One of the pleasures of interviewing people for stories are the “small-world” coincidences that pop up during the conversation.
I have often said most people do not really know one another very well, that some relationships are filled with really nifty blind connections that remain invisible.
There’s a name for this mysterious phenomenon. It’s called “six degrees of separation,” which means all people in the world are six or seven “links” away from one another and that somewhere along that “chain,” people can be connected in one way in just six or less connections. The links can be people they know or are related to, paths they’ve crossed, places they’ve been, cities they’d lived in and so forth.
We reporters are highly aware of that phenomenon for the simple fact we ask lots and lots of questions when we interview people. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Which schools did you attend? How did you meet your wife? What was her maiden name?
In decades of reporting, it’s always astonished me how many people I have interviewed, including people not living in this area, who grew up in St. Cloud – often in south St. Cloud, my boyhood neighborhood – and people who attended Tech High School or St. Cloud State University – some of them at the same time I did. Or people who grew up not far from Grandpa’s farm near Benson, where Mom was raised. So many people I’ve met who had Benson connections knew my aunts and uncles and cousins.
“What a small world it is,” they’d marvel when we’d learn of those coincidental links, popping up like ping-pong balls in our talk.
If I had not asked so many questions, we never would have discovered those fun-to-ponder small-world coincidences.
Most recently, that happened when I was interviewing Bonnie Nies of Sartell for a story about her neighborhood’s annual tradition of Luminary Night.
It was a lot of fun to interview Bonnie because she is bright, lively and kind, with a keen sense of humor. How we got on the subject I cannot recall, but one of us, while meandering verbally down Memory Lane, mentioned Beaver Lake near Luxemburg.
“We used to spend a week every summer at Beaver Lake,” I said, “and those were some of the happiest times of my childhood.”
“You did?!” Bonnie gasped. “So did we!”
And then the flood gates of reminiscence burst open.
“Oh yes,” I said, teasing. “You must have been that sun-tanning beauty who was always lounging on the beach and wearing that skimpy yellow polka-dot bikini.”
She hooted with laughter.
“No, that would not have been me,” she said.
“Do you remember how parents wouldn’t let us swim until an hour after we ate?” I asked.
“Oh, my, do I ever,” she said, laughing. “They were sure we’d get a cramp and go right to the bottom.”
Then we shared memories of the little resort-bar just up from the beach, the married couple who owned it and how adults would sit there in its dim interior drinking beer, shooting the breeze, exchanging wisecracks. Meantime, we kids would be on the hot sand beach, sipping Coca-Cola from green-glass bottles, eating Switzer’s licorice, slurping on Popsicles, munching potato chips.
We Dalmans and our good neighbors, the Fahnhorsts, would spend a week in the cabins there every summer in the late 1950s, early 1960s.
“Have you seen those cabins now?” I asked Bonnie.
“Oh yes,” she said. “How sad they look. Really nothing left of them.”
Those five or six old small rustic wooden cabins, once so rough-hewn homely but cozy (especially in a thunder storm), are now sagging, rotting ruinations, hunched over, boards loose or broken, gaping holes here and there. They now stand in lapping waves at the lake’s edge, next to the roadway. Now and then, when I’d go to Kimball, past Luxemburg, in recent years, I would park at the edge of the road and just stand there and ponder those forlorn cabins so ruined by time and erosive desolation. From their wreckage, memories of happy summers past would rise up, whispering to me like lake waves. Ah, the ghosts.
Bonnie and I both sighed about time, about life, about loss.
“Those were the days,” she said.
“Yes, they sure were,” I agreed. “It seems as if everybody was so happy back then.”
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.