When one of your dearest friends moves far away and you don’t get to see her very often, and she tells you she’ll be in town for Thanksgiving, but you’re going to be in New Jersey, and you’re devastated, but at the last minute you figure out a way to see her for just a few hours, but you worry that it’s been so long since you’ve seen each other and things may have changed and then this happens……and you have one more thing to be thankful for this year.
8 am: This was the sight I saw as I pulled out of the driveway. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to school and work we go…
Later that day my college friend Lizochka drove up from Charlotte to Charlottesville for a visit. She arrived at the university towards the end of the workday, so I could take her on a quick tour of the Grounds. The leaves are at their glorious peak, so despite the rain, it was a great weekend to be in C’ville.
Our oldest son had to be at his testing site by 7:45 am for the last SAT he’d ever take. My daughter would be heading to her last soccer game of the season. As we discussed the complicated logistics over breakfast the kids asked me how Liza and I were planning to spend our day.
“Oh, we’re going to get up to aaaaaaaall kinds of mischief.” I told them.
“But what are you going to do? Are you going to go around painting graffiti or something?” asked my 15-year-old son, who is always willing to play along.
“Well, you’re just going to have to tune into NBC 29 News tonight to find out!” I replied with my best attempt at exuding an edgy, menacing sort of vibe.
My amenable son raised his eyebrows and pretended to be suitably impressed.
My daughter shot us down in flames by deadpanning with devastating accuracy: “Are you going shopping at Roxie Daisy?”
OK, kid. Yeah, whatever:
Unrepentent miscreants that we are, we recorded our every move:
I want to steal this chair. It was like sitting on a cloud. A really, really expensive cloud. ($3000+).
We hit up all my other favorite spots on the Downtown Mall too:
From O’Suzannah to Rock, Paper, Scissors, and an obligatory stop at Caspari to say hello to the zebra finches!
No visit to C’ville is complete without a stop at MarieBette, where we had our lunch:
And last but not least, we poked our heads into Patina, my favorite store in Charlottesville.
We had a cozy dinner at home with a table full of family and friends, and then we spent the rest of the evening tucked up on the couch, watching the charming movie The Big Sick.
A jiu-jitsu takedown? A hug? Who can tell?
Bidding a fond farewell to my sweet friend…
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard this boy play his guitar…
At choir, we got started on Christmas music… “Hey on, Sir Ass, hey!”
If parties are torture for introverts, high school reunions are another order of cruel and unusual punishment altogether. I wrote about the last high school reunion I went to five years ago here. I’ve now subjected myself to the ordeal on at least a couple other occasions.
I disgraced myself in an even more painfully hideous way at an earlier reunion. The room was buzzing with lively conversation and laughter. Determined to overcome my natural tendency to stand around at a party like an awkward stump, I practically broke a sweat in my effort to be witty and engaging. I had to strain to hear and to be heard as I exchanged pleasantries with an old classmate of mine. I finally felt myself begin to relax and loosen up. After one particular exchange, I brayed with unbridled mirth. Mid-chortle I realized that the hideous sound that had just emanated from my person was the only noise in a room that had suddenly and inexplicably fallen completely silent. My interlocutor looked at me with raised eyebrows. I slowly turned around to see that photos of several of our classmates who had died at a tragically young age were being projected on a screen and that everyone was observing a moment of silence in their honor.
It’s abundantly clear to anyone with two brain cells to rub together that people like me should not attend reunions, yet I continue to do so. Why?!, you might very well ask. I go for the sake of my dear friend with whom I made a pact years ago that we would be there for each other on these occasions.
A couple days before the reunion, she flew in from California and came to Charlottesville to spend some time with me before we headed to Arlington. As I was planning how we should spend those two days, I jotted down a list of all the great galleries, stores, and restaurants I could take her to. But as I wrote my list, I began to reconsider. My list was perfect for an indoor kitty like myself. But my friend is a nature girl. She loves the outdoors and goes backpacking in the wilderness for weeks on end, (for fun and not because someone forces her to)! I decided not to be selfish and to plan something that she would enjoy.
I took Friday off and we went to Humpback Rocks, a popular hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains a short drive from where I live. Despite its proximity, I’d never been there, because indoor cats like air conditioning and cozy couches to curl up on.
