Tidying guru Marie Kondo is urging the world to get organized while everyone is holed up during the COVID-19 pandemic. It turns out cleaning the house is forging connections between long-lost friends – and even strangers.
My first inkling of this came in late March, when Iklas Bahoura-Bashi, a student I hadn’t heard from in 27 years, sent me this email: “In the midst of purging, organizing and cleaning my home office today, I found some papers from your feature writing class at Oakland University from the fall of 1993. There are some things we don’t easily forget with the passing of time, and being in your class still brings back awesome memories!”
The warm and fuzzy note was a bright spot amid the relentless drumbeat of bad news. But the next note I got was eerie.
A stranger was cleaning her house and dropped a folder that her father had sent her filled with old papers. A photo fluttered out.
It was a picture of her great-grandfather sitting in a bar in Detroit. The address numbers in the bar’s window were visible, and she knew her family lived on a street near Michigan Avenue. With the help of Google and some detective work, she found me and my blog, and stories about the Rose Café, the bar my grandparents owned on Michigan Avenue. That was the link.
“Is there a way for you to contact me, please?” she wrote in an emailed message.
My newfound acquaintance Tracy followed up with photos of relics from the bar that her family had kept for decades. They included a 1939 date book and a letter opener embossed with “Rose Café.” I called her immediately.
The connections became even more involved. It turns out my grandfather Michael Krzemienski was the godfather of her dad Henry, who had fond memories of fishing trips on the Detroit River with our two families. But, at some point, there was an argument and the families never spoke again. No one knows why.
“I’m very into genealogy and putting all that together,” she explained, as nostalgic about the Rose Café and the past as I am. “I wish I had accessibility to that building to put it back to its former glory. I would even try to find the same wallpaper. I’m an old soul.”
We talked a long time and I asked her two final questions.
“What did you hope would happen by contacting me?” I asked.
“I thought ‘Anita will write this story down and my kids will read it someday,’” she said.
The answer to the final question had a plot twist worthy of American short story writer O. Henry.
“By the way, where do you live?” I asked.
“Corona, California,” was the answer.