The Coincidental Table


“If there’s no coincidence, there won’t be stories*.”
(*If Google Translate is right…..)

I heard the Chinese saying above this afternoon on This American Life. The entire show was about coincidences, and this particular saying (often said in a corny context but not intended that way by me) reflects the fact that a life devoid of funny, uncanny, or otherwise startling coincidences is a life whose stories are muted or nonexistent.

I have been peeling my Camp Gordon Johnston “onion” for several months now. (One of my life goals is to write a book about Camp Gordon Johnston.) After my “30 Days of CGJ” ended, I have kept tweeting daily about Camp Gordon Johnston. I am going through the unit rosters, tweeting the name of one soldier per day and sharing the tweet on Facebook, for example:

AlBassoAt first that felt like a very lazy approach: all I have to do is click on the roster, cut and paste the name, click “tweet” and do a screen capture to have a Facebook post. It’s not the most labor-intensive research that will take place for this book, by a long shot, but the five minutes I spend every morning on Edsel Lucas or Charles J. Smith or Leroy Tedlund (spelled Tidlund some places) bring them alive to me for that moment, and keep the memories of these men who rotated through Camp Gordon Johnston and served in World War II from completely washing out into the Gulf of Mexico.

One day when I added my day’s tweet to my Facebook feed, my friend Lea commented on the post (paraphrasing here): “Did you know our dining room table came from Camp Gordon Johnston?” I asked if there was a story behind it, and she graciously invited me to share lunch on the table and hear the story (side note: this woman makes a mean hummus wrap — she should be a Pinterest poster woman). Was it a coincidence that Lea saw my post and that led to the sharing of a story? Let’s go with “yes”!

I’m going to have to improve my data-gathering techniques as this book development process continues as my tendency to get caught up in the story leads to me neglecting any precision note-taking:

table notesBut the general point is: Lea’s table originated at Camp Gordon Johnston (the family’s beach house also sits on land that was originally CGJ property). There were four of these tables in all that came into the possession of her grandfather’s building supply business. The particular one that she owns came to her via an aunt, a long stint in storage, a close call with Goodwill as that aunt began paring down her belongings, and a frenzied drive to rescue it from a thrift store ending.

Table Green Pen

The Camp Gordon Johnston museum curator said she can’t find any documentation of this table in her database, but surmised that perhaps it was in a mess hall. With 8 leaves per table, I think her educated guess may be correct.

One thing Lea and I discussed over lunch was the fascination of “furniture with a story” (her NASA desk is a whole blog post unto itself!). I can’t help wondering:

  • Did Edsel Lucas reminisce about his hometown at this table?
  • Did Charles (Charlie? Chuck?) Smith brag about a girl waiting on him back at home at this table?
  • Did Leroy Tedlund fight as gargantuan a battle against his fear of the unknown from his seat at this table (or one like it) as he and his fellow soldiers would fight in the amphibious landings that lay ahead?

The number of Camp Gordon Johnston WWII survivors is dwindling, an obvious consequence of time’s refusal to slow down. I may never know from a first-hand account what was said, eaten, promised, joked about at this table.

I am pretty sure that the men who sat around it would be glad that a vibrant, happy, filled-with-life family uses it daily in 2014. This piece of furniture was clearly built to withstand a lot of wear, and seventy years later it may have a few scratches and nicks but it is as solid as they come.

Kind of like these guys…

1057th Engineer Port Construction and Repair

Credit: State Archives of Florida
Second row: Richard Thomas, Edsel Lucas, Wm. Edwards, Richard Mueller, Leroy Tidlund, Peter Hauser, Harris Boatwright.
Third row: Melvin Blackstone, Ray. Murphy, Chs. J. Smith, Edwin Caplinger, Maurice Franceau, Wm. Evans, Wm. Mikita, Warren Kelly.
Front row: Phil. Pritchett, John Gazdik, Chester Maciejewsli, Leonard Werth, John Nye.
Camp Gordon Johnston originally opened as Camp Carrabelle and was later named to honor Colonel Gordon Johnston in January 1943.
Back row: Geo. M. Esser, Phil. Karsted, Gordon Stark, Roy Briar, William Viglianco?, Merle Averill?, Geo. Kubik.

And that’s no coincidence.