Striking up a conversation with a stranger while doing errands might seem like a foreign, old-world idea for urbanite Miamians on the go.
Two women, perhaps by intuition, broke the silence in an aisle at a Brickell CVS last week. At the end of the friendly chat, they discovered they were family — literally. They found out they are blood cousins sharing a lineage stemming from a remote village in Norway.
Inger Copland, 74, and Diane Crosman, 52, had never met before, although they had both been living in Miami within five minutes of each other for nearly 25 years.
“I think it’s incredible,” said Crosman, “that our paths intersected now, in that little wrinkle in time.”
Crosman was shopping for shoe insoles at the CVS on Coral Way. The photographer who lives in Coconut Grove is a blonde, blue- eyed Nordic-looking woman who has spent her life among Brooklyn, N.Y., Miami and Norway. She and Copland were standing next to each other in the aisle when Crosman, exasperated from looking at the many choices of foot treatments, from insoles to medicated creams, vented to the stranger at her side. “So many choices,” she said out loud.
Copland politely agreed and wished her luck with her podiatric problem. They were about to part ways when Crosman made a remark that will connect the women for the rest of their lives.
“I noticed that she had an accent, so I asked,” Crosman said. “Once you get me curious, I won’t stop with the questions.”
Her hunch was spot on. Copland said she was born in Oslo, Norway. The specific accent, which others could confuse for German or Danish, was crystal clear for Crosman. Both women were familiar with the small but tight-knit local Norwegian community. Crosman and Copland both worked for the Norwegian cruise industry that brought them to Miami, in 1978 and 1988, respectively. Yet, they had never seen or met each other.
“I said ‘ Gier du det,’ which means ‘you don’t say!’ in Norwegian,” said Crosman. But the coincidence didn’t end there. Crosman related to Copland by explaining that her family was from Norway and that she had spent summers there since she was 11 years old. She named the small town, Hvittingfoss, where her family was from and she had spent seasons away from Miami as a young adult. Copland was shocked.
“I gasped and said ‘My mom was born there!’ ” Copland said. The town 50 miles from Oslo is a picture of bucolic quaintness. A close society was built around a paper mill in the 1800s. Now the town has a population of just over 1,000 people. Crosman said that even in Norway, it’s rare for anyone in the city to know Hvittingfoss.
Connecting the dots, Copland asked for her maiden name and found it was the same as her own: Foss. Their mothers were cousins, making them true second cousins. The women, certain now that they were of the same kin, exchanged phone numbers before leaving the store.
“Our great-grandfather’s name was Abraham Foss,” Copland said. “He would be so happy to know we’ve met now,” she said to Crosman on Friday night at her Brickell apartment.
“I was in shock for the entire day,” Crosman said.
It was Abraham Foss’ youngest son and Copland’s grandfather, Luaritz Foss, that created a relic that would astonish the cousins even more. He created a “brown book” that details the family history down the line, starting in the 1400s. Short stories about family members, including Copland and Crosman are in the book. Photos from the early 1900s are in the book, including the Foss farm. Crosman brought her copy, which was passed down from her mother in 1989, to Copland’s Brickell home the night they met.“We stayed up until midnight, just talking and laughing,” Crosman said. On Friday night, Crosman and Copland got together once more to share their story of serendipity.
While the women’s fair complexion and stature could be familiar traits, their laughter and Norwegian-tinted conversation were revealing of a much deeper link. On Friday night, the women got together one more time before Copland goes on a month-long trip to Canada.
“We could have just walked away and never known we were related,” Copland said.
But because of a friendly exchange and a bit of curiosity from Crosman, the mundane trip to the store became a crossroads of fate for the two Norwegian women. Crosman said she’ll keep in touch with her cousin through skype.
“I told her I also think the feet thing must be genetic.”