January 15, 2021

A Brief Vacation and a Memorable Chance Meeting

It never fails to amaze me that when you’re away from home and least expect it, you run into people by chance and discover you have some connection with them. My family and I recently rented a cabin for a few days out in the hills of Brown County, Ind., northwest of Nashville. On Monday, we needed to fill an order of Tales Press Books to Amazon and had to go to the Brown County Public Library to use a printer when the chance meeting happened.
          When we stopped at the library, a sign said it was closed because of COVID-19 and had a number to call for service. My wife called to arrange for the copies. While she was doing that, I talked with two local women who were at the library to return a book or to have copies made. One of them returned a book and left.
          The other woman didn’t have a cell phone to call in, so I called the number, handed her the phone and let her tell the librarian what she wanted. While we waited, I talked with the woman about Nashville and how it had changed and grown since my wife and I spent a few days at a cabin in Brown County State Park back in the early ’90s.
          “Oh, yeah,” she said. “Every time somebody dies or sells a house, somebody buys it and opens up another shop. I’m not originally from Nashville, but my husband was born and raised there. Lived here all his life.”
          I asked her where she was from.
          “Where in Illinois?” I asked.
          “Jasper County,” she said.
          “Really?” I said. “I live in Urbana now, but I’m from Crawford County and grew up in Bellair, a little village less than a hundred yards east of the Crawford-Jasper County line.”
          We continued talking about where the two for us had lived and found that we were about the same age. She said she was from Willow Hill and had gone to high school in Newton. I had gone to Oblong High School, a few miles away. We laughed and said what a small world it is.
          “What brings you to Nashville?” she asked, and I told her we had rented a cabin several miles northwest of town to get away from home for a few days and gave her one of my cards and told her I’d written a novel (Wild Hands Toward the Sky) that was set in the area where both of us were from that she might like to read.
          “I don’t have a computer,” she said. “But my daughter does. If you’ll write the name of the book on the back of the card, I’ll have her take a look.”
          My wife wrote the name of the book on the back of the card. And when the librarian returned, she handed the woman a large coffee table book with a copy of an article. The photo on the top page was of Burl Ives and his guitar.
          “That’s Burl Ives!" I said.
          “Yes,” she said. “The article was written by him. I wanted a copy of it. I grew up not far from Hunt City where he did.”
          “He was born on a farm out in the country six or seven miles from where I lived,” I said. “I interviewed Burl at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., in the early ’80s for a story in the cultural journalism publication, Tales from the General Store, I’d founded to help preserve the history and culture of the central Midwest area and for students to learn about it and write articles. You can see the interview with Burl in the archives on the Tales Press website that has the address on the card. And he’s buried just across the North Fork of the Embarras west of Oblong at the Mounds Church Cemetery.”
          “I know. I’ve been there.”
          The woman told the librarian what we’d been talking about and asked for another card. I didn’t have one, so the librarian took the one from the woman back inside, made two copies, and gave me the card back. The woman handed me the copy of the Ives article she’d just had copied. “I want you to have this. I can get another one.”
          Back home, I sent two copies of Wild Hands Toward the Sky and two complete sets of the 27 issues of the Tales cultural journalism project, which are also in the archives of the Tales Press website and on the Illinois Digital Public Library, to the woman and the library. The third issue has an early photo of Burl Ives on the cover and features the article from the interview.
          That trip to the library was truly a memorable chance meeting I won’t forget.