Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dear Old Friends

The email from my dear friend Tim  a few mornings ago ended on a poignant note: "Dear dear dear dear friend -- take your vitamins!"

What had prompted this admonition was shocking: Ed Keifer, one of Tim's closest male friends for many years had died of cancer. Tim reflected back on all the holidays their families had shared, watching their children grow up together. The last time Tim saw Ed, who now lived on the East Coast while Tim is in Chicago, was last June at Tim's daughter Eliza's wedding. As they toasted the occasion together, Tim looked at his obviously ill old friend and knew that this might be one of the last times they would see each other. Still, Ed's death was a shock. Tim wrote to me, grief-stricken, with new awareness of his own mortality and a heightened fear of losing other old and treasured friends.

Our old friends -- who were children with us or college classmates or co-workers when our careers were new and our lives still so open to possibilities -- are ever more precious as we age. They understand us in ways that no one else can. They know where we've been. Who we are now. They know -- firsthand -- our life challenges and triumphs, sorrows and joys. And we know theirs.

Perhaps my oldest friend is Mary Laing Vaughn. We were babies together as our families moved into a newly built L.A. neighborhood shortly after the end of World War II. Our fathers were war veterans. Our mothers were newly stay-at-home moms after their wartime jobs ended. And we kids grew up as near siblings.  Mary and I celebrated my second birthday by eating the cake with our hands, grossing out the other party guest Sandy Gahan, who was a more sophisticated four-year-old. Mary and I played together, put on neighborhood shows and adored the Mouseketeers together. And even though we haven't seen each other in decades, we communicate by email, snail mail and occasionally by phone and it's as if we saw each other just yesterday.

       My 2nd birthday with Mary Laing (r) and a bemused Sandy Gahan (c)

             Mary (l), Diane Uglow (c) and I during childhood playtime

Mary, who lives in Pennsylvania and Florida, also sent me an email this week, telling me how sad she was to hear of former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello's death.

It was an interesting moment of the blending of our child selves and older selves: our young selves mourned an idol we adored together when we were children, someone who was an icon of graceful adolescence. Our older selves can't help but reflect on our own mortality even as we feel sad for Annette and her family.

This mixture of youth and aging is an inevitable part of our long-time friendships.

Bob's best high school friend Wellington Stanislaus (Stan) calls him "Rocky" -- an affectionate nickname only Bob's high school friends ever called him. Stan, who was a popular athlete in high school, befriended Bob when he was a shy newcomer to the school. He helped Bob get a succession of summer jobs at the Camp for the Junior Blind in Malibu during the last years of high school and the first years of college. These summers still have a special place in Bob's memory -- a time when he was doing work he loved, feeling that he was making a difference, particularly when teaching the campers music. He loved working side by side with Stan and the companionship of the other camp counselors. And he greatly admired the camp's director who had used much of his wealth to build and run the camp.

                                       Stan, a star athlete and stellar friend, in 1962

Stan's life since those idyllic summers has not been easy. He spent some years in a Catholic religious order and emerged -- as another friend of mine has -- in his later years underemployed and with scant Social Security benefits. Stan is strong in spirit, but his body has been frail. He works off and on as a cook, living alone in an apartment in Fresno, CA. But when they connect on the phone, Stan and Bob slip easily back into the friendship of their youth, seasoned by the wisdom and experience of age. No one but Stan knows first hand what those summers so long ago meant to young Bob. And an older Bob rarely fails to close a conversation with his old friend without telling him that he loves him.

Our old friends are irreplaceable. 

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't hear from a dear old friend. I see certain emails and they always make me smile.

There are the almost daily uplifting messages from my Hawaiian friend Jeanne Nishida Yagi, one of my most treasured and enduring friends from college. She has remained filled with faith and optimism even as she has endured recent back surgery and her husband Jimmy had heart surgery. They have been recovering both apart -- cared for by family members -- and, finally, together.  When I think of Jeanne, I remember the fun and challenging times we shared in college and also the unspoken depth of the friendship we still share.

                   Jeanne, a bridesmaid at my 1977 wedding, with me and our friend Jane Martin (r)

There are the fun and newsy ones from my childhood friend Pat Hill. Pat and I went from kindergarten through high school together. She stood up for me in grade school when other kids shunned me because my parents weren't married in the Catholic Church. She refused to attend parties when I wasn't invited. I marveled at her courage and loyalty then and now. We've seen each other through many challenges and many changes, including her battle with spasmodic dysphonia that make speech difficult until her surgery several years ago. Now she helps others with the disorder both individually and at conferences. And I'm looking forward to catching up with her face to face when we attend our 50th high school reunion together this coming weekend.

