Every once in a while I find myself playing the genealogical “What If?” game. What precise combination of events had to take place throughout the years to allow me to be me? Perhaps this sense of narrowly-avoided oblivion makes those stories of ancestors’ first meetings so intriguing.
Grandma Montgomery (Blanche Wilson Montgomery) told me the first time she ever met Grandpa (L. T. Montgomery), he was part of a threshing crew working her family’s fields. She was thirteen, and so shy she hid behind the door when she first saw him. Eight years passed, during which Grandpa married, had two daughters, and was widowed. Then in 1930, Grandma’s mother ran into Grandpa again in town. She remembered him from the threshing crew years earlier and, thinking he would make a good husband for her oldest daughter, invited him out to the farm. Shortly after this second meeting, Grandma and Grandpa married.
My maternal grandparents’ story began at a family get-together. Grandma (Velma Swing Hoffmann) was in her teens and was surprised to see a young man at the family gathering whom she’d never seen before. Struck by his good looks, she asked her mother who he was, only to find out he was a cousin! She knew most of the Hoffmann cousins, of course–their father, Paul Hoffmann, had been a half-brother to her grandmother, Catherine Hoffmann Swing. But Joe had been away in Chicago, and Grandma hadn’t realized there was a Hoffmann son older than Lee, born in 1912 (Grandpa was born in 1907, ten years before Grandma). Grandma and Grandpa Hoffmann’s courtship was longer than Grandma and Grandpa Montgomery’s–they would not marry until 1938, some 5 years or so after that first meeting.
These stories (and all the other “first meetings” of ancestors) lead to inevitable questions. Who would I be if Sophie Wilson hadn’t chosen that day to go into town? Or what if Grandpa Hoffmann had stayed in Chicago rather than returning to Fairbury and attending that family get-together? Or what if Grandma Montgomery had hidden behind that door again in 1930?