Shelly and I were like two ships passing in the night1 – whenever our paths coincided there was always something to prevent any sort of relationship from happening. She was a friend of one of my younger sisters so I’d already known her for a few years when we dated in May of 1974, but when June rolled around I was off for my bicycle penance in New England. When I came home two years later she was one of the first people I looked up…but she was in a steady relationship. That relationship had fizzled by the next summer and when I came home from school in May of 1977 she was very glad to see me until she realized that the young lady she assumed was my “really cute cousin” was in fact my Beautiful Saxon Princess, whom I’d wed three weeks earlier. Shelly was embarrassed…until I told her about an even more awkward case of mistaken identity five years earlier.
I’d arrived in Rexburg with little more than the clothes on my back, having worked out at Swanson River until the very last minute. After a sleepless night shivering on a mattress with no sheets, blankets or pillow I went downtown shopping for some bedding, accompanied by my Best Friend to keep me on task and make sure I didn’t get sidetracked by bookshops or record stores.
JC Penny’s was our first stop and I was able to get most of what I needed there but as we’d set aside the entire afternoon for shopping we decided to visit a few more stores – having travelled so light I also needed some shirts as well. I soon became apparent that I wasn’t going to find clothing as quickly as I found bedding because the next two places we went through carried nothing but Western-styled clothing. I had just about resigned myself to playing mail-order roulette when we came on a decorated doorway and stairs leading down to lower-level shop which blessedly sold clothing that didn’t look like it had been designed/manufactured in 1957.
I was in the process of selecting a few shirts to try on when a sales clerk came up to help. After a short discussion about styles and prices he stood, smiled and said “Well – I can see what’s going on here!” Struggling to determine which sin was so obvious I turned red-faced and cleverly replied “Urrkk!” to which the clerk laughed softly and continued “No – it’s obvious you’re here to help your younger sister get set up at school!”
Even more confused I glanced around looking for the little sister who’d somehow stowed away on my flight down from Alaska … then stopped and looked closely at My Best Friend, then looked at the both of us in the mirror. For the first time I noticed that with her sharp nose, hooded eyes and full lips there was a slight familial resemblance, made even closer by my collar-length hair, parted in the middle and sun-bleached from a summer working out on the lease. I’d also put on a couple of pounds so my features were a little more rounded…
He’d been talking about us.
We looked at each other, shuddered then quickly paid for the shirts and left for our respective apartments and when we met up again later than day I had my Ricks-approved short haircut and My Best Friend had applied just a touch-more makeup than she usually did for day-time.
…and we must have been equally creeped-out by the subtle incestuous overtones because the incident was never discussed afterwards.
There was a soft group-chuckle at Shelly’s “misidentication”, but as we stood there I glanced over at our reflection in the glass windows in the Nordstrom’s storefront and wondered for the first time if perhaps something subconscious had been at work when I’d first met my wife.
- I was twenty-five pounds lighter than I’d been five years earlier and with a military haircut my features looked sharp as a hatchet.
- On the other hand: With her gentle cascade of light brown hair, cute snub nose and water-color blue eyes with the slightly sad tilt My Beautiful Saxon Princess’ features were markedly different from mine – or any member of my family for that matter.
…no one would ever, ever confuse us as siblings.
- If Barry Manilow can hork the phrase from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow I can hork it from Barry Manilow.