Today, I'd like to commemorate a very dear friend who passed away very unexpectedly last Friday. We lived on different continents, me in the USA and Mavis in South Africa, but the distance between hearts is nothing but a hop, skip and a jump. We were in close touch made possible by the technology we have today. A few years ago, I wrote a story about our friendship that was published in a Chicken Soup book. I'd like to post it today with both sadness and joy--sad because I have lost a very special friend and joy that I'd had the privilege of knowing her for 29 years.
During this Thanksgiving season, be grateful for your friends for they are a true blessing.
New Friends, Faraway Friends, Forever Friends
By Nancy Julien Kopp
The tour guide stood at the front of our bus, mic in hand. “You can visit the fantastic aquarium,” she said, “or you can shop along Baltimore’s harbor.”
My choice was lunch and shopping, but I wasn’t quite sure what my new friend would choose. Mavis looked at me and announced in her musical voice, “A fish is just a fish, but shopping….!” I nodded my head in agreement, and we both laughed. Dozens of women on this convention spouse tour left the bus and headed in various directions.
My new friend lived thousands of miles away in South Africa. Her British family had emigrated there long before she was born.
We had a wonderful afternoon eating Crab Bisque on a restaurant’s outdoor deck, the special scent of the sea and boats bobbing in the harbor making it a memorable meal. We had a perfect view of one the tall ships, sails furled. Both of us ate with relish and talked about our children who were close in age, then browsed the quaint little shops. Mavis bought a small teddy bear for a grandchild soon to be born but was at a loss when it came time to pay. She held out a handful of American coins. “Nancy, find the ones I need to pay.” We middle-aged women giggled like schoolgirls as I picked out the correct amount.
As the tour bus sped back to our nation’s capital, I reflected on the past days. My husband, Ken, and I had gone to the huge cocktail party on the opening night of this week-long bank convention. There had to be 300 or more people in the large ballroom. We didn’t know a soul, so walked slowly across the room holding our drinks. Another couple was doing the same from the opposite side. He was tall and slim, and she was short, blonde and a bit on the round side. We met in the center, smiled at one another and introduced ourselves.
We could not have been more opposite. My husband headed a small Trust Department in a bank in a mid-sized college community in Kansas. Mike headed the Trust Department of a very large British bank in Johannesburg, South Africa. Despite the thousands of miles between our homes and different cultures, we hit it off immediately. Ken and I had been invited to a party later that evening given by an investment company. Ken asked our new acquaintances to accompany us. “Is it alright to crash a party in America? Mike asked. Ken assured him it was OK if they were with us. I rolled my eyes at my husband but seconded the invitation.
The pattern was set for the remainder of the week. Mike and Ken attended meetings all day while Mavis and I headed for the spouse tours. The four of us had dinner together each evening at various restaurants near our hotel. We traded information about our towns, our families, and our backgrounds. We ate and laughed and soaked in the atmosphere of Washington, DC. The bond between us became stronger with each day. It pleased me that the men got along as well as Mavis and I did. Not always the case with two couples.
Finally, the last day arrived. As we’d done each morning, Mavis and I met in the hotel coffee shop for breakfast. Ken and Mike had eaten earlier before their final meeting. For the first time, I was not enjoying myself with my new friend. Only because I knew I would never see this witty, warm woman again.
I felt as if I’d known her for twenty years, not a mere week. I pushed my scrambled eggs round and round on my plate, my appetite suddenly gone.
“We must write one another, Nancy,” Mavis said as she poured each of us a second cup of coffee. We exchanged addresses and lingered as long as possible. When we could delay no longer, the two of us walked to the elevator and I pushed the button a bit harder than necessary.
I told Mavis how very much I’d enjoyed the week, but my voice quavered as I did so.
She put her arms around me and we gave one another the warmest of hugs. Sometimes, a hug can convey so much more than words. This dear woman stepped back and in her British accent said, “I know we will see each other again.”
As I looked into her blue eyes, part of me believed her while another piece of me thought “Fat chance of that!” Emotion welled and the lump in my throat was so big that all I could do was nod, give her another quick hug and flee inside the elevator. The tears flowed as I walked down the hall to our room. How awful, I thought, to have such a wonderful new friend only to lose her at the end of a week.
It turned out that Mavis was right and I was wrong. Letters flew across the ocean, then later we faxed messages, and finally both of us had e-mail and we could chat as often as we liked. Now, we even skype one another.
In the twenty-four years since we met, Mike and Mavis have visited our home three times. On each of those visits, we have taken them to parts of the USA they’d not seen before. We have gone to South Africa to visit them twice, where they squired us from one end of their beautiful country to the other. We have met in England, Ireland and Germany to travel together, spending three weeks each time in one another’s company. Never a cross word, never did I feel like I couldn’t wait til the time was over.
We have been warmly welcomed by Mike and Mavis’ children whenever we have visited their homes in South Africa and England. Our children have graciously hosted our dear friends when they have visited here in our country. Over the years, the circle of friendship grew to include our extended families.
We clicked that first night in Washington, DC and our friendship strengthened more and more through the years. We have shared our hopes and concerns for our children. We have heralded the arrival of each other’s grandchildren, one by one. We have laughed together, we have held deep discussions about our individual countries. We’ve chuckled over the senior moments we all seem to have now, and we have savored this unusual friendship. Two couples from different parts of the world who found they had a great deal in common. Once new friends, then faraway friends and finally, forever friends.