Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The importance of keeping up friendships

I've known Connie Jenkins since 1965 when my then-husband moved us to Fort Worth so he could do a surgical residency. Russ Jenkins was just finishing that residency and would later be Joel's senior partner in a surgical practice. Fort Worth Osteopathic Hospital was fairly small at the time, and staff and residents socialized a lot. I don't remember much about those early days, except that Joel tried to turn me against Russ and Connie--he didn't much like being supervised and of couse Russ supervised him.
But after Joel left me, with four young children to raise, Russ and Connie became sort of my protectors. I saw them occasionally, though I wasn't included in many osteopathic events. Over the years that changed, and I counted on them to take me so I wouldn't have to go to dinners, etc., alone. We hit all the big events--weddings, anniversaries, banquets, etc. I remember Russ once, at a dinner, coming up behind me (we were seated at different tables). I had finished but everyone else was still eating. "The trouble with you," he rumbled, "is that you ate with Joel Alter too much."
After she retired, Connie, a general practice physician, would call me and we'd meet for lunch. Then Russ began to join us occasionally, and once in a while my 40-year-friend from Granbury, Linda, would meet us. Russ and Connie had known Linda since the day she was born. I once said to Connie that I always had the feeling Russ was looking out for me, and she said, "He was. He didn't think you'd been treated right."
Although I didn't ask Russ to do Colin's hernia surgery--something I regret to this day and attribute to Joel's influence on me--he was enormously supportive as we dealt with Colin's many stomach ailments and finally came up with a diagnosis of Crohn's disease. Russ was still looking out for me.
The last time I saw him, he was in a wheelchair--it was at my 70th birthday party, and he was hearty and jovial. I remember my kids clustering around him and giving him hugs. Russ died, maybe two years ago, after they had moved to a retirement community in a suburb to the north--too far for me to go easily. But I was at the funeral and kept in touch with Connie by phone.
Today, Linda and I went to Connie's retirement home for lunch. We three had a spirited conversation, increased I suppose by the wine Connie served us in her apartment--at 11:00 a.m., a little early for me. But we had a good visit, joined briefly by Connie's daughter-in-law. We talked of our kids and grandkids, of people we'd known, and all sorts of things. Then we had a marvelous meal in the dining room--as Connie's guests. Far more than I usually eat for lunch but really delicious--and more visiting and laughing.
Linda and I left, amid promises to return soon. The day was wonderfully pleasant, and it made me reflect on the importance of maintaining connections with people. Too many times, friendship seems like work, and we put off calling, writing, that lunch, whatever. Connie was the one at first who persisted and maintained our friendship, and I will always be grateful for that. She's a tough, strong lady, and I'm honored to call her my friend. She's also a hero of mine--for her career, her dedication to her children and grandchildren, her always upbeat attitude in the face of diversity.
I'll go to bed with happy thoughts tonight.
And Linda? She's another story of a good friendship maintained over the years--for another time.

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