Recently, I experienced something I rarely have before: I made a friend named Celeste.
I have a Facebook friend named Celeste King, because a few years ago, I saw a picture of two men, who shared the same first and last name, who met in person after meeting on Facebook. That night, I sent friend requests to women named Celeste King and Celeste Conner. Only one brave soul answered my call. Occasionally, we “like” each other’s posts. I smile every time I see “Celeste King likes this.”
I met a Celeste face-to-face at old-people summer camp. I spent a week at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. (My 20-something children dubbed it old-people summer camp. When booking my housing, the representative repeatedly made sure I understood that my lodge was the farthest one on campus and that my room was on the second floor.)
I scheduled a writing class. Before I went, a friend who I know from work thought I was taking riding. I pantomimed like I was typing, “WriTING.” She laughed as she imagined me learning how to giddy-up. Days later, she sneaked a black-and-white photo to my desk of her, at about three years old, sitting on a horse.
Picture me blissfully discussing words at summer camp with people who blissfully discuss words, and meeting new friends in the dining hall and discussing what classes they were taking: cooking, enameling, woodworking, embroidery. I glimpsed the woman with the pink hair at dinner and again afterwards on the walking tour.
“Hi! I’m Celeste.”
“So am I!”
As the week progressed, we were initiated into the Same Name Club, the club where people with the same name are bestowed distinguishing modifiers.
(Every boy in my grade was either named Jeff or Scott. All these years later, classmates still call them by their last names. How else would we know who we’re talking about?)
(In college, there were two girls named Pat. We called them Pat and Little Pat. We called Little Pat “Little Pat,” because she was little. “Pat” refused to be called “Big Pat” simply because she was bigger than Little Pat. Everybody was bigger than Little Pat.)
The Celeste with the pink hair was Pink Celeste. I was Not Pink Celeste, and I was green with envy over her colorful moniker.
We swapped stories one night at dinner, as her dangly flamingo earrings danced with emphasis, and continued swapping stories throughout the ukulele jam session—featuring kazoo on “Folsom Prison Blues.” We confided griefs, as one does with strangers at summer camp. Pink Celeste’s heartache was one I’m not familiar with. I said, genuinely, “Oh, bless your heart” when she told me of her loss.
She said, “People don’t usually respond that way.”
I took my writing class, in which I was extremely comfortable. She took metalwork, in which she was extremely uncomfortable. Now, she has two new birdhouses to remind her that she won her anxious battle.
Meanwhile, all week long, I’d spied a white 1990s-era Ford F-250 in the parking lot. I like to figure people out, so I tried to match it up with the folks at summer camp (who were not all old, by the way, certainly not in spirit). I decided the truck belonged to the 30ish-looking man in blacksmithing class. I decided this because my welder son drives a white 1990s-era Ford F-250. On the last night, as I took Pink Celeste’s picture in front of the huge hibiscus tree with the large pink blossoms which enveloped her, I saw the man walking to his truck. I said, “Come on! I want to meet him! I knew that was his truck!”
She tagged along behind me and tried to keep up. She said, “You really don’t meet a stranger, do you? You’re the Celeste I always wanted to be.”
I stopped in my hurried tracks and stared at her.
I pondered her struggle that I can’t fathom.
I considered all the strength in her 69-year-old body.
I looked afresh at that defiant pink hair.
Back at you, Pink Celeste.
Not Pink Celeste King Conner had a delightfully refreshing week at summer camp. Share your Same Name Club stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.