Monday, August 29, 2016

Long term friendship

I have very few friendships that have lasted more than four decades. Geography, interests, life events: many changes affect them. I can count my "lifelong" friends on one hand. Even rarer is having a friend for forty-five years without even one in-person visit to shore up the sagging that usually happens with distance. When my Kentucky-dwelling friend, Pat, emailed to tell me about a family gathering her daughter was planning for August on the coast of Washington—it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to catch in-person glimpses of each other. 

Pat and I befriended each other in the late '60s in our shared Seattle neighborhood. We were both stay-at-home moms with children close enough in age to play together. She and her family moved away when her husband, John, accepted a position at the University of Kentucky in 1971—and then Jay accepted a position at Marquette University in Wisconsin in 1972. 

With the huge adjustments required of changing locale, we had even more in common and wrote lots of letters—then the only "sensible" (read affordable) means of staying in touch—commiserating over the demands of long distance moves and the challenges the kids (and their moms) experienced, as a result. Gradually our communication thinned to the annual Christmas-season catch-up, birthday cards, and the occasional note during the year.

Our long-distance bond solidified into a kind of supportive sisterhood when both of our lives were rocked and reshaped by similar offspring revelations in the early '80s. We were able to help each other accept and embrace the ways our family dynamics were changing with our flow of candid letters. Pat was a godsend for me, and the feeling was mutual.

Eventually we  added email as a form of communication—and we have continued to keep in touch once or twice a year plus the Christmas letters. However, email wasn’t the form I wanted to use when I informed her of Jay’s death. I wrote her a letter via 'snail-mail' and few weeks later, I opened what I thought would be a condolence letter. Instead, I read of of yet another bond of circumstance we share: John died less than three weeks after Jay did.

In the past two years through our shared bereavement, Pat and I have been in frequent communication. Now we mostly text. But whichever way the communication occurs, nothing is quite like the support that comes from a friend’s going through the same life-changing event. Of all my friends, Pat’s ability to understand what I’ve gone through is unique. Even bad stufflike our shared circumstance of widowhoodhas deepened our connection.

The picture of the two of us was taken at breakfast in Long Beach, Washington. Pat has been living with cancer for two-and-a-half years, and has a wondrous story to tell about the power of positive thinking . . . but I’ll save that for another posting. It was a long drive from Seattle, but a worthwhile excursion in sunshine and hot summer weather. I finally got to be in the presence of, and physically SEE my friend after forty-five years of no in-person visits! 

It should be noted that the only friend I've had all my lifemy older sister, Judykept me company on the 185 mile drive to Long Beach. I have two friends to thank for the special visit. Is there anyone who'd disagree that little in life that surpasses the value of long-standing friendship?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Real Life Conversation

My front yard was the scene of a neighborhood coffee-hour recently. By noon everyone was leaving, carrying their own chairs back home, chattering in friendly tones as the gathering dissolved into the next segment of Saturday.

The eleven-year-old boy from across the street offered to help me carry and put away my lawn chairs and tray of mugs. For some reason, my nose was dripping, so I said, “Just a minute, I have to get a hanky first.”


“I have to grab a hanky.”

“What’s a hanky?”

“You know, a handkerchief  . . to blow my nose on . . . like a tissue.”

“Oh!” and with that detail, he nodded in recognition.

When I was his age, at least once a year, my mother ordered for my sister and me each a dozen hankies with our names embroidered on them. That way, if we dropped one or left it at someone’s house or school, we’d get it back. Obviously, it didn’t work too well because the next year we’d each get another dozen hankies. 

The conversation with my young helper is a telling distillation of our double-generation gap, and it makes me feel very grandma-like.