                                                         Pat Hill circa 1977

Pat at UCLA Voice Conference 2013

There are the wistful emails from my friend Dr. Chuck Wibbelsman, with whom I wrote several books, including the best-selling The Teenage Body Book. We have shared much more than simply a professional relationship. Once we were lovers and talked of marriage before he came to the then painful conclusion that he was gay. His initial coming out nearly 40 years ago was tempestuous and it was something that we shared, changing both our lives. We've since shared many major turning points in life -- from the joy of my wedding to Bob to the grief over the loss of Chuck's entire immediate family of origin. He currently lives in San Francisco with David, his companion of 34 years. Since I've moved to Arizona, Chuck and I have seen each other only once and miss the long talks over dinner we used to have so easily when I still lived in California.

                                                 Chuck with me at my wedding 

                                         Chuck with his beloved Aunt Angie in 2011  

There are cherished emails from my friend Sister Ramona, whose first year of teaching high school journalism was my senior year. That year launched a 50-year friendship that has been one of the joys of my life. Even though we don't get a chance to see much of each other -- she's now a counselor for students at Stanford University -- we keep in touch and our occasional dinners together are great fun -- and filled with her unique insights and witty observations.

When Bob and I were living together before we were married, I invited her over for dinner and Bob was aghast. "Does she know our situation??" he asked frantically. "What do I call her, for heaven's sake? I've never met a nun before. I mean, do I call her 'Your Majesty'?? Or what?? Oh, this is going to be terrible!" But it wasn't. Two minutes after she walked in the door, Sister Ramona had Bob laughing and she later came to our non-Catholic wedding in a spirit of joy and celebration.

Not long ago, Bob and I were discussing the meaning of success as well as who might be the most successful person we personally knew. He beat me to the obvious conclusion: Sister Ramona. "She has had such a lasting impact on so many lives," he said. "Hands down, she's the most successful human being I know." I smiled in agreement.

The fact that she is flying down to L.A. for the 50th reunion celebration next weekend is wonderful news!

                  Sister Ramona visiting when Bob and I were living in sin - 1976

There are the fun emails and periodic get-togethers with my high school friend Eileen Loubet Adams, who lives in Northern California, but who joins me for high school reunions at 4-5 year intervals (she was in the class behind me) and whom I see when she comes to visit her sister in Tucson. We laugh together as we remember lines from plays we did together in high school. And we have supported each other through some major challenges in our lives, mostly recently when her wonderful daughter Andrea, only 30, died suddenly of a congenital heart condition. We'll be roommates during my upcoming 50th reunion -- and also next year when Eileen celebrates her 50th!

                        In high school, Eileen (1) and me (r) with Cathy Casey (c) 

                                                         Eileen and me in 2011
Then there are the encouraging, loving emails from my friend Mary Breiner, whom I met more than 40 years ago when we both worked at 'TEEN. We shared so much when we were young -- dishing on romantic relationships that didn't work out and the emotional fallout of growing up in literary, but hard-drinking Irish families. We shared and accomplished our dreams of becoming psychotherapists. We also, in time, celebrated the relationships that worked -- my marriage to Bob, where she was maid of honor, and her marriage to John in 1985. We've also shared some of the challenges of aging -- John's health concerns among them -- and enjoy each other's calm reassurance, listening, caring and humor.

Mary and me in 1977

Mary and her husband John in 2012

And then there are the fun, sweet, and loving messages from Tim Schellhardt, my best friend from college with whom I've shared a close and loving friendship for 50 years as we segued from students to working journalists to writers facing all the issues of aging -- our weight, our cardio-fitness, our triumphs and our disappointments and, most lately, our mortality and fear of losing each other and the other people whose lives brighten our own.

               Tim and I in 1977 as he perused Bob's and my wedding album

                                                               Tim and I in 2012

The singular joy of long-time friendship was underscored recently when Sharon Hacker visited us from California.  She and her now ex-husband Steve were Bob's best friends during his first marriage to Sue.  After Bob and Sue divorced and I came into the picture, they were kind and welcoming and became my beloved friends, too. We greatly enjoyed watching their delightful children Brian and Carrie grow up to be talented, successful and caring adults. And, for the four days she was with us, it was so lovely to look back with laughter and fond memories and  somehow comforting to be looking ahead with hope, shared apprehension and a newly present sense of mortality -- together.

