February 15, 2011

Visiting a Friend Turns an Ordinary Day into Something Special

Today, after visiting the dentist, I finally felt up to a drive to visit my dear friend, David, who was so ill at Thanksgiving that he had to go into a Hospice House. He rallied, though, and after a week was able to return home, but due to the remote location of his home and other factors, he decided to close up his home and say yes to the kind offer of friends to live in their spare room for a time. He is doing so well; no need for a wheelchair or walker, and his memory and wit are back full force.

We had a great lunch discussing books and politics. I showed him my Color Nook and we talked about Time magazine's latest article on "Singularity" and David's first trip to the opera at age 10, in NYC. His mother was a fascinating woman, the top female executive in advertising in the 1930s. After seeing the first opera performance his mother asked him if he liked it. "Oh yes!" was his reply. "Would you like to go back tonight?" And that day, March 12, 1937 (I believe he said), my friend, as a child saw two performances at the Metropolitan Opera.

David's father was the headmaster of a boys prep school in Albany, New York. He spent 13 years in military school, some of the time reciting the names of all Russian composers while marching around the school grounds. His only sibling, a sister, died at age 13 of rhumatic fever; his father was taken with a sudden illness and paralyzed. David carried his father in and out of the house in the days before power wheelchairs and handicapped access ramps.

Educated at Harvard and the University of Edinburgh ("educating the world since 1583"), David is the only person whose grammatical corrections I welcome during our conversations. He tells me he wrote a book about his life once, typed on a manual typewriter. But he destroyed it. Not having the opportunity to read his manuscript bothers me, for I love his stories. The one about taking the Queen Mary to Europe. He was invited to a party on the first class level where he met several famous people who enjoyed his company and invited him back each night; he still remembers the cabin number. He remembers the time the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and the Normandie (I believe it was the Normandie) were all docked in NYC at the same time. He remembers the first time he saw the Manhattan skyline, coming down the Hudson River on a boat with his mother. He fell in love with it and had the freedom throughout his childhood to visit his mother there every weekend. Early in our friendship we spent a day at the Columbus Museum of Art. In the 20th century section, David provided stories about a few of the artists who were showing in New York City during the late 1930s and '40s.

David is the father of five children, but the daughter he was so close to, a talented actress of whom he was so proud, drowned in an upside-down car in a pond two weeks after her wedding, decades ago. July is always a difficult time of year for him.

A soldier and dressage horseman during WWII, an interior decorator, a playhouse manager, hospice volunteer, David has been a wonderful friend to me since we met twelve years ago. I can say anything to him, or nothing. And he is the only person, other than my husband, who ever hears me swear, though I usually do it just to make him smile.

Lucky Press was only a year old when I met David. He has listened to me discuss each new title and read many of them, too. He has thanked me a dozen times for giving him a coffee table book on the history of Monte Python, but he gave the book back to me in early November before a stroke. I didn't want him to give it to me, I thought it meant he was leaving me forever, but it only meant things were changing. He was dying and not upset about it, he told me.

Today, as we were driving back from the little dive of a lunchenette, we were listening to beautiful classical music and David said, "I know now what is sacred." "What?" I asked. "Life," he answered. "Life is sacred." And then we talked about him attending services at Chartres Cathedral in France, a building I have only read about in art history class years ago. And in this man, this friend, I realized how much those in their 80s and 90s have to share with us. If we'll only take a drive, share a lunch, ask a question, and listen to the answer.

Here are photos from my drive today. An now I must return to work, as, thankfully, the dentist feels the infection in my face IS healing (after 4.5 weeks) and I must just allow more time for the healing to take place). I am going to believe that, take the rest of the super-antibiotics, and keep taking, and drawing, pictures!


Glynis said...

What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing your day.

Simon said...

Janice, Thanks for such an interesting post.

When I read about people with such interesting lives who grew up in times of so much change and prosperity, it also gives me a feeling of sadness. I sometimes think our world has changed so much from those of the early 20th century, and people like this do not come around so often.

An inspiring read for me today, I only hope I can look back at my own life with the stories to entertain my own family.

Thank You.

Lui said...

What a delightful post. So sorry to hear of your loss. I built many friendships like this between being a kid and working in a retirement center. Stories from previous generations have always been fascinating to me. I have a book from my last elderly friend of his life. I have often thought that many people should have some sort of memoir because there are so many things we don't know about them till they pass, then it's too late to learn more.

I hope your face, as well as your heart heal well, dear Janice.

Dina said...

Janice, I"m so sorry to hear of your recent loss. I know how much you cared for your dear friend. It's a blessing you saw him on Monday. Like you, I truly enjoy hearing the stories our older friends and family have to share.

As for your photos - sheepies! Wool! Did I tell you I started spinning and am making my own yarn? It's an amazing process and makes me feel even more connected to the generations of women before me who spun and knitted.

I'm so glad to hear your infection is almost cleared up. Gee, that really took a long time! As a previous poster said, I'm wishing for your face and heart to heal.
Much love!

ausurfer said...

Sorry to read of David's passing. I re-read this post just now and the warmth with which you described the time together is very moving.
My thoughts are with you today.
Kim x

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