My friend’s daughter called this past week. I have known the young woman her whole life. Our connection runs deep. As with several other of my closest friends’ children, I’m the avuncular outsider.
Within her own family, my friend’s daughter has long been its most sensible and grounded member. As a measure of family dysfunction, it is noteworthy that my friend’s daughter first exhibited these fine qualities as a little girl.
In fact, her mother and I have been close friends for fifty years, give or take. She was abroad a couple years ago when the pandemic hit with tsunami force, and she stayed hunkered down abroad for at least the better part of one year. Fortunately for her, she was visiting the country of her birth where she maintains friends and family and enjoys material advantages. In her home country my friend was born to wealth, which she could not legally take with her when she emigrated here to attend school. It is only slightly curious that I cannot remember my friend ever holding down a steady job, other than the period when she and her husband ran their eponymous restaurant/bar in a building they purchased and rehabbed, and partially occupied with their two kids. Nonetheless, based on my observations, my friend has managed to live quite comfortably in her adopted country.
In addition to her own family, my friend had two older sisters, one of whom had been living her here with her husband even before my friend emigrated. The oldest sister lived all over the world but often ended up here for extended stays with her two sisters. Together, they decided to import their mother, who traveled here joined them. The girls acquired pricey real estate, so accommodations were never a problem. I know firsthand because as a younger man I once flopped temporarily in one of their buildings. However, this is a story for another day.
My friend’s oldest sister died suddenly from a massive heart attack, maybe fifteen years ago or more. In many ways she had been my favorite.
My friend returned home in time to attend Lee’s wonderful memorial at Deer Tick Manor in August 2021. It was the first I’d seen my friend since before the pandemic. A few weeks later we met for breakfast at our go-to former greasy spoon, today recast as a semi-trendy diner replete with valet parking. My friend was already busying herself for departure on a new open-ended international journey.
When I spoke with her daughter this past week, she informed me that she had no idea when, or even if, her mom would return to the United States. Amidst recent and widespread media reports of violence and political tumult there, my friend’s daughter assured me that her mother doesn’t venture much outside her rarified surroundings. And I know that my friend is not the type of individual to make political waves that could land her in trouble with the government. I feel confident my friend can remain above the fray no matter how fraught conditions there might get.
I inquired of my friend’s daughter about the rest of her family. She said her surviving aunt was still crazy as a loon, and that the aunt’s charming but shiftless adult son predictably remains both charming and shiftless. I also learned from her that her brother recently had a successful show where he sold every one of his paintings on display.
This news brought a smile to my face. I recall him as a truculent hellion and a poor student, first as an adolescent, then a teenager, whose conduct and attitudes nearly drove his concerned mother over the edge.
He took after his father, a would-be artist. Although both the father and son often exhibited what I would describe to be an artistic temperament, the dad’s act was posturing bluster, whereas his son seemed genuinely off kilter but in interesting ways. Eventually, the young man apprenticed with a local artist/actor, in fact, a minor celebrity of sorts, whom I suspect recognized in his young protégé real talent and potential. I last saw my friend’s son several years back when his mother took Lee and me to his first show at the mentor’s small but bright gallery, where I was blown away by several of his pieces. I was therefore not surprised to learn from his sister that his most recent show had been a sellout. I ought to have picked up one of his pieces on the cheap when I had the opportunity. I hope the young man finds satisfaction and success as an artist and achieves inner peace.
Next, I asked about her grandmother. I‘ve known my friend’s mother almost as long as I’ve known my friend. She is a remarkable woman. For example, I have always found it remarkable that “Mom” does not appear to have acquired even one word of English in all her time in these United States. I find it remarkable that we had no problem communicating despite her lack of facility using English and my own shortcomings regarding her native tongue. It is remarkable that “Mom” still managed to become a U.S. citizen. And, as confirmed by my friend’s daughter, it is remarkable that “Mom” at the age of 106 is not only physically healthy but still has her wits about her.
The force of what I heard next from my friend’s daughter nearly staggered me: her grandmother is both blind and deaf. Talk about life imitating art. I could not help but flash to Doctorow’s story of Homer and Langley. There were no words in me to express the churning feeling in my gut generated by this awful, borrowed image of Mom imprisoned in her own body, completely conscious yet unable to communicate.
Finally, my friend’s daughter caught me up on her own life. She grew up a flatlander, who a few years back relocated to the western mountains with her husband and has since discovered that she is a nature lover. She enthusiastically told me how much she likes to run her dog off-leash in the foothills of the Rockies, a far cry from her concrete haunts back here in the city. I was happy to learn, but hardly surprised, that she has landed an excellent job with benefits serving in government. Even better, she can work from home three days a week.
My friend’s daughter’s tone turned a bit sad as she quietly confided that they have had trouble making new friends in their adopted hometown. I think about Lee, who is gone; my own dwindling circle of friends, mostly people around my age in varying degrees of deteriorating health; my occasional efforts these days to form new relationships with my younger neighbors. I offer no advice.
Fortunately, my friend’s daughter is not merely a serious person, but also a tough one. She will persevere, I think. I plan to stay tuned.