                                                  Sharon with Steve and Brian in 1976

                                           Sharon and Bob - 2013

Sharon grew reflective as she was leaving to return home. "Let's not let so much time pass between visits," she said. "At this stage of our lives....well, you never know."

Her words have resonated and made us resolve to be in closer touch more often with all of our old friends.

Now is an excellent time to contact a dear old friend.

Now is a great time to plan a visit to see and touch and simply be with each other.

Now is the time to tell a dear old friend how much he or she has meant to you in the past and means to you still.

Now is the time .... because love shared is never too soon or too frequent... and because you never know...


  1. You are so right. It's too easy to be busy and let the days go by. I try to make my choices by looking ahead and thinking how I'll feel later if I choose this action or that one, now.

    Lovely post. You have a wealth of friends!

  2. How lucky you are to have maintained so many long-term relationships...and I know that luck has very little to do with it. It takes time and effort to keep those relationships going and you are to be commended for making the commitment to keeping the relationships alive.

    My Dad, he's 86, lost his brother this year and is having a hard time because he's one of the few of his generation left. Now I'm making the effort to visit him in California more often. You never know how much longer we will have.

  3. Kathy, you have a wonderful gift for friendship and I'm amazed at how you manage to keep in touch and meet up with so many old friends from all over your huge country. Your relationship with each is obviously mutually enriching and the stories you tell here often very touching. A lovely post.

  4. You are surely the best of friends, to have and to hold them for so many years. As Nana says, you did your part in the commitment and your friends did theirs too.

  5. Such a lovely post and such a wealth of photographs! As I looked through them I suddenly realized how few I have of the high school period of my life... But I did have three very special friends with whom we did everything. They are still important to me and even though I don't get to see them very often, whenever we do get together the talking and laughing never stops. This year is also the year of my 50th high school reunion -- it looks as if I may be in the States at the time and able to go. Congratulations on your reunion and best wishes to your Class of '63!

  6. I have two good, genuine friends and that is all.

  7. Enjoyed reading about your 'old friends'... They are the BEST for sure... When 3 of my childhood friends and I got together for the first time in 1992--when we all turned 50, our visit was as if we had NEVER been apart.. It was amazing --and terrific. Since 1992--we have gotten together many more times --even though we all live in different states and lead very different lives. The saddest time for me was losing one of these 3 friends to breast cancer a few years ago... I miss Susan so much!!!!

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. This left me with such warm feelings inside after the horror that has been the news the last couple of days. A heartfelt thank for that. And also thank you for the long overdue phone calls I will be making to dear, long time friends I haven't spoken with in a while. Busy-ness is no excuse.

  9. Kathy, this was such a moving post. My Bob and I are dealing with some of these same feelings and issues. I have agreed with several of my friends that we must not let those days pass with out contact.
    A friend who had moved to Jacksonville a few years ago called last week. She said put on a pot of coffee was two miles away. We picked up right where we left off. Laughing about the night we were up til 4:00 am making Christmas Decorations together and other fun times.

    Have a fabulous time at the reunion. My 55th hight school reunion is in May. Bob and I are looking forward to attending.

    Thank you for your recent visits. I cannot reply by email as your address is coming up as
    "noreply". That may be for a reason, just thought I would mention it.

    Have a blessed weekend, Ginger

  10. I've been thinking about this lately as I wrap myself in a blanket of love from friends and so many of them go back so many years. Every year at this time I think of the death of my dear friend Patricia 10 years ago. Too early. But we never know. And of course with every passing year we all know we are closing in on a finish line -- we just don't know where or when it will be.

    I love that you have so many dear and long-lasting friends, but after reading your blog for quite some time now, I'm not at all surprised. I think we attract what we put out there and the power of being able to have friends who have stayed with us even when our relationships with them have changed is so important. I believe we share a part of our lives and lots of our stories with the people we know at various times in our lives and they understand -- if nothing else -- THAT PART of our world in a way no one else can. It's a bond that's hard to explain.

    I do love this post. It makes me smile. And I think now I'll send a note to my oldest (in years together) friend -- that's a story...

  11. I love how you have so many "old" friends. I too have so many friends like this. They are the best. They knew us back when. We share a history no new friend can know. Thanks for reminding us what a rich treasure we have in our dear old friends.

  12. Dear Kathy, this is such a lovely posting--a tribute to friendship and to the many, many friends that you have. I so admire your care of relationships and the many friendships that have enriched your life. You have such a gift for being a friend. You have been, I'm sure, a blessing in so many lives. Peace.