Tag Archives: Friendship

Cinderfella and the Leather Slippers

Bill is very particular about the slippers he wears, and he wears them religiously, especially when we are traveling – dirty floors and carpets full of germs and all that. And never, ever, would he allow someone else to wear them. That would be tantamount to asking rain not to fall. Bill can be so Howard Hughes-ian at times, I could swear he’s at least a distant relative. Even I had better think twice about putting his slippers on and flopping around the house in them, as I’m wont to do at times.

Soooo, when he stepped into the shower after a week filled with sight-seeing and morning to evening side-trips in southern France, he was so exhausted he didn’t realize for the first couple of minutes that he’d done so without removing his leather slippers – the ones with the shearing wool lining. The only kind worthy of adorning his feet. By then, it was too late. They were soaked inside and out. Needless to say, when reality set in a split second later, I couldn’t keep from laughing. I mean, really, how could you not see the humor in it.

Mr. Bill, nit-picky in the extreme about certain aspects of daily life, stepping into the shower with expensive slippers like that – talk about a Priceless Moment! And it wasn’t as if we could go shopping for another pair just like them right then, either. Pretty exhausted by this time myself, I was unable to maintain my composure, and the staid, reserved manner I would normally turn on for a situation like this just wasn’t working for me. It was just too much. The slippers were soaked clear through and squished with the least hint of pressure. Sopping wet – what can I say? I couldn’t help myself.

I left Bill stuffing his slippers with dry washcloths and met Mary Jane and Joe for breakfast that morning, relaying the details of this calamity, engendering another raucous round of laughter as Bill arrived at the table. I’m sure the other diners were wondering what on earth we found that hilarious at such an early hour.

Before we left for the day, Bill was uncharacteristically calm. So calm I couldn’t be sure he wasn’t channeling some stranger. A monk in a secluded mountain-top retreat or Buddhist guru bent on serious meditation perhaps – peaceful men who use words sparingly (or in the monk’s case, not at all). Asking me if I thought a hair dryer might help – I said it couldn’t hurt – Bill un-stuffed the moccasin look-alikes, removing the soaked washcloths, and pointed the hair dryer down their throats.

I hadn’t told him I didn’t think the hair dryer idea would actually work, but it became a moot point anyway as, after a few minutes on high heat, the hair dryer died. Its wire had burned through. Obviously, one non-industrial strength hair drier was not able to manage a big job like this. There was nothing else we could do right then as we were momentarily leaving for the villages of Beaune and Cluny. So Bill re-stuffed the slippers with dry washcloths and placed them in front of the sliding glass door to catch the heat from the sun in the hope that would facilitate the drying process.

Shortly afterward, we boarded a bus to visit some wineries – we could have used a big glass of wine at that moment  – and to soak up the local history on an all-day tour. On the way Joe, reading a copy of the ship’s newspaper, turned to me pointing to a story about Jerry Brown (then governor of California) and his proposal to impose new restrictions on Californians, which Brown deemed necessary due to the drought. He rattled off what they were and said there was one in particular that he thought would interest Bill. It was the one banning individuals from stepping into showers wearing their slippers because they soak up too much water. Too much water, a valuable resource currently in short supply, was being wasted on slippers in need of a washing.

You know how it is when something is set in motion (Newton’s law and all that) – once I started laughing, I couldn’t stop. Tears were streaming down my cheeks and Mary Jane and Joe were also making the most of this moment of levity. When I turned to see how Bill was handling being the brunt of the joke, I found him laughing, too. People were looking at us liked we’d lost our minds, but we didn’t care. We were enjoying the moment we were in to the fullest. Too many people don’t, and look at all the fun they miss.

The real test would come this evening, though, when Bill’s slippers, hopefully, would be dry. Would Cinderfella’s soaked slippers still fit?

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Wild Beasts and Angels

Yesterday Bill and I attended the funeral of a dear friend named Bob Erwine. I’d come to know Bob through another very dear friend and mentor, Mae Packan, an institution in the annals of Coventry High School. Bob and I, having graduated 14 years apart, were both former students of Mae’s a long time ago. Mae, a surrogate mother to me and five other Coventry alums, have had lunch together for many years – every other month at my home where I prepared a home-cooked meal, going opposite months restaurant-hopping in various spots in the Akron/Canton area.

