I discovered a letter you wrote to me dated 8/6/83. It was slipped into the pages of an old cookbook. What was I doing thirty years ago—making gravy?
You had just gotten married and were expecting a baby. I was still single. “Where does the time go?” you asked in the opening line. Your dad recently retired. That’s when your dad was still living as was mine. Before the fragile brittleness of mortality entered in.
You say you’d love to come to Chicago, but your husband has a new job and can’t get away. In Lima, Ohio. “Well,” you write, “you have to start somewhere.”
We’d become friends while freshmen in high school. Different schools. I still cannot remember the exact circumstances, but it involved Young Life and meetings with guitars and exuberant singing. “It Only Takes a Spark to Get a Fire Going.” We ended up sitting next to each other and at one point in the song you turn to the person next to you and “pass it on.” The summer before tenth grade we volunteered to work at a Young Life camp in the hills outside of Pittsburg, PA for inner-city youth.
In your letter you mention people we met at camp and continued to hang with through college. Different colleges. You attended Ohio State and I went to OU (Ohio University). “Terri Sparling should deliver her twins any day now!” “Yesterday was Mark Bruce’s birthday,” you remind me. All people I only have a tenuous grasp of who they are today.
“How are things for you?” you ask. “How’s your summer so far?”
If I remember correctly I was trying to figure out what life was all about. After graduating from college and failing miserably to find a job, I’d come to Chicago to join a commune. I know—not exactly what I was originally thinking either. But as things turned out, the lifestyle appealed to me. Filled a few holes left by a dysfunctional family. Which, by the way, in your letter, you questioned my decision to skip a visit home. “I understand your parents kind of nag on you, but Jane I’m sure they love you.” In retrospect your encouragement now sounds sort of sweet and naïve.
“Pray for me.” You confess you are missing college, your family, all the people you were used to surrounding yourself with. “I just need a friend!”
I fold the letter and return it to its place in the cookbook. You were just here a few weeks ago visiting. The last time I saw you was ten years ago. And before that, maybe ten more years. Yet, even with the passing of time and living half a continent apart, we are still friends. We’re still passing it on.