Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Meeting Of Chance?

Several hours before the ball, I’m walking the streets of Prescott, peering in the windows of the antique and western shops and enjoying the hint of rain to come from the bubbling grey skies above. Bluegrass music floats over from the square in front of the town’s historic courthouse, a beautiful stone building I regretfully can’t enter. Families dot the lush green grass, children dancing and chasing each other about. Heads nod to the rhythm of the banjo as the musical moments sink in with nary a distraction.

Everyone is hitting life’s pause button. They sit on benches for blocks, sipping on coffee or latte or just staring into the street or in the windows of some store, silent and almost contemplative, as if they were in church.

Butterflies fill my stomach this afternoon, and I have no idea why. I’m walking it off as best I can, occupying my mind and feet before the time comes to slide into my privateer persona. Maybe it’s the effect of the long journey from Tucson, the mileage catching up with me. I can’t allow it to happen, not now. Captain Bartholomew Burgundy is inside of me, with his cockney working-class British accent, waiting to come out.

I’m walking up Gurley Street near the old library when I exchange nods and smiles with a stranger. We pass each other. But then I meet up with him again a few moments later, and to my amazement… he knows me and he greets me.

Turns out he attended the 1861 Remembrance Ball two months ago, and somehow he’s recognized me without the CSA uniform, kepi, and that wide yellow sash. Many times I can't remember faces and names to save my life. Turns out he knows a lot of faces and smiles -- he’s a dentist.

He’s waiting for his Buccaneer Ball companion to arrive in town. She’s driving in from Salt Lake City, but she needs a little guidance to link up with him and he doesn’t have a cell phone on him.

Fortunately, I do. And what’s more, I don’t usually carry one on me when I’m strolling around. I offer it to him without hesitation.

“Do you have long distance?”

“Yeah. I’ve got plenty of free minutes. Don’t worry about anything.”

He makes the call and we stand around small talking until his companion rolls up.

“Gimme a hug,” he says in a most friendly manner, and we do so before parting.

We would meet again on the dance floor in full piratical attire, and then again at the feast afterwards up the street. He and his companion generously offer me a seat next to him.

Through salads and sandwiches, we pick up where we left off, talking about We Make History, our other lives and times and future balls and adventures in the past to come. The Highland Ball approaches. So does the American Heritage Festival, where I plan to march with the Continental Line, I explain. We talk about past balls. And then the conversation drifts back where I know it’s going to go… to my first ball. That wonderful first ball. The ball that changed my life for the better.

I’m trying to resist the inclination to wear my heart on my sleeve, but it’s impossible to talk about it without relating how much it uplifted me.

“I was awake for hours,” I said. “I was so happy.”

I have to state my conclusion. “In every life there’s a turning point, and this one was mine. I made the decision I wanted to be a different person.”

Inside, part of me groans. What am I saying? What am I doing? Why do I have this urgency to relate this? Here? Now?

“Thank you for sharing that,” my friend across the table says with a warm grin.

I chow down and finish up, sharing a few more conversations with a some new friendly faces before everything wraps for the night.

And in the darkness of the motel room, I find myself with another old friend: afterglow.

My mind keeps darting between the ball and that chance encounter on the street. Only it seems too good to be the work of chance. I’d call it Providence.

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