Serendipity?

Chance call leads to unexpected reunion

I was sick and not exactly hospitable when Joyce Scroggins called on my home phone. I’m pretty sure my voice reflected that when the Elizabethtown woman explained her reason for calling. She was looking for Howard Scroggins.

Howard and Joyce are related by her marriage to Raymond Scroggins, one of Howard’s cousins. Over the years the two families had grown apart, separated mainly by the demands of their occupations and the need to pursue careers in different states. Eventually they lost touch with each other.

Joyce had called me because of a distant memory supplied by another family member.

“Someone told me that you and Howard had once worked together and that you might know how to get in touch with him,” she said.

She went on to explain that there had been recent deaths in the family and that she had been asked to contact surviving relatives in the hopes of distributing photos and other family artifacts that had accumulated in the homes of various family members in and around Bartholomew County.

“A lot of these things don’t have a direct connection to the people who wound up with them, but some of them are very personal to other family members and have a great deal of meaning. We just wanted to make sure that they got to the right people and not be thrown out,” she said.

I’m not sure what got my attention in that brief explanation. I suspect it had to do with the fact that I was being asked to recall someone I had once “worked with” more than 50 years earlier.

In one respect it was an easy recollection because it took place at a pivotal moment in my life. Howard and I had worked at the Daily Journal in Franklin when that newspaper was created from scratch in 1963.

I was a sportswriter. Howard worked on the press crew. Normally there’s not a whole lot of interaction among members of those departments, but the Daily Journal was a small operation in a very competitive newspaper market. In 1963, there were eight newspapers in Johnson County. Today only two survive. The Daily Journal is one of them.

It was housed in a modern but small building. Newsroom staffers had to walk through the press room to get to their desks. We all shared a common break area, usually coming together at odd times not as pressmen or reporters or ad salespeople but as co-workers thrown together in a situation in which our livelihoods were dependent upon one another.

That was pretty much my life from 1963 to late 1966 when I was transferred from the Daily Journal to The Evening Republican in Columbus, where I would spend the next 50 years.

I left behind a lot of things. One was my relationship with co-workers like Howard. Although we had shared working quarters for more than three years, we didn’t have a lot in common outside the Daily Journal. We would run into each other at various times when I was in Franklin or he was in Columbus, and eventually even those contacts became things of the past.

“I just lost touch with him,” I told Joyce. “I had heard that he had left Franklin a few years after my move to Columbus, but I have no idea on how he could be reached.”

That was the way we left it … until the next day. I awoke that morning feeling even worse than I had felt the day before. I followed a morning custom, reaching for my phone to check on emails that had been delivered the day before.

I was out of it, so to speak, but there was one message that immediately got my attention. It was from Janice Montgomery and was headed by the words “Message from Florida.”

By itself, there was nothing remarkable about the sender or the synopsis of her message. Janice is a retired educator. She’s a friend of many years and is highly respected within her profession. A few months ago she was inducted into the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Hall of Fame.

Even the “Message from Florida” line was not unexpected. I knew that she had been planning a trip through the South. The surprise came in the opening line of her email.

“Harry McCawley — Howard Scroggins worked at Republic from 58-62 then Franklin from 1962-1974.” I already was in a state of confusion, but that one line in an unsolicited email message made me question whether I had crossed over into some other realm.

How in the world did a friend of mine know that I had been asked to find someone who had dropped out of my life a half century ago less than a day after I had been asked to locate him again?

I got part of an answer later in the day when I called Janice on her cellphone. She and her husband, Lynn, had indeed been in the midst of a trip through Florida when they stopped to visit with family friends in Sebring. The friends were hosting a small dinner party for their guests from Columbus and another couple from Ohio who were also traveling through the South.

“Lynn and this other older gentleman began talking about their backgrounds, and eventually the talk got around to Columbus,” Janice said. “Once they learned they had each lived in Columbus at one time or another, they talked abut people they knew. That’s when your name came up.”

The couples eventually went their separate ways, Janice taking time on the way back home to send me the short note about her meeting with my former co-worker. She also passed on Howard’s contact information, which I shared with Joyce. I also used it to get in touch with him myself.

It was a pleasant chat, but once the memories of working together at Franklin and career updates were exhausted, we had little else to talk about.

In the grand scheme of things, our reunion might look like a small blip. Still, there were those unlikely circumstances, unrelated and unintended events, which not only brought resolution to a search for a distant relative but in a serendipitous fashion lifted my own spirits.

Joyce has since put together and sent to Howard a package of materials from his immediate family, materials that otherwise might have been discarded.

Perhaps it was all a matter of coincidence, the coming together of a series of unlikely events for a result that benefited different people in different ways. I don’t know.

What I do know is that the experience lifted me out of a self-imposed funk. I can only wonder if someone was sending me a message.

Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at harry@therepublic.com.