In 1929, a Hungarian author wrote a short story that first portrayed the idea of “six degrees of separation.” That is, that any two people are connected, somehow, by no more than five others. The idea and the phrase are now part of the popular culture. I don’t necessarily buy the whole idea, but I am fascinated by the fact that our lives so often swing near each other and we are, unaware, connected.
I’ve mentioned before that, as a teenage high school student, I drove a school bus, hauling my load of kids from rural areas of the county to and from the school, first through 12th grades, in the small town of Lilesville. The youngsters crowding on or piling off my bus were generally no problem, although inclined to be noisy. The names and faces of most would soon fade from my memory.
At one stop, about 10 miles from the school, a mother who lived a short distance off the route would meet the bus, morning and afternoon. Her daughter, perhaps 7 or 8, would board or dismount silently. I had known the child’s mother and her grandparents all my life, not as close acquaintances, but just as members of the community. Her mother had married a soldier during World War II, and he was now back on active duty, serving in the Army in the middle of the Korean War. I understood he worked with Armed Forces Radio. His wife would occasionally mention that she’d heard from him and pass on a bit of information.
I would remember the little girl years later, partly because she was a noticeably pretty child, and partly because one day she brought to school a vinyl record that her father had sent home from Korea. Her teacher took it to the office, and the principal played it over the intercom system for the entire school to hear. The recording was “Shina No Yoru” (China Night), a plaintive love song of a lonely Japanese soldier, written in the early days of World War II. The song stuck in my mind from that day on.
Fast forward about 60 years. Late one night, I paused by my wife’s bed as she watched television. David Letterman was interviewing another television personality, a fellow who looked vaguely familiar but whose name, Carson Daly, rang no bells with me. Daly was talking about his mother, who had for more than 20 years hosted a very popular television show in California. He said she had grown up in North Carolina, in the small town of Wadesboro. Wadesboro is the seat of my home county. I did a double-take. Then he said, no, actually she grew up near an even smaller town nearby, Lilesville. I did a triple-take. Her name, Patty Daly Caruso, rang no more bells than her son’s name had.
Over time, very gradually, social media comments by folks from my home area cleared the fog away. Finally it hit me in the face: Patty Daly Caruso had once been little Patricia Jones, the beautiful child who, according to later classmates, was determined to get to California and into show business. And who made an early start at entertaining by introducing her whole school to “Shina No Yoru.”
One of her classmates had stayed in touch, and Patty had planned to come to North Carolina late last fall, when the two of them would meet for lunch and reunion at a Charlotte restaurant. Then, shortly before that much anticipated event could happen, Patricia Jones Daly Caruso had a massive heart attack and died.
Patty had always wanted to be buried beside her mother, and so she is, in a peaceful country churchyard a few miles out from Lilesville. She rests just a few feet from my sister, not far from her own grandparents, and close to my own parents, grandparents, siblings and other kin. A reminder in death as in life of how often, though unaware, many of us are somehow connected.
Robert B. Simpson: xxx-xxx-xxxx, email, @twitter