A Christmas Letter Between Old Friends
On vacation together – one more kid yet to come
Published in ChicagoNow, December 30, 2014
I only receive one Christmas letter in recent years, and it generally arrives sometime in January. (LOL – you know who you are!) I write back, remembering how important she was to me and filled with nostalgia for our brief but intense friendship. In our annual letters, we resolve to stay in touch, but we both know that another year will fly by without much communication. In fact, since she moved away from the Chicago area in 1975, we have only seen each other a few times and have spoken by phone and emailed infrequently.
I used to hate receiving the annual Christmas letter from folks who sent it to brag about all they and their kids had accomplished. Facebook killed those letters. Now people can subtly brag year-round. You know what I mean. The post generally says something like, “What a huge expense taking Caden to Barnes & Noble every week to get a new supply of books. He reads them so quickly (way above grade level!).”
In case you skip over these kinds of posts rather than “liking” them, you can see the short version in the “Year in Review” Facebook creates for its users. So, no, I don’t miss this kind of Christmas letter at all.
But my friend who still hand-writes her annual note (her fingers are not as arthritic as mine, I guess), well that’s a different story. What is it about a friendship that stays with you forever, even when your communication is reduced to an annual letter and a few emails and phone calls?
To understand, I have to go back to 1971. We were living in Prairie Shores, a high-rise apartment on the old Michael Reese Hospital campus in Chicago. Our husbands were medical residents, our income was small, and our isolation was considerable. For the most part, we were confined to the small area surrounding the hospital that housed five high-rises, each with a sandbox, as well as a small park, and a mini shopping area consisting of an independent grocery store, a drug store, and a restaurant. And we couldn’t afford to eat at the restaurant.
We were young new moms staying at home with our infant sons. Her mother had died and mine lived out of town. One of her sons was 9 months older than mine and she also had a baby. That made her my expert in child rearing. How lucky I was that she was such a calm, sensible mom who could laugh at most anything. Well, maybe not at her younger son pulling a dresser down by climbing up the drawers, but that’s another story.
Every morning at 7:30, my phone rang. Which sandbox should we go to, or did we want to start at the park? Your apartment or mine? By 8:00, we were out and about, snow or rain, frigid or hot weather. I can’t remember what we talked about for all of those hours. Only that we laughed a lot, figured out how to parent our children together, and shared some sadness as well.
Call it karma or fate, but our oldest kids ended up with PhDs in similar fields. They even roomed together for a semester in Cambridge. Was there something about the way we raised them together those first three years?
Well, residencies end and folks move on, ending up all over the country. I stuck close to Chicago. She ended up in Oklahoma. We met for vacations when the kids were small, and then life just happened. Now we are both grandparents. Last time I saw her, we swapped stories about that. Not surprisingly, we were pretty much on the same page.
When I think of her, especially at this time of year, I still miss her. We were so young back then that these lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel’s Old Friends seemed totally improbable, but now here we are:
Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy…
Time it was and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.
I’m going to finish my Christmas letter for my dear old friend, but it won’t be in the mail until 2015. That’s OK. She understands. Happy New Year, dear friend.
The Christmas letter thing stopped after I wrote this, but we occasionally talked or emailed each other. I don’t even remember how it happened, but we started zooming around March, 2021, a year into the pandemic. We have been meeting virtually with another friend from our Prairie Shores era, and it has been great. It’s so easy to talk about almost anything. The chemistry we had 50 years ago is still there. This is the one good thing that came out of the pandemic. There is nothing like an old friend sharing a virtual park bench (not so quietly) and keeping our friendship alive.