Confluence Chronicles – Where City & County Meet 12-27-10
December 27, 2010
This time of the year, “degrees” makes us think of how cold or mild it is outside. Another use of the word has nothing to do with temperature but concerns what most of us call “small world” stories about degrees of separation. That is, when visiting with people who are not relatives, you will soon find a third person that both of you know. That is one degree of separation, the smallest of small world stories.
The degrees signify the number of people it takes to find a common acquaintance. It works like this: At a recent Christmas dinner party with seven people in attendance, three of whom are from New York City, my husband learned that the NYC gentleman’s uncle was known by my husband some 45 years ago, here in South Dakota. According to the theory first proposed in 1929 by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy, that is just one degree of separation.
My cousin’s very good friend works for Ted Nugent. This would illustrate four degrees of separation, if I actually knew Nugent. I don’t, but being a public figure one could say we “know” him. Put it this way, if I need to get in contact with him for some reason, I’d have the chain of how to contact him.
The new Miss Rodeo America, Mackenzie Haley, is from Winner, S.D., which is 200 miles from our place. Any number of folks I know would be one degree between her and I. Of course our entire state has some 800,000 inhabitants and we know our U.S. senators and representatives on a first-name basis. Maybe using South Dakota alone as an illustration of degrees isn’t so surprising.
In a more intriguing context, consider the U.S. Army and the thousands of members from all points of the country. My husband, Russ, got to know Brian, another Army officer from North Carolina, while they were stationed in Kansas. Over the course of many discussions Brian came to the conclusion that South Dakota has so few people that we do indeed all know each other. Fast forward several months to one of Brian’s flights from North Carolina to Wisconsin, via Chicago. During the wait between flights a couple sat down next to him and they proceeded to chat. South Dakota came up and Brian jumped right on the challenge, knowing it just couldn’t be. “Do you know Russ Sanders?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” they replied. “We go to the same church.”
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Brian is convinced now that we do all know each other.
Perhaps it is bending the theory just a bit, but geography may weigh in here too. While I was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, I heard that a high school friend’s college singing group was to be in concert at the Madeleine. I attended and visited with many of the choral members. One gal was from “a little town in Wyoming, you’ve never heard of it,” she said. “It’s called Chugwater.”
When I told her I’ve been there, she was incredulous, saying no one goes to Chugwater.
Peggy writes from the ranch in southwestern South Dakota. She would enjoy hearing your “small world” stories. She can be contacted through Peggy@PeggySanders.com or the Fence Post.