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  • Niles-
    Have tried to reach you through Jean’s email & facebook.

    Mom is sick – stage 4 lung cancer, spread to the brain. Getting a second opinion at Memorial Sloan Kettering today (2/8/10. Otherwise, scheduled for surgery Thurs 2/11/10 to remove two frontal lobe tumors.

    Did you know she wrote an essay about you and Jeannie? She won first prize.

    We set up a website for her for updates and messages:

    http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/janicealbert

    Her phone is: 860 344 0775
    Address: 111 DeKoven #203
    Middletown CT 06457
    Email: jmalbert2002@earthlink.net
    She is also on facebook & has posted numerous essays.

    The essay about you both is below:

    Four-Minute Friendship
    by Janice Albert

    Last summer, my daughter Amy and I were looking for ways to entertain her four-year-old daughter, when we hit on the idea of the Glastonbury Ferry. “Let’s go out on the river,” we chorused, “the Connecticut River! You’ll love it.” Crossing the Arrigoni Bridge, we followed Route 17, then turned onto a two-lane road that winds past red barns and farm houses. The ferry landing has been there since 1655, and is now a little park, fitted out with benches and picnic tables. Maple trees filter the shade, and their brawny trunks lean out over the river, feasting on sunlight. A Toyota was also waiting, but we were going to board as pedestrians.

    The water sparkled as the ferry, piloted by the tug Cumberland, slid up to the dock. The Toyota edged past us, we found seats, and watched the driver and her passenger get out of the car.

    “You’re from California!” my daughter exclaimed, pointing to their license plates. “Yes, we are. We just moved here,” came the cheerful reply. We were looking at a married couple in their forties, who were looking back at us with open interest. As the ferry slipped into the current, we learned that they had discovered this route on MapQuest while looking up directions to Target. She was researching the history of the Home Study movement for a Master’s thesis; he was compiling background for a novel. They were staying in Glastonbury. “How long did it take you to figure out that your neighbors were never going to speak to you?” my daughter asked. Her mischievous question sparked a moment of surprised recognition. We all laughed, then scrambled to exchange phone numbers and e-mails in the remaining moments of our four-minute journey. They hopped back into their car and we waved goodbye to our new friends, Jean and Niles.

    Over the next nine months, we got together for Sunday dinners and one or two holidays. They proved to be congenial company, happy to meet family and other friends, as well as Popcorn, the guinea pig, and Lucky, the new dog. Like my son-in-law, Niles turned out to be a computer guy and was blogging about the New England winter and the birds that visited their yard. He did not mention the neighbors, who never did say hello. Each time we met, there was progress in Jean’s research. Once they brought a lovely bottle of champagne from Schramsberg Winery, and I was able to share with them that this beautiful California vineyard was described by Robert Louis Stevenson in The Silverado Squatters, his account of his honeymoon in the Napa Valley. Today, the tasting room at Schramsberg is decorated with menus from White House dinners at which their sparkling wine has been poured. It was a lovely treat to discover Schramsberg in Connecticut.

    Some things we did not do. We did not count anything, such as the number of times we invited them vs. the number of times they invited us. We didn’t wait for a written thank you or even a call. We did not try to match the Schramsberg gift with one of equal value. We accepted an evening of good conversation and laughter as reward enough for the effort. None of this behavior would have been approved by my mother, an inveterate social bookkeeper. That is, for every gesture from a friend, she required a reciprocating, equal return, a brunch for a brunch, a cup of tea for a cup of tea. She believed friendships ought to be among equals in the most literal sense, the husbands’ earning power, the level of education, and the number of children or not. You get the picture.

    My mother was not from New England, but she would have felt right at home in a society that fences in its affections with hundreds of requirements. What others have described as standoffishness, or reticence, or even snobbery, she would have defended. She would have used the word “reserved” to dignify the practice of not reaching out to strangers, reserve suggesting a quality of being rare and calling for protection. I also know that my mother was afraid of being taken advantage of, afraid of being shown up, and afraid of being made to feel ignorant. She was afraid, period. Given the choice, she would rather be lonely than embarrassed.

    As a young adult, I tried to follow my mother’s teaching, but it just didn’t work for me. Her rules set up a barrier within which she could feel safe, but at such a price! I had married and moved to the West Coast where people behaved differently. I learned over a period of time that I had to stop waiting for the return invitation and the thank you call within the week. If I wanted company, I had to reach out to people I liked and cared about, whether they “followed the rules” or not. As a result, my children were raised in a home that enjoyed people of different ages and backgrounds. We celebrated birthdays and graduations —even the Winter Solstice. As I encouraged my daughters to cultivate friendships across conventional social barriers, they became good judges of people. On the Glastonbury ferry, as she reached out to Jean and Niles, exiled in Connecticut, I saw my daughter acting on her better instincts, her generosity and compassion, but also her finely tuned assessment that she could trust these people. Knowing them might even be fun. (Really—taking the ferry to get to Target…who does that?) I was proud of her.

    On May 5, 2009, we met for the last time. Jean had completed her research and their lease was up. The obvious place to say goodbye was the ferry landing in Glastonbury. Our picnic supper was simple—potato salad, sausage, good crackers with mustard, and, of course, a light wine. In the warmish air of a spring evening, we ferried across to Rocky Hill and back. I presented them with a beribboned bottle of hard-as-rocks nutmeg as a memento of their nine months here.

    Oliver Wendell Holmes says, “There is no friend like the old friend/who has shared our morning days. No greeting like his welcome,/no homage like his praise.” This may be true, but for many, the company of a childhood friend in adulthood is a simple impossibility. Our parents moved because of work, or we have gone to college out of state, or we fell in love and followed our heart away from home. If we are lucky, making new friends was something our parents encouraged, even modeled for us.

    Further along in the same poem, Holmes writes:
    Fame is the scentless sunflower
    with gaudy crown of gold,
    But friendship is the breathing rose
    with sweets in every fold.
    With his choice of the word “breathing,” he conjures not a monument in stone, but a living thing with a vitality of its own, whether it spans years, months or even days. We may be plodding along an especially dark path, yet a stranger appears before us, offering a rose. Saying yes to friendship is saying yes to life.

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