DUBLIN - During my college days at University of Massachusetts Boston, I worked part time at the Porter Square Star Market in Cambridge, now a rechristened Shaw’s. The job provided some of the best experiences of my life, and I would encourage any struggling student or 20-something to undertake a spell of supermarket work. It’s a great way to meet new people and - at least in my experience - it’s the type of work environment that doesn’t tolerate slackers.
There’s another reason I’m advocating this line of employment. Because supermarkets are such busy places, you might just encounter your doppelganger there. Or, in my case, his mother.
Allow me to set the scene. I began my seven-year Star Market career as a bagger. After only six months, though, it became apparent that I was destined for greater things than simply helping out cute cashiers, so I too was offered the opportunity to work a register. I declined. I’d seen the work needed to balance a cash drawer, both before and after a shift, and I’d seen cashiers hassled by customers who might not have enough to pay, or who were convinced an item had been rung in twice.
That scene was not for me, and word soon filtered through the store that I was available for reassignment. The produce manager - a legendary figure (within Porter Square Star anyway) renowned for his ability to swing an early-morning deal on corn or cucumbers with local growers - offered me a position in his department.
This time I accepted. And that’s when things got spooky. One day as I was stocking a banana display, an announcement sounded over the store’s public-address system, directing me by name to the florist department to assist a customer. Produce folks like me were expected to become amateur botanists whenever the florist staff went on break. I was back in produce only a few moments when a middle-age woman approached me and asked, “Are you Stephen Coronella?’’
Now, I was a courteous and accommodating Star Market employee, but my first thought was: “Oh no, what have I said or done to upset her?’’ Anyway, whatever reason she had for finding me, I decided to ‘fess up.
“Yes, I’m Stephen Coronella,’’ I said.
“That’s my son’s name,’’ she answered, with a smile.
I think you’ll accept that my Italian surname, while not unique, is uncommon. So the coincidence was startling on that count. But then to share an identical first name with this woman’s son - down to the proper spelling of Stephen - that was plain weird. Plus, only a handful of years separated us in age.
(Here in Ireland, of course, it’s a common occurrence to encounter people - otherwise unrelated - who share identical first and second names. In some parts of the country, it may even be a legal requirement.)
We chatted for a few minutes - I had only a vague understanding back then of my father’s side of the family - and the most we could deduce was that this woman’s husband and my dad were very likely neighbors in Boston’s old West End in the 1930s and ’40s, before their families moved to the leafier “suburbs’’ of Somerville and Medford, respectively.
I worked at the Porter Square Star for another couple of years, but our paths never crossed again.
Since that chance encounter three decades ago, I’ve done some research courtesy of Google. The woman I met was Alma “Pat’’ Coronella, a native of Red Cloud, Neb., who settled in Somerville in 1950. Sadly, she passed away in 2010. Her husband, William Coronella, and my late father, Philip, were the likely West End compatriots.
As for my namesake, the other Stephen Coronella, he’s the director of the Putney Public Library in Vermont. He also moonlights as a musician and storyteller. Obviously, I’m aware of his existence, but I wonder sometimes whether he knows about me. Sounds like a good reason for a leaf-peeping excursion next fall, wouldn’t you say?
Medford native Steve Coronella has lived in Ireland since 1992. He is the author of “This Thought’s On Me: A Boston Guy Reflects on Leaving the Hub, Becoming a Dub & Other Topics,’’ available at the Book Oasis in Stoneham. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.