Most parents teach their children not to talk to strangers. Personally, I think our mom encouraged us to. Talking to just about anyone seems to be a Slingsby trait, and it’s led us to some really cool experiences over the years.
But this latest one? This takes the cake.
I got a call at work recently from an older gentleman who had seen my name in a quote in the daily newspaper. The quote was given in a professional capacity, so he saw the name of my employer and called right away. His first words: I’m a Slingsby too!
What are the odds?
Seriously, it’s not a common name, at least not in the U.S., and I’ve never met anyone outside of my smallish family with the same last name. This man, 73-year-old Alfred, told me his phone had been ringing off the hook all morning with friends and family asking if I could be a relative.
Al and I chatted for a good 20 minutes or so about a town in England named Slingsby, as well as a cemetery and airport (all of which he learned, by the way, by talking to a stranger visiting the area from England). He threw out a few names of his family members, and cities from which they came, but none rang a bell with me. I don’t know as much about my family’s history as my brother, so I suggested that I put the two of them in touch to talk genealogy.
I joked with Al that my brother is the type who looks in the local phone book whenever he travels to see if there are any Slingsbys listed. If he has time, he’ll invite one to meet for a beer to see if there is any relation.
“I’d love to meet you and your brother for a beer!”
Can’t say no to that.
I knew my brother would be just as curious as Al and I were about the possible connection, and would have more facts to go on than I did. So I called him and gave him Al’s name and phone number. They did chat, but didn’t find a common family thread. Still, next thing I knew, we were making that plan to meet for a beer. If nothing else, we figured we’d have a friendly chat and a drink with a man we were sure had some stories to tell.
I was the last to arrive at the bar and jokingly called him Uncle Al as I gave him a big hug. Little did I know … turns out we are family. Before I arrived, my brother and Al were chatting about family names – Al’s unusual middle name in particular – when something struck my brother. He dug into some paperwork he brought with him, notes and documents from research conducted by himself, my aunt or my late father.
And there it was – Al’s middle name tying it all together: Al’s grandfather and my dad’s grandfather were brothers.
My brother and I had joked that this guy must be a relative because he’s a real talker, not shy at all – definitely a Slingsby. But we didn’t really expect to be related, didn’t expect that he’d be able to fill in the blanks from his father’s generation. We shared stories about our families, and of course, in true Slingsby fashion, we told the people at the tables on either side of us and our waiter how this dinner came to be. Then my sister-in-law told a hostess, and Al told a bartender. Pretty sure the manager caught wind of it, too.
My brother, his wife and I came away from it thinking the whole thing was pretty cool. We not only met a sweet, funny, interesting man; we also met a cousin from my dad’s generation – a cousin we never knew we had. I’m pretty sure that Al came away from it with a slightly different perspective – he finally found something his late father had long searched for: A lost family connection.
He shed more than a few tears that evening, sent up a kiss to his dad to tell him he found some family, and told us more than once how happy we had made him. Promises were made to see Alfred again to fine-tune some of the history, to fill in a few gaps. Then he gave us each a big hug, thanked us again, and rolled away on his scooter, flags waving on the back.
Just goes to show, if you talk enough, you won’t be strangers for long. You might even be family.