Degrees |


This time of the year “degrees” makes us think of how cold 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 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.

In a more intriguing context, consider the U.S. Army and the thousands of members from all points of the country. My Army officer husband 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, namely Margus and Clay Lambeth, sat down next to Brian, who was in uniform, 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.”

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, she said, “No one goes to Chugwater!”

Five years ago, Paris came up again when I attended the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference in Sheridan. One of the agents and I got to comparing notes and realized we had both been students at the Sorbonne during the same school year, though we were in different programs. We had classes in the same buildings, though not at the same time and we ate in the same student restaurants. As she put it, “We had to have passed each other along the way.”

It is indeed a small world.

Peggy is a national award winning columnist who writes from the farm in southwestern South Dakota. She would enjoy hearing your “small world” stories. She can be contacted through her website,

Peggy Sanders

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