Thursday, January 10, 2013
a novel life
Shakespeare was wrong.
Life is not a stage. It is one giant novel. And you never know whether you are going to end up being written into a Faulkner or, far more likely, a Barbara Cartland tale.
When I joined the Air Force, I thought my fellow officers would be the best that the East Coast Establishment had to offer. The kind of people who thought they owned America -- and the rest of us are just visiting. To cadge from The Good Shepherd.
But they weren't. They were just like me. Middle class kids trying to find the best way to develop the talents God gave them.
All Americans are social climbers. It is our nature. We live in a society where we can be what we make of ourselves. No strict social classes for us. One day, cock of the walk. The next, a feather duster.
That is why falling into a Jane Austen novel can be a bit disconcerting. Especially for a man of the Western United States. But that is exactly how I felt this morning when the photograph at the top of this post showed up in my inbox.
It came from my friend Nancy. You know her. I often travel with her and her husband, Roy.
In November 2004 we were in New York City preparing to join a cruise on the shiny new Queen Mary 2. Because it was Thanksgiving, we decided to have dinner at Le Cirque. Nancy's daughter, Alison, flew up from Washington to join us.
I had never met her. Even though I had heard plenty of stories about her. She was a delight. Young. Beautiful Statuesque. Witty. A perfect addition to our table.
Several months later, I was in Portland for the my nephew Ryan's wedding. I walked into the empty sanctuary to find a place for the box containing my father's ashes. (There was no way I was going to let him miss his only grandson's wedding.)
A young woman followed me in. "Steve?," she said tentatively. I turned around. It was Alison. "What are you doing here?" The words had barely left her mouth before she said, "Cotton. Cotton. You must be related to Ryan. I never made the connection."
She had been the college room mate of my nephew's bride, Sara. Roy had told me plenty of tales of Alison's college ventures -- and her friends. I had no idea that one of those friends was my nephew.
It is from such coincidences that Ms. Austen was able to fabricate an entire series of novels based on human manners. And here I was living my own version.
Alison is now married with two children. Ryan and Sara have a son -- Colin. They get together as often as good friends, who live on opposite sides of the country, can. But they almost always meet at Alison's grandmother's house in Bend at Christmas.
And that is the genesis of the photograph. Taken by my friend Nancy. Of my dashing nephew, his stunning bride, and my genius nephew.
I didn't need to join the Air Force to find my place in society. I just needed to be patient. And it came to me.