The gold-lined invitation glinted from the pile of mail, classing up the usual stack of junk and bills.
Addressed by hand, the heavy stock envelope coughed out yet another envelope from inside the first one. This envelope was smaller, but meant business.
Inside this fat envelope was a collection of photos of a proud member of the class of 2016. The lovely graduate smiled in a portrait. The lovely graduate smiled in one of those awkward poses that photographers suggest because they are sadists. Then the lovely graduate just sat there, kinda half smiling because that awkward pose probably took a lot out of her.
These photos accompanied an invitation to attend the graduate’s graduation party in June. And I would probably attend … if I had any idea who this young woman was.
Indeed, she was a total stranger. I checked the front and, yes, it was addressed to me at my home address. Near as we can figure, it was meant for another Aaron Brown. There’s a few of us out there but I’m the only one on the Iron Range who insists upon being listed in the increasingly obsolete printed phone book. (That way I can say “Look me up. I’m in the book,” when people ask for my number, secure in the knowledge that they never will).
This kicked off a real crisis. What was my responsibility here? The invitation included not one but three potential numbers I could call to RSVP.
A side note here. I love the Iron Range, but we live in one of the worst places in the known world regarding the polite execution of the RSVP. Rangers apparently think the word means “Rarely Show, Vittles Pending.” So I try to take RSVPs seriously when I’m asked to confirm attendance.
Still, I had no interest in cold calling someone to tell them that I, a total stranger, will not be attending their party. Even thinking about it filled my heart with anxiety. Following that logic I’d have to call hundreds of 2016 grads to tell them they, too, were off my social calendar. Every day there are a million parties I could be invited to accidentally. I just don’t have enough time to turn them all down verbally.
I could put the envelope back in the box, marked “Return to Sender,” but the name and address weren’t the problem. I am that person from that place. I would have to add a note that read “Return to Sender: I’m not who you think I am.” This would require further explanation, and could cause trouble between the graduate and the other Aaron Brown, apparently a shiftless drifter who can only be reached by foot courier.
The episode recalled something that happened at my high school graduation party, lo, those many years ago. The gathering was at a pavilion at the Veterans Memorial Park on Ely Lake south of Eveleth, near where my grandparents live.
When we busted open the box of cards there was one addressed to someone named “Charles.” It turns out that there was another party at the other pavilion that day. But what this really meant was that these people walked into my party (probably recognizing no one), ate, put the card in the box and left. Were they also phantom invitees to Charles’ party?
Anyway, my grandparents knew the other family. Apparently Charles was the grandson of the mayor of Eveleth at the time. Gathered around the table, my family revealed this information with an air of expectancy. It was as though they wanted me to crack open the envelope to see how the other half lives. I couldn’t do it. The card was returned to Charles through diplomatic channels.
Which brings me back to my recent predicament. What to do about the mystery invitation?
I’ve decided to be a true Iron Ranger. If I’m in that town and I’m hungry, maybe. We’ll see how I feel. Lot of stuff going on, you know. Only I won’t say that to anyone. I’ll just think it.
Congratulations graduates, whoever you are.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 22, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.