By Ed Staskus
Although it may be there are either no coincidences or everything is a coincidence, it is certainly the case that everyone in some small or large way is shaped by happenstance. One thing doesn’t work out while the other one does.
“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous” is how Albert Einstein put it.
“I was out with a group of friends,” said Doug McKinney. “Another friend that I played basketball with back in the day texted me he was at Baba’s Lounge. Although I never went there, I went that one time, and connected with Rachel.”
Baba is a word that comes from Persian. It is a Middle Eastern expression of fondness, like darling. It’s like “My Darling Clementine” in a pahlavi instead of a cowboy hat.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question, darlin’?”
“Where I come from, that’s a term of endearment, partner.”
“We’re on the same page, then.”
“No, we connected at the game,” said Rachel.
Doug McKinney was a power forward for the Island Storm of the Canadian National Basketball League for four years, once on the All-Star team, and to this day holds the playoff record for most points scored in the fewest minutes, when he couldn’t miss in the seventh game of the 2014 NBL Finals.
“I didn’t see you at the game,” said Doug.
“I thought you were just skipping over me, but I saw you, and I wrote you.”
“OK, technically we can start there.”
“I wrote him, I haven’t seen you in years, I hope you’re OK.”
“When I saw her at Baba’s she gave me a big hug, we hung out for a little bit, and when I left, I couldn’t stop thinking about her afterwards.”
They had first met more than ten years earlier, when Doug was playing for the University of Prince Edward Panthers, and Rachel was dating one of his teammates, even though Doug was Best Male Athlete of the Year at the school in 2007.
“I was always a big fan of Doug’s, a great guy, sweet,” said Rachel.
In the years since Doug had finished his college career, played internationally, and was in his third season with the Island Storm. Rachel had gone to school in Toronto, lived in Hawaii, and moved back to Prince Edward Island. In the meantime, she traveled, to the USA, the Caribbean, and Europe.
She and her friend Emma, whose family operates the Chocolate Factory across the street from the Landmark Café, in Victoria, their hometown on the south shore of Prince Edward Island, piled into a 1992 Buick with Emma’s nearly 200-pound Newfoundland dog, Rupert, and drove across and back the range of Canada.
Newfies are black dogs who don’t necessarily eat too much, don’t necessarily need large houses to live in, but do sprawl across back seats, and do, by necessity, often drool. They are dogs who save babies from drowning and need baby wipes.
“It took months, a crazy road trip, came home, moved to Ontario, came back, did some more traveling, and every summer worked at the Landmark,” said Rachel.
The popular eatery, featured in the guidebook ‘Where to Eat in Canada,’ is seasonal, opening in May and closing in October. The Landmark Café was her father and mother’s brainchild 29 years ago. Rachel and her brother have worked there nearly every summer since they came of age, and even before that.
Doug went the length and breadth of Prince Edward Island during his walk of life with the Island Storm.
“I got to see more of the island on that team than living here my whole life,” he said. “Going to schools, all these little communities, we’re talking to kids, promoting literacy, all kinds of community stuff.” Even though PEI is the smallest of the Canadian provinces, there are more than 70 municipalities spread out over 2200 square miles, most of them separated by big tracts of farmland. There are only two pocket-sized cities on the island. It is mainly a rural landscape.
It wasn’t long after their chance encounter at Babas’s Lounge that Rachel and Doug became a twosome.
“I don’t think either of us were looking for a relationship, but we didn’t want to pass it up,” said Rachel.
“There was something special about our energy together,” said Doug. “I never felt that energy before.”
The summer after retiring from pro ball he got involved with skills training at several basketball camps. He helped out at the Landmark Café, too. “Doug was finishing up with the Storm and it was time to start work at the restaurant,” said Rachel. He bussed tables, later on learning to serve. Seasonal work on PEI means being busy as a bee.
“You could have a day off, but you felt guilty because everyone else was there working so hard,” said Rachel.
“We didn’t see each other a whole lot, but then it just came together,” said Doug.
“It evolved into us realizing we worked well with one another,” said Rachel. ”It’s been almost five years working at different things together, and so we’re at a spot where we’re trying to figure out our next life.”
“Our next play,” said Doug.
“Our next thing,” said Rachel.
“Working side by side,” said Doug.
“We do well together,” said Rachel. ”We’re very open with each other. Even if I feel embarrassed, I know I can go talk to Doug about anything. When we worked at the restaurant, I was almost his boss. He can take it.”
There’s no needing to take it when you’re on the same wavelength.
Getting in sync at the Landmark Café was one thing. Hiking the Camino was another.
“That definitely brought us closer together,” said Rachel.
