By Bruce Stambaugh
We had never met this couple before, or so we thought. All we knew was that they were across the street neighbors from our long-time friends who live in Kitchener, Ontario, and this couple was vacationing at Amelia Island, Florida at the same time that we were.
Our common Ontario friends knew what they were doing. We made arrangements to meet these strangers one afternoon at a Fernandina Beach coffee shop, not knowing we had already “met” them the day before.
What unfolded was nothing short of amazing. Don and Gail were already seated when Neva and I arrived. We joined them at the table, and it was like the starter’s flag had been dropped at the Daytona 500.
In speech, they weren’t your typical Canadians. Gail’s native Queen’s English accent was lyrical. Don couldn’t hide his Bermuda brogue if he wanted to. He didn’t. Don and Gail were kind enough to accept our Midwestern twang without comment.
Our conversation lasted longer than our afternoon tea. It turned out that we had much more in common than mutual friends.
Don and Gail were attracted to Amelia Island because of its laid back lifestyle, and her friendly people reminded them of their beloved Bermuda, an island country nearly identical in size to the barrier island. Neva and I said the same thing about the residents of Holmes County, Ohio, where we have live all of our adult lives.
Gail and Neva both rambled on about children and grandchildren. They discovered that Gail knits Linus blankets, and Neva knots them.
Don and I quickly discovered two shared interests. We both love photography, and we both served as volunteer firefighters for several years. Shoot. Don and I even wore the exact same kind of shoes, although I paid far less than he did.
Our connections went far beyond the Kitchener link. Neva and I traveled to Bermuda in 1995 to follow our son in a golf tournament. Gail and Don knew several of the people we had met there. They even knew the home where we stayed.
We arranged to meet Don and Gail for lunch at a local seafood restaurant on the pier, and then invited them over to see our rental. We talked and laughed for hours.
That’s pretty much how it went for the next four weeks. Gail and Neva went shopping. Don and I went birding, hiking, shooting pictures all the while.
We went out to eat together. We explored the area’s many lovely state parks. When some of our friends from home visited, Don and Gail joined us, and the guests bonded with them as quickly as we had.
Here’s the kicker about connecting with this gregarious couple.
The day before the coffee shop meeting, the town held its weekly local farmers market. We checked it out with the intentions of buying locally raised produce and homemade bread and pastries.
As is my habit, I carried my camera. I took picture after picture of the luscious strawberries and the vibrant vegetables. Of course, I couldn’t help but include some people in the shots, too.
I review my horde of photographs from time to time to thin out the pictures I don’t want to keep. As I scrolled through the pictures, I couldn’t believe what I found. There behind the red, ripe tomatoes and assorted, leafy greens were Don and Gail.
I had taken their picture the day before we formally met. Mere coincidence? I doubt it.
One of my vacation reads was Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies.” Lamott considers traveling mercies as events or people put in your path for specific, often unforeseen purposes.
I photographed strangers at a street market. Traveling mercies easily transformed them into extraordinary friends.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2014