I heard someone refer to “the mysteries of life” just the other day, and it brought to mind at least a couple of occasions in my life when I’d had experiences that were so strangely fortunate or oddly coincidental that I could not bring myself to just accept them as ordinary events. Instances such as this, which border on the supernatural or seem to be directed by some invisible hand, are I’m sure familiar to most if not all of those reading these words. We simply chalk them up to luck, chance, or “the way the ball bounces.” Sometimes, however, I’d swear there’s more involved than that.
As an U.S. Army inductee in 1943 I reported to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for my physical exam and inoculations, and the issuance of my uniforms and duty designation. This final step was anticipated, of course, with great apprehension, especially knowing that one’s possible destination might be the dreaded infantry. Finally, one morning the group of 200 draftees was assembled on the company street for the announcement of assignments, with the sergeant ratcheting up the tension by informing us that those named would report to Fort Leonard Wood for infantry training. And down the list he proceeded. The litany of names being read took over two hours and, at the conclusion of the “call-off,” there were but five of us still standing there. We nervously traded glances, wondering whether there was yet another shoe to fall. The following morning, we “lucky five” were notified that we’d been assigned to the Army Air Forces and would be sent to Miami Beach, Florida, for basic training. I let out what must have been the single greatest sigh of relief of my young life. How and why, against the odds, my life’s path had turned the way it had I didn’t care to question. I only knew I felt as if I had died and gone to heaven.
Many years later I acquired a love for cooking and, though a passable practitioner, I lacked the formal training that chefs rely upon in assembling a good meal’s various components. Hence, in preparing family dinners, I was always on the lookout for enticing dishes to add to my repertoire. One day while browsing the New York Times’ food section, one particular recipe, titled “Ranch Beans,” caught my eye. It seemed a perfect candidate for a summer family cookout. I set the newspaper aside, planning to clip the recipe when I got a moment and then promptly forgot all about it. About a week later, I thought the perfect opportunity to introduce the recipe had presented itself and over the next two days proceeded to look high and low throughout the house for the newspaper. I could not find it anywhere. I probably muttered “c’est la vie,” and chalked it up to just another of life’s missed chances.
Then months later, I stopped by the local public library to pick up a book that I’d been waiting patiently for. As I stood in line at the checkout desk, I noticed a stack of books that had just been returned by a young man further ahead of me. As my turn neared, I reached out to read the titles and, for some reason, one drew my interest. Its subject was a political uprising in Ireland, a topic I was not particularly interested in. And yet I felt compelled to add it to my collection. That evening I anxiously settled into a favorite chair after dinner to examine my literary finds. When I came to the book whose title had caught my eye, I set it aside, still wondering why I had decided to bring it home with me. There it sat unread until, eventually, the overdue date loomed. As I gathered up the books one afternoon to return them to the library, I stopped again at the mystery book and decided to give its contents a glance. I opened to a page that had been bookmarked and a folded piece of torn newspaper fell to the floor. Curious, I picked it up, and as I opened it, I immediately spotted the words “Ranch Beans.” It was the long-lost recipe. The hairs on my arms stood up. I read no further, quickly refolded the clipping and replaced it in the book for another cook to find one day.
I wish someone could explain these stranger than strange episodes in life. I wish I could tell you the beans were outrageously delicious. But I can’t. Too spooked to ever prepare the recipe, fearing I might in some way tempt fate in doing so, as with so many things in life, I guess I’ll just never know.