Monday, February 11, 2013

Death of a distant old friend

I received a card in the mail today that was both joyful and sad. It let me know that an old friend of many years died in December. And I do mean old. I have no idea of her age but I would guess she was at least in her late eighties and maybe early nineties. I have not seen her in fifty years, and I didn't know her that well then.
My husband-to-be, my brother, and I were all in school in a small town in Missouri, they studying osteopathic medicine and me working on a graduate degree in English. My brother in particular became good friends with a faculty member who also owned a working farm. The man used to treat me, and I remember how calloused and tough his hands were from farm work. One day he abruptly said he could no longer treat me but gave no explanation. I felt I had somehow displeased him. I also remember he predicted whatever I would die from would be ennervated from a specific area in my upper back which was weak--a thought I still remember and try to put out of my mind.
I saw less of his wife. Indeed, I clearly remember only one occasion. We all went to the farm for breakfast, and she served fried cheese, among other things. I loved it, though my brother tonight said he didn't particularly like it but it was the first thing he remembered about her too. I have since tried it but haven't been able to duplicate it.
We moved on from that town, John to Colorado, and Joel and I to Texas. A few years later we heard that this woman had left town and her husband suddenly in mysterioius and what turned out to be tragic circumstances. She moved to Massachusetts, built a new life for herself, and never looked back.
But every year I got a Christmas card from her. In tiny handwriting she detailed world travels and adventures and asked about my writing. I would reply at some length--something I don't always do with Christmas cards. I enjoyed hearing from her and was always amazed--and flattered--that she kept up the correspondence and felt a connection to me. This was the first year I didn't get a card, andd the one I received today, from a friend of hers, confirmed my suspicion. She died in mid-December. I suspect I was on a mailing list or in a card file someplace and the friend knew to send the card.
Today's card consisted only of a lovely poem that spoke of her enjoyment of people and life, her travels, her motorcycle, and the many people who shared her life. A picture on the front shows a happy, smiling woman (I wouldn't have recognized her, and I doubt she'd have recognized me) against a montage of photos of her life, including a clear one of her late husband in his army uniform. Between the poem and the pictures, I know she had a happy life after she left Missouri, and I am glad for her. I told John I hated to throw it out because it seemed like throwing away her life. I'm saving it for him.

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