Last week I had the rare privilege of witnessing a reunion between two old friends. We’ve seen televised reunions where two people have been brought together after life’s circumstances kept them apart for decades, but few of us get to see the private expressions on each of the faces when a door is opened and two old friends lay eyes on each other for the first time since they were in their twenties.
I was looking forward to this planned reunion ever since my sister told me our mother wanted to “drop by” her old friend V’s apartment when they came to visit me. It seems that since she was practically in the neighborhood (two hours away), she should say hello after communicating through Christmas cards and a few telephone calls for over 60 years. Mother told me that it might be her only chance to see her.
I strive for stoicism if at all possible, but who could keep it together when Dad rang the bell and we stood for a moment in anticipation before the door swung open and an eighty-five year-old stood behind a man inquiring who we were. As soon as he identified our group, V pushed her way through and she and our mother embraced on the threshold with an unrelenting grip you rarely see in octogenarians. Mother’s side of the family is very emotional, and she responded predictably to this combination of joy, excitement, realization and, I assume, the shock of finally being together after 61 years of separation.
“You said you’d be back soon!” cried V. What must they have thought of each other after separating when they were about 20 years old, and reuniting after their children had grown older than their parents had been when they first met? V grabbed out stacks of dusty picture frames to show us her children, their children, and their children. Mother has difficulty with her words sometimes, but V, after declaring she’d had three strokes, been clinically dead and rose up in the bed after being in a coma, managed to keep the conversation flowing with skills that surpass my own!
V is a woman who loves life and apparently fights daily to hold onto it. She’s tried to abandon her walker wherever she can leave it, and commanded our mother to throw away her cane. She’s outlived two husbands and gives every impression of outliving a third. I could see why our mother, a young girl of 19, had been charmed by this vivacious olive-skinned woman who gestures wildly with each exclamation, who protects the ones she loves and who expresses herself without inhibition. In the 1950s, she was surely a standout to our mother’s sheltered upbringing.
Asked if V was anything like Mother remembered her, her appearance was obviously not the same, but we were told that her personality, her eyes and her joy were how she remembered them.
Social media helps all of us stay in touch with many friends, and we have technology to enable our seeing every single photo that’s posted, but think about those people who have touched our lives in ways that perhaps they’ll never know; people we haven’t seen in years. I have some of those with whom the bond is deep, and when you reunite after years, the conversations resume as though one of us had merely left the room for a few minutes.
Mother and V knew nothing about each other except what had been jotted down in a few sentences on a Christmas card and through photos Mother had sent. V, apparently, never sent photos so she was a complete surprise on every level. Still, the two basked in each other’s presence and the visit seemed all too short.
After we were on the road home, I wondered if either of these women, knowing that neither can wait another 60 years, pondered the possibility of seeing each other again.
© 2016 by Patrick Brown
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