First, I promise to post more regularly to this blog!
It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since “One on the Ground” was published. During that time, I had the opportunity to promote the book through talks and signings, and there have been many surprising connections. One special event was a talk at the Dog Ears Bookstore in South Buffalo, which inspired the attached story. By the way, if you live in the Buffalo area, I highly recommend a visit to Dog Ears. You will thoroughly enjoy browsing through their selection of books, and enjoy the delicious food served in the cafe.
By: Karen Wielinski
“Words want to find chimes with each other, things want to connect.”
“You probably don’t remember me, but we have met before.”
I was preparing for a talk at the Dog Ears bookstore in South Buffalo, when a woman approached me. Her greeting set my mind into action. Did she look familiar? No. Had she attended one of my other talks? Over the last year, I have given so many presentations. A myriad of faces have crossed my path, so it was possible she had attended another event.
I certainly was not prepared for her explanation of how we had connected in the past. Debora Reach was the coroner who interviewed our family, days after the crash of Flight 3407.
Imagines flashed through my mind, as she spoke those words. Two days after the crash, we were summoned to the Indigo Hotel. We knew the reason why. The coroner needed a physical description of Doug, so that his remains could be identified.
We were filled with a sense of dread, as the girls, their guys, and I walked into the lobby of the hotel. Our eyes remained on the woman directing us to the elevators. We did not dare make eye contact with anyone in the lobby area. What if we should see one of the 3407 family members? What if we saw their pain?
We were directed upstairs to a small conference room. The coroner introduced herself to us, and explained that she was from San Diego and belonged to a volunteer group who assisted local coroners during tragedies. Somehow, her calm manner slowly eased our stress. We shared Doug’s physical characteristics: recent dental and gum work, broken bones and surgeries—all sports related; mustache and the curls down the back of his neck. But, she also let us talk about the person we loved. We recalled the ways he kept us smiling, how he provided for us, his care towards others, and how family was so important to him. We needed to let people know about this man who shared his life with us.
Now, that same coroner had reconnected with me.
Debora still lived in San Diego, and told me she was specifically in the Buffalo area to attend my talk. I was shocked—really? When I asked her how she had found out about the event, she indicated she discovered the information on the “One on the Ground” website. So, people really do visit the website. That was nice to know.
What would make her travel that distance for an event in a little book store?
“I have been doing my job for quite some time, but your family made an impression on me,” she replied. “I could feel the love your family had for Doug.”
There was another memory she retained from that night. The girls had been asked to scrape their gums with a wooden stick for DNA samples.
“That was routine, wasn’t it?” I asked.
I did not remember this, but apparently only one member of a family had to submit a sample. Debora noticed that my girls had a discussion, and they requested that they all be allowed to submit evidence that would help the coroner identify their father. They all wanted to be a part of that process.
We have not often had the opportunity to stand back and understand how our actions were perceived by others, during those early days after the crash. We tend not to focus on that fact, but when I hear accounts like Debora’s, it warms my heart.
I was reminded of another encounter I had on the fifth anniversary of the crash. A fire chief recalled that he still retained the memory of my concern that the firefighters and law enforcement officers had to stand at attention, in the rain, while we visited the Long Street site for the first time after the tragedy. My concern touched him, and his remembrance of that action had affected me.
Now, I felt a bit of pressure. Would my presentation warrant a trip from San Diego? Would I live up to Debora’s expectations? She affirmed, “Yes” on both counts.
I should add that since I mentioned our encounter with her in the book, I was glad it was a favorable account. Of course, if it wasn’t flattering, I guess she never would have showed up.
Part of the pleasure I have received since publishing “One on the Ground” comes from the discovery that a group of words does have the ability to reunite me with people from my past.
Debora was not the only reminder of the past walking through the doors of the Dog Ears bookstore that night.
After my talk, a woman immediately approached me and requested that I sign her copy of the book.
“Just make it out to Miss Maryann,” she said.
Miss Maryann was my Brownie leader back in the late 1950s. She had sent a note to me after the crash, and I had been able to locate her phone number to thank her and catch up a bit. Again, I was shocked and delighted that she came to the event.
Another woman arrived after my talk, and introduced herself as a classmate of mine from grammar school at St. Mary of Sorrows, on the eastside of Buffalo. Her name did not ring a bell to me, but the minute she told me she used to have long braids, I recognized her. Mary was probably the first childhood friend I had, and our friendship marked the first time I was allowed to visit a friend at their home. Although she moved in the fourth grade, I did recall going to her new home in West Seneca. I think we both admitted that it was crazy that I recalled playing the game “Clue” during that visit. Since, my sister and I did not own that game, the first opportunity to play it apparently stuck in my memory.
Words can come together and allow us to harmonize with each other. I especially discovered that truth on a cold February night, but I continually find that “One on the Ground” has connected me to so many people since its publication. I hope it will continue to work its magic in the future.