Wednesday, May 9, 2012

. . . As If No Time Had Passed

Tuesday Evening

I'm driving to town to pick up two old college friends I haven't seen for years. How long has it been? Will I recognize them?

I drive past the hotel. There's a man with white hair and beard sitting on the bench out front, partially hidden under the portico. It could be Michael. There's no place to stop on the narrow two lane road, so I pull into a parking lot down the street from the hotel.

It has been a perfect couple of days for touristing in our area. California poppies dot the foothills, cattle and horses graze in still-green fields. Water is flowing fast and cold in the falls and rivers in Yosemite, and crowds still flow slowly.

California Poppies

Wild Pansies

Conversational cattle

Mustard and windmill

Oblivious horses

I walk back on the sidewalk toward the hotel. The white-haired man stands, as does Lois, with her familiar shock of dark hair. We all open our arms and exclaim, "It is you!" They said of course they recognized me, because we've exchanged holiday messages for the past 50 years as my Christmas letter has evolved from mimeograph on green paper through commercial instant print, through home printer to full-color home printer with numerous photographs, including the occasional one of myself.

So how long has it been? Lois guesses graduation, some 50 years ago.

I try more recent possibilities. "Any reunions?"

"No, never could get away from work at that time of year."

"Then it has to be when Bobby Kennedy was killed," I decide.

"1968," says Lois.

First Husband, Daughter and Son, and I lived in San Diego at the time. Husband had a business meeting in New York City and the whole family went early to Vermont before the meetings to visit Husband's parents, the Grandparents. Nana, Husband's mother, had cancer. Cross-country trips were expensive and rare in those days, and we took advantage of Husband's company-paid airfare to make the family trip in early June for what might be a last visit with Nana.

Indeed, catastrophe did strike. Nana O, Nana's mother, who had her own little apartment on the third floor of that tall New England house, was calling down to Husband where we were still asleep on the second floor at about 6:30 a.m., that something was wrong with "Ted" (her nickname for Nana).

Husband ran downstairs to the first floor and found Nana crying for help from the floor where she'd fallen on her way back to bed from the toilet at 3:30 and had been crying for help since then. Her cancer-riddled hip had shattered when she fell. I fainted, my then-normal response to an emergency.

I will never forget, however, how furious and upset I was that the ambulance refused to come until after shift change at seven, and my poor sweet mother-in-law lay crying on the floor for another hour in excruciating pain.

With Nana in the hospital, we moved to Husband's Sister's house and slept in sleeping bags on the floor in her basement that night. The next morning was Daughter's 8th birthday, June 5, 1968, the same morning that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated

We moved again, this time to a hotel in NYC. It was an old hotel. We rode a creaking elevator to the top floor. It may have been old and venerable, but all I, a California girl who loved sleek Danish modern when it was new to this country and not referred to quaintly as "mid-century modern," only saw "old." And the fact that the hot water didn't make it to the top floor shower.

Husband snagged a reservation the next morning at the Plaza-something Hotel. We tried to sneak off to the other hotel as if leaving town earlier than expected, to avoid hurting the feelings of the old hotel by revealing that we'd found them wanting. So naturally, everyone involved with obtaining a cab for our move wanted our destination, in loud voices, while we just wanted to whisper it to the driver.

(You might notice a theme that I go to great lengths to avoid confrontation.)

One thing the old hotel had over the Plaza was color TV, but the Plaza elevator traveled nonstop from the first floor to the 22nd in an incredible flash.

Robert F. Kennedy's body was returned to New York from California and lay "in repose" in St. Patrick's Cathedral. From our hotel window, we could watch as mourners lined up to pay their respects. We did not join the line, but watched the somber events on TV while Husband was off at business meetings.

It was during that visit to New York that I believe Michael, Lois, Husband and I last saw each other. I remember my kids threading their way along the crowded sidewalks of the city and jumping the red lights like little natives, even as the city scared me half to death. We went with Michael and Lois and their two boys to what I remember as an Italian street fair, somewhere down towards the Village. I forgot to ask if they remembered the street fair as I do, because my kids seem to have no memory of it.

*    *    *

We sat outside on the deck for our dinner, overlooking the manicured golf course against the backdrop of a receding series of mountain ridges, with the final rocky ridge topped with snow that glowed a pinky yellow in the light of the sun setting behind us. Our food was wonderfully prepared. We (my community and I) impressed them.


Michael ordered the very smallest ice cream.

The ladies ordered the tiramisu.

My friends are Francophiles like me, and, like me, Michael also participates in a French conversation group. So we compared places we've been in France, modes of travel, everything we've done over the last 44 years, then dissed the unrealistic expectations and sense of entitlement of youthful House Hunters on the addictive HGTV. They had pictures of their "boys," the daughters-in-law, the grand kids. You would recognize one of the boys. He's a well-known news commentator.

Then Lois wanted to see my quilts. Yikes! People in my disorderly house? I drove them around the lake to my house. It was dark out, so they could only get a hint of black water stretching out an uncertain distance.

I pulled out the quilts that I have on quilt racks, but those represent a small proportion. Where have I stashed the rest? I'd have to pull closets and cupboards apart, maybe even go to the storage shed, er, mini-storage, to locate them all. Then the time came when I needed to get them back to their hotel. After all, they had another day planned to explore Yosemite.

Before this day, I'd been mulling, even stewing, over a rant blog, but ended up with good times and good memories and an upbeat mood instead of the hate-on I'd been cooking up.  Sadly, as a follow up, Nana passed away from complications of her cancer and broken hip later that same year, and we lost Husband just six years later.

See you soon.



  1. So you didn't get to not take them to your disorganized house.... but seeing the quilts was worth it. Your house isn't THAT bad... just "work in progress". And it IS clean. Glad you had a nice day. Husband is home in WC.

  2. I'm not sure which photo I liked more, the California Poppies or that Tiramasu!

  3. How wonderful that you were able to catch up with old friends from the past. It's always so nice to do that. Life passes by so quickly and we never realize how long it's been that we haven't seen people we say so often in another life and time. You guys sure got the most out of your time together.
    Ashley (backyardprovence)

  4. You really had me engaged with this one. Like you, I dislike confrontation, though you'd never know it from my loud-mouthed rants on my blog. I'm that way in person, too, so for someone who doesn't like confrontation, I really invite it in. Such a long time to go without seeing friends, yet how satisfying and rewarding it must have been once you did. And the tiramisu? Looks to die for.