Usually “degrees” makes us think of how hot or 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 he knew the NYC gentleman’s uncle 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 between the two men.
In a more intriguing context, consider the U.S. Army and the thousands of members from all points of the country. My 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 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,” Margus 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 and said, “No one goes to Chugwater!”
In a recent column I wrote about the Young Citizens League, an organization from which rural school students learned citizenship. This week I heard from a South Dakota lady named Marilyn who remembered YCL activities. She mentioned she owns a 1935 book published by the South Dakota YCL and it contains poetry written by students from around the state. She mentioned two girls from Fall River County: Geneva Converse from the Soft Water school at Ardmore, and Vera Distler. The world just got smaller. Geneva was married to Jim Parsons and she was mayor of Hot Springs, S.D., years ago. On top of that, I knew her.
Peggy writes from the ranch in southwestern South Dakota. She would enjoy hearing your “small world” stories. She can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org. ❖