By Jasmine Jones
Charlotte lives in Cape Girardeau; the other Charlotte lives in Poplar Bluff, Mo. For more than 20 years, the Charlotte Craigs have been aware of each other. Many times, they’ve been mistaken for each other. But on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, they meet in Cape Girardeau at a restaurant for the first time — in person.
At first sight, the Charlottes smile at each other. Their greeting is warm, like two long-lost sisters reunited. Charlotte, of Poplar Bluff (PB), tells how she first heard about the other Charlotte, of Cape Girardeau (CG).
“It was right after I moved back to Southeast Missouri from Detroit [in 2000],” Charlotte (PB) says. “I got some of your mail by accident, so I tracked you down and called.”
Charlotte (CG) nods, remembering the one time they spoke to each other over the phone. Both Charlottes exchange stories of being mistaken for each other throughout the years, not just due to their names — which they both married into — but also due to their shared interest in animal rescue and welfare. Their names, simple collections of syllables and words, connect both women to their identities. Others hear their names, these syllables, and think: animal lover.
Charlotte (CG) is president and one of the founding members of Southeast Missouri (SEMO) Pets, a nonprofit animal rescue shelter in Cape Girardeau. Charlotte (PB) is past president, current board secretary and one of the founding members of the Animal Welfare Alliance (AWA) of Southeast Missouri, a nonprofit animal rescue shelter in Poplar Bluff.
It’s quite easy to mistake the two women, and Charlotte (PB) says she has told local media members multiple times to “remember” she’s the other Charlotte Craig, not the Charlotte Craig they know. Despite their names and similarities, they are different people, with different personalities and backgrounds.
Charlotte (CG) grew up in Sikeston, Mo., under the maiden name Boyce. After high school, she attended nursing school in Memphis, Tenn., and spent some time in Chattanooga, Tenn., before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1972 to work as a registered nurse. She has worked in nursing for the past 56 years and served as the director of the Public Health Department for 38 years. Charlotte (CG) has been president of SEMO Pets for approximately 10 years, but she jokes it’s been “forever.”
Charlotte (PB) grew up in Poplar Bluff under the maiden name Wolpers. She says she “seriously considered” becoming a veterinarian in high school, but decided against it because she “was never good at math.” With half of her family in journalism, she followed their example by attending the University of Missouri to study it. Charlotte (PB) left Missouri for Detroit, Mich., in the fall of 1967. There, she worked in journalism for 33 years and ended her career at the Detroit Free Press before moving back to Poplar Bluff in 2000. There, she helped found the AWA of Southeast Missouri in 2009.
The Charlottes have different life stories, and they certainly have different tastes. At the restaurant, Charlotte (PB) orders a citrus salad with chicken; Charlotte (CG) orders a reuben with chips.
Once their meals arrive, the Charlottes launch into an hour-long conversation about running animal shelters. Charlotte (CG) talks about SEMO Pets’ new shelter, which they plan to take a tour of later in the day. Charlotte (PB) says the AWA of Southeast Missouri also recently moved into a new shelter in June — it is the group’s first brick-and-mortar location.
“Well, I’ll be darned, Charlotte. I did not know that,” Charlotte (CG) says.
Charlotte (PB) pulls out her phone to show Charlotte a photo of a new rescue dog at the AWA shelter. Charlotte (CG) gasps and says, “That looks like my pup,” and pulls up a photo of her adopted dog. Both dogs have similar faces and coloring.
The Charlottes share their animal tragedies and miracles with each other. They talk of rescued three-legged dogs and puppies surviving the canine parvovirus. They talk of recent adoption numbers and their shelters’ capacities. They go on and on about the intricacies of this business, and their suffocating love and compassion for animals.
“I remember when I was a little girl, I couldn’t enjoy a good rain outside, because I worried about the little critters that were out in the rain,” Charlotte (PB) says.
“It’s a curse, isn’t it?” Charlotte (CG) says. “It’s not a blessing. It’s a curse what we do, ‘cause I cannot turn my back [on an animal]. I just can’t turn my back.”
“I know,” Charlotte (PB) says. “Me, either.”
They talk about their organizations serving area pets during emergencies in collaboration with the public health department. Charlotte (CG) says she still remembers the “days before the public health department” existed. It reveals her age, she says with a laugh.
“I’m older than dirt. How old are you?” Charlotte (CG) asks.
“I’m 78,” Charlotte (PB) says.
“I’m 78, too,” Charlotte (CG) says.
Charlotte (PB) laughs. She can’t believe they are the same age, she says. They don’t share the same birthday, but their birth months aren’t too far apart: July and September.
The more the Charlottes talk, the more connections and similarities they discover. Their words, like rays of morning sun, gradually reveal the spider web between them, the silk fibers bridging their lives, invisible before, but now impossible to ignore. It makes a person wonder if maybe, just maybe, conversation is the most powerful tool to weld the world together, to discover these spider webs between everyone. How many friendships are flowing just beneath the surface, just behind a few questions, a couple sentences?
Another similarity between the Charlotte Craigs: They both have horses. Charlotte (PB) just has one horse, but she and her horse don’t ride anymore, because the horse has arthritis; she jokes both she and the horse are “lame old ladies.” Charlotte (CG) has two horses and rode twice last year, but says she “may have quit riding” without knowing it.
“I still dream about riding,” Charlotte (PB) says. “I can still feel how my legs should go.”
“There’s nothing better than sitting on a horse,” Charlotte (CG) says.
Later in their conversation, Charlotte (CG) reaches for a potato chip on her plate, inspects it for a moment and holds it up to the light. The chip is an almost-perfect heart shape.
“All kinds of signs,” Charlotte (PB) says.
“I’m gonna save that,” Charlotte (CG) says, as she sets the heart-shaped chip to the side.
They finish eating and walk to the parking lot. Charlotte (PB) gets into a white Ford F-150 pickup truck, and Charlotte (CG) gets into a red Ford F-150 pickup truck. Charlotte (CG) points at their sibling trucks and yells, “Another thing in common!”
Next on the Charlottes’ agenda is a tour of the new SEMO Pets facility. As they walk through it together, Charlotte (CG) points out everything Charlotte (PB) could include at her new shelter. Charlotte (PB) constantly takes photos.
When an employee from SEMO Pets runs into the Charlottes on their tour, Charlotte (CG) introduces her new friend.
“I’d like you to meet Charlotte Craig,” she says. “She’s also in animal welfare.”
The employee stares in shock, then laughs and asks, “Really?” No one can believe the pair of unlikely name twins exists, or that they’re here with each other.
But if anyone can believe this coincidence, it’s the Charlottes. They both seem at peace with the fact their names are not unique, and neither are many parts of their lives. After all, there are more than eight billion people in the world. Some of them are bound to share similar lives, passions and names. Some of them are bound to be 78 years old, own horses, run animal shelters and go by the name Charlotte Craig.
It is a beautiful and natural coincidence. It makes a person feel eerily small, but also immeasurably bigger and impossibly connected to all of that life in the big, wide blue world. Perhaps everyone has their own Charlotte Craig out there. These two just happened to meet.
Before Charlotte (PB) goes back to her side of Southeast Missouri, the Charlottes exchange phone numbers and hug. It is the long, sweet hug of a friendship formed. Charlotte (PB) says their day together has been “a treat.”
“It has,” Charlotte (CG) says. “So, when am I coming down to your place?”