I don't need to dwell on the fact that this year was deigned by nature to be an exceptional holiday season. We are all too familiar with COVID-19 restrictions; quarantines, and warnings to stay home and pretend the real Christmas isn't happening. No going to Grandma's, no sitting on Santa's lap, and no caroling in the streets. This was going to be a Christmas like no other. Pray a lot, and be quiet.
Just imagine my amazement when I sat down to open a few things, and "lo, and behold" somehow Santa had found me! In the bottom of a box of memorabilia which I was to sort through
and discard, was a manila envelope marked "Photo, Please do not bend or fold". Ho-hum, I had been through boxes of old photos and slides before, but this one caught my eye.
The envelope was addressed to my Dad, Lawrence Withington, and post marked Ohio, 1992. It contained a letter to Dad and a photo of a group of sailors taken aboard a Navy ship, somewhere in the south Pacific probably in 1944!
How on earth had a picture of my Dad. taken in 1944, found me on Christmas morning in Fishers Landing in 2020? It was like being struck by lightning.
It took a spider web of statistically improbable coincidences.....but here goes...
1) The photograph of the ten sailors was probably taken by the author of the letter to my father. The location was aboard the USS Tangier, a navy seaplane tender deployed in the south Pacific. It may well have been taken on the return voyage to the US, judging from the cheerful expressions on the sailors' faces.
2) It is probable that the photographer kept the picture as a treasured memory, and about 48 years later, in 1992, he decided to try to contact the men for a reunion. He apparently had most of the addresses, but not my father’s.
3) When it came time to mail invitations to the gathering, he was at a loss to locate Lt. Withington. In need of assistance, he mentioned his plight to his wife, an attorney.
4) His wife was involved in some research and had enlisted the assistance of another attorney. In the course of their conversations, apparently the plight was discussed. The second young lady recalled that her physician/husband was familiar with someone of the same name and the same general geographic location, living in the North Country of New York State.
5) This unlikely chain of events led the second attorney to send the letter and photograph to Dad. I am sure he did not attend the gathering in Florida, but Mother, bless her, never threw away any memorabilia. She deposited the letter and photo in a scrapbook which eventually found its way to my sister, Nancy's basement after our family home was sold. Nancy saw the letter, but did not make the connection of physician/husband families.
6) And as small-world stories go... the physician/husband of the research assistant was a classmate of mine from kindergarten. His father and my mother had been classmates in high school in the 1920's. Our parents were all close friends in the 1950's. Time and life had subsequently gone in different directions.
As I read the hand-written post-script, the name of the research assistant attorney rang a bell. My dyslexia had caused me to miss her last name, but slowly the pieces began to fall in place.
Suddenly, I realized that Santa had delivered the picture after about 75 years. I could not imagine a better Christmas, and our families have now had a good excuse to re-connect.
I have always believed in Santa, and now I know why.
By Richard L. Withington on a winter's during Christmas 2020.
Dr. Richard (Dick) L. Withington is a retired Orthopedic Surgeon and is best known on the River for his rescue work, with his boat “Stormy.” Each winter Dr. W. writes articles that provide his special view of the Thousand Islands – and we thank him for this.
His first article for TI Life, A Winter Islander, was published in January 2009. To see all of his island experiences, search TI Life under Richard L. Withington. Also be sure to see The Doctor is in, February 2012, written by Kim Lunman, writer and publisher of Island Life, a print magazine.