Mae had spoken of Bob so often and how much he meant to her that one day I told her to bring him to my house so I could meet the man she loved like a son. As they walked up the steps to the front door, I came out and hugged him hello, telling him I felt like I’d already known him for years because I’d heard so much about him. He was the legend I’d been looking forward to meeting. He said he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to live up to all the hype.

It was the beginning of a long friendship and many lunches where I regularly tested new recipes on the two of them because they were such willing guinea pigs. Mostly, my experiments worked out well but not always. At those times, we’d have a good laugh and I’d whip up something else on the spur of the moment. It wasn’t about the food nearly as much as about the friendship, and the love. We were family.

When several trees in our backyard were toppled onto our house in a storm, we had a screened in porch built to replace the damaged deck, and Bob, Mae, and I ate lunch out there as much as possible. We even braved the cooler spring and fall temperatures wearing jackets. Once when the spring temperatures warmed up unexpectedly and the porch furniture had not been put out yet, we set up a card table on the porch and ate outside anyway and had the best time.

We did a lot of fun things. Several years ago when HBO ran the series about John Adams (starring Paul Giamatti), Bill ordered HBO so we could watch it. We recorded all the episodes, then invited Mae, Bob, and Dick, over to watch it in segments over the course of a week. (If you’ve been following my blog, you already know that Dick, my first husband, gradually became an integral part of these lunches.) We were like fans having a week-long super bowl party. Bill and I rearranged the furniture in the family room closer to the television to make it easier for Mae to see because macular degeneration made seeing increasingly difficult for her, put Dick on the side of the sofa where his hearing was best, and strategic placed numerous pillows around on various chairs for Bob. Even then, he was having difficulty with his back and his legs; he would periodically have to stand and walk around to ease the pain. He never spoke about it. Never complained.

When Dick died almost five years ago after an extended and complicated illness, my daughter Laura took her father’s seat at our lunch table, always bringing her dog, Mojo, another much loved addition whom both Bob and Mae adored. We’d gone from two to three, then to four. Without realizing it, Laura helped us make a difficult transition after her father died. Occasionally, Bill also joined us, and that helped a lot, too. Gradually, we were able to move on.

But it’s going to be harder this time. Harder to be just two again, like when we started. Dick was two weeks shy of 80. Bob was 80. Mae is 100 and lost her only sibling just last month; he was 93.

Bob missed last year’s Christmas lunch/dinner which always took place in mid-afternoon just a few days before Christmas, and Mae elected to put off our holiday get-together until Bob could be there. So thinking he’d be back in the swing of things by January or February at the latest, we waited. But those months came, and went, and Bob’s health issues mounted. Mae and I continued to eat out because lunch at my house just wouldn’t feel right without Bob. I felt the same way – it would seem like some kind of betrayal to have lunch here in his absence, like saying we could get along without him when we couldn’t. “Let’s wait for Bob,” she said.

He got better, then worse again. Better, then worse. The last time I spoke to him, the week before he died, he said he felt stronger and was hoping to come home in about a week or so, and I started thinking about the celebratory lunch I would make in honor of his return to us. “Love you,” I said to the man that was much like an older brother to me. “Love you, too, my dear” he replied. Our last words to each other.

The minister was speaking about wild beasts and angels and how both come to us in a variety of forms. Wild beasts are carcinomas, they are lies. These beasts are nourished by hatred and prejudice, gossip and negativity. They come in many forms – some made of toxic individuals who poison others’ lives in many kinds of ways, both big and small.

But the angels – the angels come into our lives for a reason, and they are angels because they comfort us, enriching our lives by their very presence. They make us smile, laugh, think. They give of themselves and never ask for something in return. They are kind and generous yet never boast of their accomplishments. This, the minister said, was Bob – an angel in the lives of all those he touched. A quiet and modest man whom most people didn’t even know had graduated from Yale. Angels make us better people by their very presence in our lives.

Despite the wild beast of cancer that finally defeated him and about which he very rarely spoke, Bob was this kind of angel – always giving of himself but expecting nothing for himself in return.

Having been advised the night before that Bob’s situation had so quickly become dire, Bill and I were hurrying to see him early Tuesday morning when we got the call that he had slipped away in the middle of the night. I didn’t get to say goodbye. To tell him what his presence in my life meant to me. I just can’t get that out of my head, or my heart.