We talked and talked as we climbed higher and higher. It wasn’t long before I was gasping and gulping for air like a fish out of water. My friend, on the other hand, floated along as serene and graceful as a cloud. Every now and then she’d cast a discreet, sidelong glance at my heaving chest and would gently suggest, “Why don’t we stop and have a little rest, Ada?”
We eventually made it to the tippy top:
Oh, and by the way?
She glided up that mountain in a skirt!
The next morning we drove to Arlington and went our separate ways for a few hours. I spent the day with my family.
“So what are you going to wear to the reunion?” my sister asked.
“A muumuu. Want to see?”
From the bottom of my bag, I pulled out the crumpled ball that was my dress and gave it a shake.
“It’s super comfortable. It’s basically a big t-shirt…practically a nightgown!”
My very stylish sister looked askance at my outfit and said, “Ummm…Aren’t you supposed to wear a fancy outfit and make an effort to impress when you go to a high school reunion?”
“Yeah, well…this is it. This is all I got. I’m not a fancy person, as dad will tell you.”
Later that evening my friend came to pick me up at my parents’ house and we headed to the reunion. As we pulled into the parking lot she turned to me and nervously asked: “Well…are you ready?”
“I guess so,” I replied and we headed to the restaurant.
The minute we entered through the doorway, my friend transformed before my very eyes. She sparkled and effervesced. Her eyes flashed as she flitted around the room, talking to this person and that person. She left a shimmering trail of fairy dust wherever she went.
I…was an awkward stump.
I trailed along in her wake, my recently-overtaxed-mountain-scaling-calves screaming with each awkward step I took. I stuck my hand out awkwardly here, went in for a bumbling, awkward hug there, and had wooden, awkward exchanges…
I made it through the evening and was relieved to finally slip back into my parents’ house late that night. As I mentally took stock of the night, I began to reinterpret my performance in a more charitable light. Perhaps I had exaggerated my awkwardness in my own mind…Unlike at the last reunion, my face wasn’t shockingly red from sunburn. This time I hadn’t aggressively guffawed during a moment of silent remembrance.
“Hunh!” I thought to myself with a creeping sense of pride and perspective, “I scaled that mountain, dammit! Just like I scaled Humpback Rocks!”
As I peeled off my name tag, I realized my dress was stuck to my skin. Unbeknownst to me until that very moment, I had brushed up against poison ivy somewhere along the Blue Ridge. I’m not exactly sure how long the rash on my shoulder and arm had been weeping, but I could now see that rivulets of yellow pus were visibly oozing down my arm. Crusty bright orangey-yellow dry tracks revealed to me that this had been going on for quite some time…possibly for hours.
And that’s how I killed it yet again at another high school reunion.
Earlier this week we spent an evening with friends.
We were celebrating the 12th birthday of their daughter. Our girls met each other as toddlers in the Little Sisters Preschool in our old neighborhood. When I did the math, I realized our girls have been friends for a whole decade: a marvel!
When I was a child, my family blew around from town to town like tumbleweeds, wherever the winds and my father’s schooling or career took us. At my daughter’s age, I had moved six times and had never been in one place long enough to make lasting friends.
One of the great joys of finally settling down has been the ability to forge friendships with longevity. It makes me happy to think that my kids will have friends they’ve known since they were tiny. Although I’ll never have that experience, I am delighted and amazed to have friends I’ve known for decades.
Last week I spent a long weekend in Tucson, Arizona with some of those friends. A few years ago my college friends began getting together once a year. Three out of the four of us live on the East Coast, but Debbie moved to Alaska and has missed all of our reunions. This year, we made a special effort to plan our reunion around her already scheduled visit with her daughters to Arizona.
“Hey! I was your age when I met your mom for the first time!” I exclaimed to her 17 year old, whom I had just met for the first time. “Your mom was so sweet, she took me out for dinner for my first birthday away from home. Your poor mom! I was so homesick, I cried the whole time!”
That was then:
This is now:
More on Arizona tomorrow…
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm: for love is strong as death…
On Saturday we went to a beautiful service for my friend Peter. Residents who had been mentored by him painted Beta Bridge in his honor.
