Sunday, October 26, 2014

Six Degrees of Joliet

There is that phrase people use when trying to explain the closeness of one person to another: Six Degrees of Separation.

There's also the more common version among celebrities: Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

But we'll stick to Six Degrees of Regular Folks for the purposes of this post ;)

Over the past couple of years, I've become friends with Kelly, another local mother. Her youngest and my youngest are high school classmates and cross country teammates. We have mutual friends, so as our lives overlapped, we also became friends of both the real life and Facebook variety.

Slowly, through various conversations, we discovered similar interests and backgrounds. We knew many of the same people growing up. We graduated the same year, but from different high schools in Joliet, Illinois.

Joliet is an old working-class town that was built on mining and steel, and was settled by lots of immigrant laborers from Ireland (mine), Italy and eastern Europe (hers).

Kelly and I know this history, and jokingly thought it would be funny if we really were related. But truth is better than fiction. Here's how the connection went down (in the official investigation kind of way!):

I ran into Kelly and her family, including her mother Kathleen, at our kids' cross country meet last weekend. Kelly introduced my as her crazy genealogy friend and we joked about how we might be related. Her mother asked my maiden name (McBride) and she says, 'oh I knew some McBride's when I was little!' It was my dad and aunt.

I texted Kelly later in the day for more details about her mom, then called my dad to shake loose some of his memories. Hearing the surprise in his voice was awesome!

We planned a breakfast get-together and spent about two hours talking and listening to our parents share old memories. Kelly's grandparents (Pat and Tom, her mom's parents) and my grandparents (Red and Bee as she knew them, my dad's parents) became friends as far back as the 1940's. We suspect it was through work in one of the local mills. My dad also remembers Pat's father, a widower, who lived with Pat and Tom. So we have five generations of our families intertwining over the years.

As was the social custom, our grandparents were always getting together to visit, and brought along their children. As kids, our parents played board games and socialized, too. And then, as my dad and aunt were a bit older, they didn't see their young friends again - until this week. It was a reunion 60 years in the making!

Our four grandparents stayed friends until they all started passing away. Pat was one of the last people to visit with my grandmother before her death in 2000. My dad was particularly happy to thank Kathleen for her parent's friendship with his, right until the end.

We haven't yet discovered if we're genealogically related, but all of the priceless stories I heard about our families' social relationship were more than I could ever glean from paper records.

Kelly    Kathleen    Jack    Sally
© 2014 Sally Knudsen