Our second big travel coincidence happened, as best I can recall, the October following Dickensian Moment #1. More about which here, if you didn’t catch it a month ago:
It could have been the spring rather than the fall of 1974. The exact time of year is lost in the mists of long ago remembering. The weather was sunny and beautiful, but that would not tell one much, given the unrelenting loveliness of California’s costal climate.
David had been attending a marketing conference in Los Angeles and afterwards we were driving up the coast for a few days before flying home from San Francisco. We stopped in San Luis Obispo to see San Simeon—the dazzling Hearst mansion. The coast road, with mountains meeting the sea was glorious, of course, especially for a girl from the rolling hills of Northern New Jersey who was seeing such a sight for the first time.
On Day 2, we stopped in Carmel for lunch. During our postprandial walk about the town, David spotted a corner storefront art gallery, a venue almost as irresistible to me as to him. We went in. The place had three small rooms: one just inside the front door, one off to the left, and one to the right. We looked at the paintings in the small entry room and then went left, as was our wont, both geographically and politically.
I have no recollection whatsoever of what was on the walls. Undoubtedly, we were relaxed and talking about the art we viewed—I know this because we have spent so many, many hours of our life together in galleries and museums happily doing exactly that. As we came back into the entry, I heard a woman speaking in the third room. “That’s Maureen Crowley,” I said in surprise.
“Who’s she?” David was asking, but I was already headed in her direction and did not stop to tell him.
I will stop to tell you, though. Maureen was my classmate and fellow English major at the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent, New Jersey. We had not seen each other since our graduation in 1963. We were about as dissimilar as we could have been when we found ourselves together in that institution. I was small and dark haired. She tall and blond and beautiful, with bright blue eyes. I was a scholarship student from a poor, working class neighborhood in the dying industrial city of Paterson, New Jersey. She was from automotive aristocracy in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. We were not close friends in school, but since there were only about a hundred in our class and maybe a dozen or so English majors, we had spent a lot of time together on a beautiful campus, where our alma mater hymn began, “Far, far away from the busy world. . .” It’s not so surprising that I still recognized her voice after ten years.
And there she was! We had run into one another by accident in an obscure art gallery in a (then) small town far, far away from the place where we had met.
Maureen was on vacation with her husband Pete, a doctor, to whom she had been engaged all the while he went to med school and she went to St. E’s. They had married shortly after our graduation. If you had seen David and me talking with them on the sidewalk outside that gallery, you would have wondered what we found to say to one another.
The differences between me and Maureen had widened in the intervening years, and you could have told that by looking at the two couples—one preppy elegant as ever in cotton cable-knit sweaters and oxford cloth, beautifully groomed hair, and penny loafers. David and I were in denim. As I recall I had on bib overalls and a blue work shirt. My hair was in braids. David’s and my shoes would have been a dead giveaway. Suede on both of us. Mine were navy blue boots with little red suede cats on the sides. David’s were red and blue stripes with white stars. No kidding.
Maureen and Pete were still married, had kids, still lived in Grosse Pointe. In the meanwhile, I had married, had a child, divorced, and here I was wearing those shoes, reporting that I lived in Greenwich Village. And I was traveling with a man who was not my husband. We chatted briefly and parted company.
Since that chance encounter, I have thought a lot about Maureen’s life and mine. It has always seemed that the way our lives intersected and diverged were told in that picture of us in Carmel. In our very different upbringings, our futures seemed as predictable as those of our grandmothers. But we wound up together for four years. Then, within a few years after we graduated, new paths opened for women. Maureen’s background had prepared her to trust the old ways. She was headed for a nice life as a doctor’s wife. My childhood had imbued me and the other local kids with an urge to look for ways out. “Born to Run” our fellow New Jerseyan famously sang. All new paths looked inviting and intriguing to me. As Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I did.
To bring the story full circle, Maureen and I met again this past year at our fiftieth college reunion. She is still very beautiful. We were really happy to see each other again. We have both had our joys and our tragedies. If you had seen us together back on campus last June, you would not have found all that much difference in our styles, but that’s because I look much more conventional than I did on that day when, in an unlikely twist of fate, our path’s converged in an out-of-the-way spot on the California coast.