The Camino de Santiago, sometimes known as the Way of Saint James, is a network of paths passages roads in northwestern Spain all leading to the shrine of the saint. In the Middle Ages it was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages. Even today hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make their way to the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela. Some do it for penance or as a spiritual retreat from modern life. Some hikers walk the route for the challenge. The full length of the trek takes about a month.
If things go haywire there’s always the traditional queimada, which is a local ritual used to fight off evil spirits by drinking a smoking concoction brewed somewhere out of sight, although planning on a day of R & R after the cultural experience is advisable.
“Doing the 800 kilometers of the Camino brought us closer,” said Doug. “There’s the physical stress, dealing with it, of the two of you walking 30 kilometers a day with backpacks, side by side.”
It’s one day at a time on the Camino. It can get hot dusty tiresome. Your partner can start getting on your nerves.
“There are a lot of couples, they say, I can’t imagine working with him,” said Rachel.
“I can’t imagine going to two separate jobs, being separate forty hours a week,” said Doug.
“It gives me anxiety,” said Rachel.
“I just wouldn’t be comfortable,” said Doug.
“I definitely feel safe when Doug’s around,” said Rachel. “In many ways, the more the years go on, the more you want to be together. We can look at each other and we know what the look means. It’s just fun to have, if you’re in that fun busy relationship. It can be great.”
A fun busy loving relationship may not make the world go around, but it makes the ride worthwhile.
After three years working elbow-to-elbow at the family restaurant, in the past year they both found a new path, going to work for Fairholm Properties, which operates high-end inns and lodgings in Charlottetown. They rent an apartment downtown in the capitol city, a few minutes from their jobs. “In the wintertime, it’s storming outside, you can walk just about anywhere,” said Doug.
The next step was walking to the jewelry store.
Like Socrates said, “If you find a good wife, you’ll be happy. If not, you’ll become a philosopher.” Who wants to be a down at the mouth philosopher? After all, Socrates ended up drinking hemlock. Better to ask your better half to pop the top of a Ghahan Sir John A’s honey wheat ale. It pours a refreshing golden color with a white head and it’s not poisonous.
“I know my future is something colorful, something hands-on, something bright, with Doug next to me,” said Rachel.
When you’re hands-on you’re a big part of whatever you’re doing, jumping right in, not taking it for granted, seeing it through from beginning to end. It’s taking the present into your own hands, getting your hands dirty, not handing anything off to anybody else. It’s a show of hands.
Doug showed his hand the October before last.
“I didn’t know where we were going to get engaged, although I knew it was going to be in St. Andrews,” he said.
St. Andrews, at the far western end of New Brunswick, is a small town on the southern tip of a triangle-shaped peninsula in the Passamaquoddy Bay. Many of the original buildings from the 18th century have been restored and are still in place. It is a National Historic Site, although whose history is open to question. Many of the homes were dismantled and floated across the border to the town by disgruntled Loyalists from Maine at the end of the American Revolutionary War, where they were reassembled.
“It’s literally on the USA border,” said Doug.
Crossing borders was more seat-of-your-pants once upon a time. Nobody asked for your passport. Everybody wasn’t forever talking about another brick in the wall. You could bring your whole house with you, not just your RV.
“It is beautiful there,” said Rachel. “Whenever we see a botanical garden, we go to it. When we visit family in New York City, we always go.” Although born and reared on PEI, Rachel’s mother is from NYC and her father is from Montreal.
They had lunch in the café at the Kingsbrae Garden.
“The chef happened to be from PEI,” said Rachel.
The Kingsbrae Garden is a 27-acre former family estate turned horticultural oasis of nearly three thousand perennials, shrubs, and trees. It is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. There are peacocks, pygmy goats, and ponds, a cedar maze, and a trail through an old-growth forest. Doug and Rachel walked the gardens after lunch.
They spotted a giant Adirondack chair, the kind of oversized chair that makes grown-ups look like kids. They stopped in front of the great big chair.
“Oh, yeah,” said Rachel. “Whenever we see one of those big chairs, we get a picture of us sitting on it.”
When they slid off the seat, Doug asked her if she had dropped something when she got off the chair.
“She didn’t actually drop anything,” said Doug. He didn’t tell her it had fallen far. Rather, it was right there. You don’t want to cast your chance too far when you have the chance.
“It was all just a ploy to get her to turn around.”
“I looked and looked, and when I looked back at him he was on his knee.”
Doug was on his knee next to a giant pumpkin beside the chair on a sunny October afternoon, the day after Columbus Day, proposing a new world, proposing marriage.
”It made us at eye level,” said Rachel.
“How long do you want to be loved? Is forever enough?” is how the Dixie Chicks sing it.
She said yes when she saw the ring, the two of them seeing eye-to-eye in the garden.
“I’m pumped for the rest of our adventures,” said Rachel.
Ed Staskus posts a feature story monthly on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com.