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Katie and Me

March 18, 2012

Life is filled with innumerable random incidents. Why they occur as they do is a mystery. Some believe each is a small piece in a great puzzle, fulfilling a preordained design for that particular life. Others feel that these are a product of the chaotic coincidences of our existence. Most have little significance and are forgotten no sooner than they occur. But for some reason, I tend to remember them quite clearly, especially the ones that seem to be of no great consequence. The day of my brief encounter with Katie Couric was one of those.

My family was on the first of what was to become our annual family vacation. By family, I mean my wife’s family: her parents, brother, sister-in-law, and their two kids. I’m not sure exactly how it got started, but it continued for thirteen years, starting from the year my nephew Luke was born. We traveled to many marvelous places together from Hawaii to the Mediterranean. Many of our trips were to the West, and this first one brought us to the beautiful state of Wyoming.

The year was 1995. Emma was five years old and a bit anxious about being in such unfamiliar surroundings. Luke was seven months old and quite oblivious to all but his next meal, diaper change, and the loving arms of his mom. We had flown to Arizona and rented a van to haul our crew of eight through the natural wonders of that area.

On this particular day, we had taken a trip to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. A shuttle boat took us across the lake to a trail on the other shore suitable for hiking in the shadow of the surrounding peaks. The trail led to places with such enticing names as Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, but since we had both oldsters and youngsters in our party, our goal was a leisurely walk in the glory of the countryside. As was her normal practice, Emma made frequent stops to pick up, examine, and then have me hold onto various specimens of flora along the way. Had they all been saved, she would own one mighty collection of sticks and flowers and leaves.

Emma and her Uncle Muskie

The shuttle boat operated on a loose schedule, so when the time approached for the boat to return to pick us up, we headed back along the trail to the small dock. As we approached the spot, my mother-in-law turned around to see another small group approaching us.

“It’s Katie Couric! It’s Katie Couric!” she excitedly whispered. And sure enough, right behind us was Katie Couric with her small band of fellow hikers.

As soon as my brother-in-law heard this, he pounced. Not because he was a TV groupie (that was more my mother-in-law’s angle), but rather because she had recently done a story that was anti-pharmaceutical industry, and that was his bread and butter. I didn’t get to hear his harangue because I was busy occupying Emma since the boat was nowhere yet in sight.

Emma wanted to head directly for the water as most kids would. The bank was a bit steep for her five year old legs, so I carefully ushered her to the edge of the water. And what activity is better suited for a child by the edge of a lake while waiting for a shuttle boat than throwing rocks in the water, which is exactly what we proceeded to do. My task was to search for smaller stones which I handed to Emma who then tossed them with great gusto but less than stellar accuracy towards the water. It was great fun.

In the meanwhile, Katie was trying to make a gracious escape from my brother-in-law, not so easy to do on a narrow trail. Her little daughter Ellie saw Emma happily engaged in her waterfront activity and immediately wanted to join her. Though clearly not thrilled with the prospect of a potential wet-shoes afternoon, Katie may have seen this as good exit strategy and edged her way toward the bank with Ellie, who joined right in with the fun. I poked around for more stones and handed them to both Emma and Ellie who quickly bonded in their mutual pursuit of beholding the wonder of the displacement of water when struck by a solid object.

The shuttle boat soon appeared, and its timing could not have been better. I was running out of stones to give the girls, and they were inching ever closer to the water on the muddy shoreline. I began easing Emma away, but she insisted, “One more, Uncle Muskie, one more!” Of course I obliged (I could never turn Emma down), and little Ellie then wanted the same. Katie turned to me and said in a firm but gentle voice, the smile never leaving her face, “Okay, Uncle Muskie. I think we’ve had enough rock throwing for one day.”  I smiled in return as she gathered Ellie up and we all headed our separate ways.

Countless people pass through our lives during the course of events both great and small. The crossing of paths may be as simple as an exchange of glances or a few words. This one particular incident took only a few minutes. It happened a long time ago (by my hasty calculations, 22,830 days have gone by since). I was by no means a star-struck fan enchanted by an encounter with celebrity. She said exactly a dozen words to me. But I can recall it as clearly as the day it happened.

Now, I realize that Katie Couric is a busy woman with many things on her mind, far more than me, I’m sure. Still, I wonder if she ever sits down on a rainy day to look over her old vacation photos and, coming across the ones from that Wyoming vacation in 1995, recalls the afternoon when Ellie was throwing rocks in a lake with Emma’s Uncle Muskie.

Katie, if you happen to read this, drop me a line and let me know.

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