Friday, April 19, 2013
My friend Nancy is dying of lung cancer. I've not seen her for many years but we had been corresponding. I love letters and she wrote some of the best -- witty, breezy, informative and, best of all, long.
Nancy and I go back to 1943-44 in Southeast Washington when I was a teen-ager and she was a young married woman of 25 in Fairfax Village where I lived during the war.
My father, after the Meridian Hotel for Women was finished took a job in Thule, Greenland where he helped construct the airfield where bombers and cargo planes could have a rest stop between the U.S. and Europe. He was gone for several years and my mother was left with the many women in the complex for company.
Nancy was one such friend, ten years older than I, ten years younger than my mother. Young, fun, an avid reader and seamstress, she was from the Midwest, married to an FBI agent and a little lonesome herself.
She and my mother grew close and teased each other about such things as the communal clothes lines where, as Nancy said, my mother "handled things dry", feeling and turning them so that someone else's things could go up on the line.
Nancy had one of the first pressure cookers and had a great story about the spaghetti that exploded all over the ceiling. She sewed a very nice coral colored dress for me which I wore a long time. We smoked our Camels and she introduced me to Sara Teasdale and Elinor Wylie.
Just before we were ready to take off for South America in the summer of '45, she had my mother and me for dinner. I had my first shrimp cocktail.
After we got to Caracas, she and my mother corresponded regularly (each with four and five page airmail paper tomes filled with thoughts and events and gossip for us from home.)
I saw Nancy just before my wedding when she was back in town visiting. She and her husband now lived in Columbus, Ohio. She looked great and gave me a Revere Ware saucepan which I am still using. When my second son, David, was born, Nancy wrote that she had had a miracle pregnancy after years of no children and she had a son, also named David.
Over the years, my mother, always moving around on yet another construction job with my father, kept in touch with Nancy and at my mother's death, it became my chore to inform Nancy. She was so supportive and loving with great memories of my mother to share. We took up corresponding where they had left off.
It was always a joy to hear from her. A year or two ago she sent me a five or six page letter my mother had written to her about the revolution we had gone through in Caracas which also contained some eye-opening thoughts about me and where I was going!
Last November, a mutual friend of ours died in Arizona and I wrote the family. The return letter thanking me for my sympathy mentioned that Nancy had called a few weeks before that saying goodbye. She was ill and had not much time to live.
I was numb. I'd had no idea that she was ill. I knew she still smoked and had various ailments. We had exchanged "organ recitals" of our troubles off and on over the years, but there was nothing this major. I didn't know what to do.
Weeks later, I finally took action by getting her phone number and calling. We had not spoken in forty years. A woman answered and said she was a companion. Nancy was "tied up," she said, with the hospice nurse who had just told her she only had a few months. The companion confirmed it was lung cancer and told me to call back in a little while.
I didn't. I was so shaken, afraid that I wouldn't know what to say, that I would cry on the phone, any number of bad scenarios.
It was a week or two before I got my courage up and this time the companion told me that Nancy had suffered a stroke and was not in good shape. She could not speak well and was now delusional.
It has been a sad guilt trip for me that I didn't call in time to exchange love and encouragement. The cards I sent could not be enough. Memories of her fun, spunk, and strength will have to carry me through. She was always so supportive of others and I shall miss her.