That homecoming lunch will never be made. Instead of celebrating Bob’s return, we celebrate the life he lived and those precious, intangible gifts he gave to so many others. When Mae and I can face having lunch at home without him, we will remember and honor Bob. We will talk about how much we loved the honest, selfless man, the humble man who fought off the wild beast as long as he could before taking his place among the angels.

Interior Punctuation

Someone I know boasts 598 facebook friends. Oh come on. Really? 598 friends? How close can one be to 598 people? Maybe a new word for facebook friendships is in order here. Friends are people with whom you are on intimate terms and for whom you have some kind of affection. I considered acquaintance as an alternative, but it doesn’t work well either because you have to actually have met someone to be acquainted with them. At least that used to be true, although considering the word in today’s culture, that’s not as accurate as it used to be, is it? Our current culture varies so much from yesterday’s that it’s almost unrecognizable. Many words have been dropped from our speech, others have been coined, and still others are changing, their meanings in an almost constant state of flux. Those poor people at Webster’s must be going crazy.

I’m not an ardent facebook user, but the thing I’ve noticed most about it is the focus on the number of “friends” one has. Don’t you wonder why facebook has chosen to highlight that number? Shouldn’t any friendship be rated in terms of its quality rather than its quantity?

Bill and I just concluded what has become an annual holiday party with some of our closest friends.

Christmas ornament

Christmas ornament (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I so love to cook and bake, and the planning, execution, and presentation of meals for people I love is a huge part of this. But it’s about more than the meal. It’s about conversation and shared interests, and the periodic discovery of a gleaming new facet you didn’t know existed in the persona or personality of a long-time friend.

We had a great time the first year we did this, and to enhance the fun the following year, I developed a theme. Year 2 became The Ornament-themed Christmas. I bought ornaments that symbolized an identifiable attribute of each person and handed them out one at a time, prefacing the giving with individualized short poems I wrote for each, expanding on that quality. BIG DISCLAIMER HERE (note the CAPLOCKS) – I do not claim to be any sort of poet. If anything, my feeble attempts were Ogden Nash-ian in nature, and that’s as close as they got to anything remotely recognizable as bona fide poetry. But they did rhyme, more or less.

Year 3 was The Let’s-Play Christmas (pun intended) where I purchased toys that took us back to yesteryear. Wrapping each separately, I set them on the dining room table after dinner, before dessert was served. One at a time, each person chose one, opened it, and read the accompanying notes I’d made in researching that particular toy. Among other things we had a wooden popgun, a wooden train whistle, a magic slate, a ball and jacks, a yo-yo, and a jaw harp. We became kids again, bartering and trading. We laughed long after the crème brûlée had been eaten, the wine glasses had been drained, and the last drop of coffee had left the pot.

This year was A Reader’s Christmas. After dinner I passed around paper and pens, reading a few quotes from the nonfiction books I’d purchased as gifts – books reflecting each person’s interests in some way. A few of those books were Julia’s Cats, A Train in Winter, Catherine the Great, The Red Princess, Resolute, and To Kill the Irishman. Everyone was to develop the next sentence to follow the quote as if they were beginning a story of their own.

One of our friends, Bob, observed how interesting it was to see how everyone’s mind worked – how they processed the quotes differently and came up with interesting additions. People whom we’d all known for years took the assignment and went in various directions, filling out their personal substance and context as they did so, exposing their interior punctuation. Bob mulled over the fact that we’ve “talked to them all these years but don’t really know how their minds work. When you do something like this, you see all the various perspectives and approaches. It’s so fascinating to see how people think.”

An exposition of our interior punctuation. Isn’t this the core of true friendship?

The composition of so many parties begins and ends with the idle conversations of acquaintances who awkwardly toss words back and forth at each other so as not to look, or feel, alone in a crowd. They don’t delve; they don’t reveal. We went a step further, and it was fun as well an enlightening, becoming a happy moment that will hopefully be remembered as an exclamation point of the season. And it was coupled with good friends enjoying each other’s company and getting to know each other better in new ways. It will be remembered for the deepening of friendships, the strengthening of important and valued bonds.

Now the laughter has faded. The fun and games are over. Yet the scent of friendship lingers in the air long after the guests have gone home. Life resumes the course of everyday existence, dressed in its customary blandness and sometime drudgery, highlighted by the occasional bright spot.

Yes, the party’s over. The fire’s embers have turned to ash in the grate, but its success and the strength of our friendships have nothing to do with how many friends we have.

Instead, they glean their strength and substance from each other’s interior punctuation.