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Slices of Life: Familiarity breeds contempt --EMDASH-- or confusion

Jill Pertler

I saw someone familiar at the store today. I knew that I knew her, or at least that I'd had cause to interact with her on several or perhaps a few occasions.

Problem is, I couldn't pinpoint exactly which occasions. I was at the grocery store and she wasn't a person from the grocery store. I hadn't seen her there before. She definitely didn't live at the grocery store, much less work there. I was 100 percent positive of that conclusion.

Still I wasn't sure, exactly, how well I knew her or from where. Were our kids on the same team? Was she someone from my recent past or more distant and long ago? Was I better acquainted with her husband and perhaps acquainted with her via osmosis? Were we on first name terms? Did I know her from work?

Who the H-E-double-toothpicks was she?

This wasn't the first time I've encountered this type of situation — seeing someone you know you know, but you don't know from where because they are out of place. I'm sure no one reading this can in any way relate. But I hope so.

Perhaps I've even been out of place myself at some times. I wouldn't know, but it's probable — someone seeing me and knowing me, but not knowing me all at the same time. I do have one of those easy-to-forget faces.

One of my own first instances of this sort of out-of-placeness happened when I was in first grade. My teacher was Mrs. Corrigan. I assumed, like most first-graders do, that she lived at the school. Why wouldn't she?

Imagine my consternation when I ran into her at the grocery store. To make matters worse (much worse), she was with a man! They were shopping together! Laughing and talking. Like a married couple. Exclamation point.

I was floored. Mrs. Corrigan had a life outside of school. She was out of place, but to my credit, I recognized her and where I knew her from Evergreen Elementary, Room 102.

This phenomenon has continued throughout the rest of my life. I don't expect it to stop.

So when I saw the familiar woman who I sort of didn't really recognize today at the grocery store, I did what I normally do: I wracked my brain to attempt to figure out where her correct location might be.

And I came up at a loss. I couldn't figure it out. Not uncommon.

However I move forward toward tomorrow with optimism. I know I will solve this puzzle because I will run into her again and most likely it won't be at the grocery store or any other location that lacks the familiarity I seek. Most likely, she will be exactly where she is supposed to be (for me).

And likewise, I will be where I am supposed to be (for her) and neither of us will be confused (again or any more) and all will be right with the world and we will recognize each other and smile and exchange pleasantries and life will go on. I look forward to it.

Until next time, strange, but not-so-strange lady. Until next time.

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.