Friday, June 13, 2014

An Enduring Friendship



It is one of those times of the year that a sense of sadness sets in.  Ann has been away, visiting her good friend, Maria, who she considers the sister she never had, in Palermo Sicily, staying with her and husband Beny. 

It’s a long story, one best told by Ann.  Maybe I’ll ask her to write something in more detail when she returns, but here’s a summary.  Ann and I met in 1965 when she was hired by the publishing firm I was working for.  She was soon promoted to manage Customer Service and she needed a secretary / administrative assistant.  Publishing companies are notorious about their low pay and the salary she was permitted to offer was really for an entry level – even a less than a full time – employee.  A then 17 year old Maria applied for the job and Ann and she (seven years her “senior”) hit it off.  Ann recognized an inherent intelligence in Maria and vulnerability as well.  Maria’s family originally was from Sicily.  After immigrating, her father worked as a house painter on Long Island.  She had two younger brothers.  No one spoke English in the family, except Maria.  So Maria became the spokesperson for the family, and the family depended on her, to such an extent that it was overshadowing her maturation as a young woman.

Ann became not only became her boss but her mentor as well.  Maria tried to get her own place in New York, to break from the family, but her parents would not approve.  However, they would approve of her finding a job and moving back to Sicily, on her own!  (A place they knew and considered safer, especially with relatives there.)  And that was what Ann encouraged Maria to do, at least temporarily, so should could claim her own life.  I could go into detail as to what happened (Maria’s excellent command of both Italian and English made her exceptionally well qualified for employment there), but I’ll leave that up to Ann if she is so inclined to write.  Maria’s “temporary” relocation to Palermo Sicily became a life, marrying Beny 40 years ago, raising a son, David.  Of course Maria and Beny frequently visited the US to see her parents while they were still alive and to see us, but Ann has made it almost a yearly pilgrimage to be with Maria, her family and friends. 

I went with Ann a few years ago to attend their son’s wedding, but hers is basically a bonding trip for them, no place really for me during three long weeks, so I attend to the “home fires.”  That now means preparing the house for the onslaught of a Florida summer and possible hurricanes, playing lots of piano and reading and some writing, and getting ready for our trip north to live on our boat in Connecticut.   

Although apart, there are now emails and Skype although I prefer the former.  Ann has had good Wi-Fi connections and she has her iPod with her so although apart, we can share our experiences, such as some photos while she’s visited. 

In the “old days,” we wrote letters and post cards, with a rare overseas call (very expensive then).  I remember when we were first married, living on Rabbit Hill in Westport, our first house.

Ann made her first trip to Palermo in 1972.  We had our “first child” a frisky Miniature Schnauzer puppy, Muffin.  We loved her dearly.  I was eagerly looking forward to receiving Ann’s next letter (she had promised a lengthy one in her prior one) so that night I drove home from my office in Westport and opened the door (in which there was a slot for mail), and found the mail, as well as her letter, mostly eaten by our pup.  Especially her letter – Muffin must have identified the scent.  I pieced together what I could. 

While she has been gone the last few weeks, I read a collection of Updike short stories, The Afterlife, and I’m just finishing Julian Barnes’ Nothing to Be Frightened Of which is part memoir, part philosophical treatise on mortality.  In fact, the confluence of reading these two titles during the past few weeks strikes me as being somewhat eerie.  I’ll probably have something to say about them when I’m finished with the Barnes’ book. 

I welcome back Ann on Father’s Day and will await her tales, especially as this year she and Maria made several side trips, one in particular that took her to Milan where they stayed and toured for a few days.  Maria and Beny have bought an apartment there, a home away from their home in Sicily, and the city in which their son and his wife live. In fact, Ann can describe this better than I – this from an email I just received.  It has a surprisingly bitter-sweet ending, one I suspect is unlikely, but?….

We are going today into the center of Milan.  We'll visit the famous Duomo walk around in the more fashionable part of the city with the beautiful designer shops, you know the Worth Ave/via Veneto of Milan.  I love this city & especially the fantastic neighborhood where their apt is located.  Think trees everywhere, outdoor cafes, little boutique filled charming streets, crammed with great restaurants one after the other with food markets, fresh fruit & veg & flower markets on every corner practically!  The upper west side of NY vibe, with a touch more sophistication.  And young people everywhere.  At night, they fill the caf├ęs & restaurants to overflow….They will be living in a real city with every amenity at their fingertips including an extremely efficient subway system right at their doorstep.  They do not need a car to live very comfortably here.  In fact, I may have seen my beloved Sicily for the last time.  Now it will be Milan if I come again!