At the reception we saw a couple who had been our very first friends in Charlottesville. We hadn’t seen them in ages. Almost twenty years ago now, I attended a UVA Women’s Club event for newcomers. I was desperate to make friends, but there was only one person there who looked even remotely close to my age. I assumed that her mother had brought her along. I struck up a conversation with Emily and was delighted to discover that we were about the same age and had both just moved to Charlottesville. We had both recently gotten married and were trying to finish up our dissertations while our husbands were just beginning their academic careers. Overcoming my natural reticence, I told her that I was not going to leave without her phone number.
For many years we got together on a regular basis, but the last time we were really in touch was right after the birth of their third child. The baby had come so fast, they didn’t even have time to make it to the hospital. The baby was born at home with Peter giving instructions to Emily’s husband over the phone. At church the next Sunday, Peter and I chuckled over his easiest delivery ever. That was years ago, and now we were meeting again at Peter’s funeral. In his honor, we made a commitment there and then to rekindle our friendship. Just as I had resolved not to leave without Emily’s phone number all those many years ago, we resolved not to leave the church without putting a date on our calendars to get together.
On Sunday we were sad to learn that yet another friend and fellow church member had died that day. My daughter and I talked about other friends we had lost touch with and decided that it was high time to check in with Dr. B. I asked my daughter to write a note to herself to remind her dad about this. The girl does not mess around:
Dr. Bradley was our neighbor at the first house we lived in when we moved to Charlottesville. He had been a Colonel and an army doctor – a true officer and a gentleman. My English husband once said Dr. B epitomized all the things he loved most about America: he was generous, wide-eyed with wonder, curious, eager to learn, and open-hearted. Before we had even moved in, he put up bluebird houses for us and had planted tomato plants for us to enjoy. He would come back from trips to local orchards with bags brimming with apples and peaches to share with us. At Christmas, he would bring over a plate of the cookies he made using his late wife’s recipes. As a retiree, he was able to audit UVA classes and he would often take advantage of this benefit by sitting in on my husband’s classes on political theory.
We learned far more from him, though. After living in New York City for many years, my husband and I were faced with an acre of lawn and more leaves than we had ever seen in our lives. We kept putting off the Sisyphean task until finally one weekend we decided to face the music. We began to laboriously rake massive piles of leaves toward the woods. Our arms and backs were stiff, but we had only managed to move the leaves a few feet. Dr. Bradley strolled into our yard carrying a leaf blower and a tarp. He helped blow our leaves into piles and showed us a far easier method of moving the piles by loading them onto the tarp and dragging them to the woods. We were so grateful for his help, but deeply embarrassed to take it at the same time. We kept trying to hint that he had done enough for us, but he cheerfully continued to work alongside us until it became too dark to see.
“What time shall we start tomorrow?” he asked. We demurred, but he insisted that he loved using his leaf blower and that it was fun for him to spend hours and hours helping us clear our yard.
“Well,” I responded, almost believing him, “We’re going to church tomorrow, but we should be back by 12:30.”
“OK!” he said, “I’ll be back then!”
The next morning we woke up stiff and sore and decided that we would sleep in rather than go to church.
We were still lolling around in our pajamas at around 11 am, when to our horror we heard Dr. B’s leaf blower roaring into action. We couldn’t possibly let our elderly neighbor take care of our lawn, but if we went outside, it would be obvious we were goofing off rather than going to church as I had proclaimed we would be doing. Of course, we threw on our clothes and slunk out of the house to help Dr. B help us with our leaves.
One Halloween, I made a special point of visiting Dr. B’s house with my sons in tow. They were dressed up in Scottish kilts and I knew he would appreciate this as he had just been to Scotland on a tour:
We found him sitting in a dark living room, reading a letter by the dim light of a floor lamp. It was from his grandson, who was serving in Iraq. Dr. B wanted to read out loud to us from the letter, so we sat and listened. Just a few weeks later his beloved 20 year old grandson was killed in action.
We moved away from our first neighborhood and then two more times after that. Dr. B moved too. We tried to keep in touch with him, and visited him a few times in his nursing home. He always had things set aside for the kids…
The last time we visited Dr. B, we brought him some peaches we had just picked at the orchard. He wasn’t at home, so we left them for him at the desk. We never heard back from him.
