 25 years later, she greeted me in Norman, where her family had moved recently and where she’d begun working as a substitute teacher.

It was great to see her.

It was an enjoyable coincidence.

And it was — by a mile — only the second oddest coincidence during my time in Norman.

To set the stage for the Grand Champion Oddity, we must go back to a Sunday morning a few weeks prior to Norman, when Jenny noticed a woman a few pews ahead of us in church.

Specifically, Jenny noticed this woman’s beautiful hair — long, red, and curly but not something that we just walk up and touch, because that’s just not what we do to the hair of people we don’t know. No matter how touchable it looks, Jenny. There was some discussion on this point, but we definitely agreed that this woman had one great head of hair.

OK, so, Norman. My second morning there, again in between presentations, the mother of a student entered the library while the librarian was elsewhere and I was on my own.

The student’s mother was dropping off a payment at the last minute (uncharacteristically for her, she swore) for a signed book. She and I began talking while waiting for the return of the librarian and the beginning of my next presentation.

We chatted about my adopted hometown of Austin, and about a writer friend of hers who had recently moved to my city, and within moments I was on my phone looking at the Facebook profile of this Norman mom’s writer friend in Austin to see if she and I had any friends in common.

We did, but only one, and her privacy settings kept me from seeing who it was. So I gave the book-payment-dropping-off woman a business card for Jenny and me in case the transplanted-to-Austin writer wanted to get in touch with either of us for networking or general hobnobbing purposes.

And that was the end of the story, unless my new Norman friend — Julia, I’ll call her, since that’s her name and I’ve grown tired of referring to these various characters without using any proper nouns — actually passed the contact information along to her Austin friend. And that certainly wouldn’t have guaranteed that Julia’s Austin friend would actually get around to contacting Jenny or me.

(As it happened, the librarian invited Julia to join us for lunch, which was lots of fun. Note to parents: This is not the usual outcome when you’re late dropping off payment to your child’s librarian for a signed copy of a book by a visiting author.)

But that’s not how the story actually ended at all. And Julia wasn’t the one who mentioned our encounter to her Austin friend.

Because the Sunday after my return home, when Jenny and I were back at church, I looked across the sanctuary and saw a woman with a familiar face — the same face I had seen in a little-bitty Facebook profile photo on my phone when talking with Julia in Norman a few mornings before.

It wasn’t just her face that was familiar, though. It was also her hair.

Yes, the one Austin friend of the student’s mom who happened to drop off a check while I was alone in the library at the elementary school in Norman was the same woman whose long, curly, red hair my wife had admired from afar just a few weeks earlier.

Admired, but — I must emphasize — not touched, because that’s not what we do.

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