The dinner is held twice a year on the manicured field of Jordan-Hare Stadium. You tour the locker room before entering the field through the tunnel, just like the players before Saturday football games. It is quiet and yet still overwhelming; I can only imagine the intensity of walking out in front of 87,000 screaming fans.
We joined my college roommate and his wife, Bill and Pam Moench of St. Louis, for Café Jordan Hare as this event is known before the South Carolina game this past weekend. It was their first visit and they were duly impressed.
There was a table for eight that we joined, with two other couples already seated. We exchanged pleasantries as we sat down. I assumed the two couples were together.
Later in the evening, I heard the name Sidney Bell mentioned, followed by Morris White. They were followed by the name Joe Yeager. At that point, I stopped my own conversation and interrupted them to ask how they knew these people.
Sid Bell was a renowned professor in the School of Agriculture. Morris White taught what may have been my very favorite class in college. If you had a wrong answer on one of his tests, you could defend the answer on the day the test was given back. If the students in the class agreed with your defense, he gave you credit.
However, It was the name Joe Yeager that really caught my attention. He was my department chair in Agricultural Economics. Decades later, he and my aunt were companions for many years. He was a great teacher, but is an even greater human being.
At that point the world began getting smaller. It turns out that neither of the other couples knew each other. However, they were both at Auburn at the same time I was. One was in the same department, just one year ahead. Given the small size of the department at the time, it is likely we had several classes together.
From that point on we discovered more and more that we had in common, not just from our time at Auburn but in the 40 years since. One spouse even played the organ in their church leading to a whole new discussion on the challenges of Saturday night games and Sunday morning church services.
The dinner lasted three hours and we fully took advantage of that time, finally being gently nudged towards the exit after almost everyone else had left. We obviously were having a good time and talked about the Auburn Family, what it had meant to us, and how often we had met people simply by seeing a hat and saying “War Eagle”.
We could have joined the next table and perhaps we would have had an equally entertaining time. However, the chances of four couples sitting at a table without knowing each other and finding out their lives had been intertwined over time are slim indeed.
It reminds us that even as the world seems to get bigger and more complex, that it is still full of people whose lives have crossed paths along the way. On this night, our world got smaller and we were all better for it.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org