Unless it’s a favorite cashmere sweater, I believe in pulling at threads to see where they take you. Threads in life especially interest me now that that I have the perspective of nearly three-quarters of a century. Who would have thought that a 1954 feature story written by me when I was in college would lead to an expense-paid weekend invitation to New York in 2005? And why was the subject of the feature of particular interest to me?
The event to which I got the invitation was a University of Missouri production of an original play by the drama professor, Mary Barile. The play, “Leaving Hannibal” was about one of Missouri’s most famous native sons, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. The Mizzou on Broadway Program of the Missouri drama department annually affords theater students a chance to practice their craft in New York City
The feature I had written 51 years before this invitation was inspired by a picture I had seen at the University Library and the 119th birthday of Mark Twain, November 30, 1954. The photograph showed Mark Twain in cap and gown, along with other notables who received honorary LL D. degrees in 1902. I didn’t get a byline in the Columbia Missourian, the daily newspaper published by the University School of Journalism, but I had a ready outlet for the story. I had never forgotten what Mr. Clemens was reported as saying by the daughter of R. H. Jesse, then president of the University. Though a child in 1902, she had remembered overhearing the famous humorist confiding to her father that the greatest sorrow in his life was that no one would take him seriously. But how did my old feature elicit the current invitation?
Bear with me while I pull the thread.
In June of 2005 I attended the celebration of my 50th anniversary of graduation from college held in Columbia, MO. Since 1955 my life decisions had led me into the field of special libraries.For the 50th reunion the University had provided numerous tours. I had decided I wanted to see their library since research and information technology had become my interest. For one reason or another I had missed the tour and was lamenting the fact to a friend.
An attractive young woman, Gena Scott, overheard me. She was the director of development for the library and offered to give me a private tour. While Gena showed me around the impressive facility, up-to-date in every way and beautifully appointed, I jabbered about the 1902 picture of Clemens and his fellow honorees and the feature I had written more than 50 years before. She listened with interest.
That casual meeting led to my New York invitation.
Out of the blue I received a call about a month before the “Leaving Hannibal” performance was to take place. I frequently receive calls from my alma mater – requesting a contribution for one thing or another. It depends on my mood or bank account balance as to whether I respond. But this call from Gena Scott invited me to the MIZZOU on Broadway performance and assured me that they wanted me to be their guest at a mid-town Manhattan hotel. “It’s a double-occupancy room so by all means ask a friend or relative to share it with you. There is also a reception for everyone at The University Club in Manhattan.”
“Oh,” I exclaimed. “Maybe my cousin from Hannibal or my old New York roommate would like to come.” It turned out that my cousin and her husband, Corinne and Howard Bell, both Missouri graduates, did come as well as my New York roommate, Jeannette Moss, another Missouri alumna. She came and shared the room with me.
But there are more threads here that I’m anxious to pull.
My plans were made and I was excited. And then my daughter’s mother-in-law died suddenly in Tulsa, OK. It was a terrible shock to the family. Sharon Mason was a wonderful person, an accomplished editor and talented quilter. She had given me a beautiful quilt and afghan. I wanted to and should go to her funeral the Monday after the MIZZOU on Broadway event. Could I do both? I decided I could and made plane reservations to fly to Tulsa Sunday afternoon after I returned from New York.
It was all going well. I had a great time Saturday night, met Gena and her boss for breakfast Sunday and zipped cross town to the Port Authority to take my bus back to D.C. I had parked at the Falls Church Metro station (all free on the week end,) found my car and drove to my daughter Marnie’s house in Reston so I could park my car there while I was gone. She drove me to Dulles and I ran into the airport an hour ahead of the flight.
It looked like Times Square before the ball drops on New Years Eve. People just arrived from Europe couldn’t get their connecting flights. I missed my flight while waiting in line to check in. There was nothing to do but go home and apologize to Sharon’s family.
In trying to get some satisfaction for the flight I had paid for and missed through no fault of my own, the airline told me (after zillions of calls) that I would have six months to get credit toward another flight.
Five months later, the deadline looming, I made reservations to go to Colorado Springs, where my grandmother had once lived, (and my great-grandmother had once been mayor!) travel by bus, train, and car to visit the towns of Liberal and Emporia, where the Spencer family had pioneered, spend the night with a college friend in Lawrence, have lunch with Missouri friends in Kansas City, go to Liberty and Gallatin, MO, visit briefly in Fayette and Columbia and fly home from Kansas City. If I hadn’t missed the flight to Tulsa I might never have made this trip, which I treasure.
Now why do you think I noticed that picture of Mark Twain in the University of Missouri Library? Could it have anything to do with the fact that my father was born five miles outside Hannibal, my cousin was a native of the town, and Mark Twain was our most famous native son?
Gena Scott and her boss didn’t seem to care that I probably couldn’t leave the University library a million dollars. I think Development operates on the thread theory
too. Networking, whatever term you prefer, still dominates human psychology. It’s both what you know and who you know and that marvelous dimension called chance, fate, luck or serendipity.
I had a wonderful time that autumn weekend in New York City and the next spring tracing the pioneering roots of my family. Though I still haven’t been to Tulsa, my daughter, Martha, gave me a book that had been Sharon’s, “Read for Your Life.” I liked it so much I wrote a fan letter to the author, Joseph Gold, a retired professor in Canada.
Enough. You get the idea about what can happen when you start pulling threads.