It was time to reconnect, so I looked Dr. B up today. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that he died almost a year ago, on January 19th. He was 93. I wish we had kept in better touch. I wish we had had the chance to say thank you and goodbye. Dr. Bradley’s name is written not only on our arms, but on our hearts.
We’ve been getting ready for the holidays…Around Halloween time, I was wandering around the dollar bins at Target. In my mind I could hear my mom’s repeated admonition: “DON’T BUY JUNKS!” But her voice was overpowered by the siren call of the best Target dollar bin loot ever! I got three white ceramic houses with holes in the back into which you can insert tea lights. On Saturday I went back to buy more. Tragically, they were all gone. Shoulda bought more junks when I had the chance!
That evening my daughter and I got dressed up for my son’s piano recital and realized our outfits perfectly coordinated. Obviously, a photo was in order! The dogs insisted on getting in on the action:
After the recital we raced back home to welcome some very special guests…I feel very lucky to have a close friend I’ve known and adored since we were just twelve years old. She lives in California, so we don’t get to see each other very often, but as is the case with the very best kind of friendships – time and distance don’t matter. I was so happy to get a chance to catch up with her and to finally meet her fiancé.
Looking forward to going to their wedding next September!
I had a conversation with one of my friends recently about a curious phenomenon she’s noticed lately. Whenever a crisis arises, she immediately looks around for an adult to handle the situation…and then suddenly she remembers she’s an adult. I could immediately relate to this. It’s always a shock every time I realize I’m no longer a child, or even a young adult.
Last week was all about adulting. For example, after YEARS of saying “We’ve GOT to write a will!” – we finally did it:We also came to terms with the fact that our youngest child no longer needs a babysitter. Every summer our friend and former neighbor would host “Camp Barbara” for my daughter and some of her friends. She would take them on adventures, teach them manners, introduce them to new games, cook with them, and throw parties for their birthdays. Whenever I tried to sign my girl up for any other camp or activity, she would complain bitterly and say, “No more camps! I only want to go to ‘Miss Barbara’s’!” This year Miss Barbara announced that my daughter and her friends were ready to be on their own this summer. This was highly disconcerting for her young charges, who were not yet ready to be kicked out of the nest. To tell the truth it was just as disconcerting for the girls’ parents, who were not yet ready to face a summer without Camp Barbara. The girls had the lovely idea to show their love and appreciation for their beloved Miss Barbara by throwing a (surprise) party for her for a change:The day after the party, I hit the road for the almost five hour drive to Charlotte, NC.
A little side note here, to explain the thoughts that were in my head as I headed down 29 South…When I was a little girl, I went on a field trip to our local fire department. The fire chief impressed upon us the importance of planning an escape route in case of a fire. The minute my dad got home from work that evening I shared with him what I had learned and begged him to come up with the fire escape route forthwith. Being an amenable sort, he agreed. We walked up to the second floor and he walked me down the long, narrow hallway from my bedroom to the bathroom. He cast his eye about the bathroom until it landed on a plastic hairbrush. He placed it on top of the toilet tank and demonstrated how to use it to break the window. “And then you can jump out the window!” he concluded. It never occurred to me to ask him why I couldn’t just open the window. I didn’t sleep a wink, so certain was I that our house would become a blazing inferno that very night. I would have to have all my wits about me to make it to the bathroom, avoid piercing my jugular on the jagged edges of the bathroom window, and to leap far enough out of the window to avoid dashing my brains against the stone patio two stories below.
With the same sense of conviction that I had those many years ago, I was absolutely sure that, having just written a will, I was definitely going to die en route. But this year was my 25th college reunion. (25 years – WHAT?! How is that even possible)?! I’ve never once been back to my college since the day I graduated, but I have kept up with a few of my friends. Last year they came to Charlottesville. This year we met up in Charlotte. Sometimes, adulting means doing things that terrify you. And so I made the drive…
Even though we’re adults, 25 years out of college, we played in the rain:
We visited the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art:
…and had a blast in the open studio playing with watercolors:
We fell into a comfortable rhythm: eat, nap, play, eat, nap, play. (Perfect for babies AND
old people adults)!
We ate at wonderful restaurants, but my favorite was Amélie’s, a French bakery and café. with delicious food and charming décor:
We promised to meet up again next year, because when you do finally grow up, you realize you never outgrow your true friends.