Friday, January 20, 2017

Unexpected House Guests

An email from my friend, Laura, who left Chile with her four children twenty years ago, announces that she and her daughters are coming here for a funeral and need a place to stay. We have plenty of room, I tell her. Since her last visit thirteen years ago, we’ve only been in touch sporadically; our lives seemingly full and complete with family and work.  I remember her girls as children; now they’re grown women.
We set up dates to meet for dinner, lunch, coffee with other friends from the past, all Americans married to Chileans and who figured we’d always be here. It has been a time for reminiscing the days when our children played together. We wonder, “Whatever happened to….? Do you keep in touch with…?” We arrived in Chile at a time of social and economic turmoil. Oil, meat, basic necessities were in short supply. Protests, terrorist bombs, nighttime curfews were our daily bread. But we were resilient and prevailed in spite of a coup d’état and eighteen years of military dictatorship. Laura and I met at a Lamaze class while expecting our first children forty-three years ago. Doctors and relatives were puzzled by our preference for natural childbirth.
Expat friendships, formed on foreign soil, are particularly vulnerable. Some friends returned to the States. Some divorced or were widowed; others went in search of better economic opportunities. Some of us are still here decades later, sometimes drifting apart when children attended different schools or we settled in different neighborhoods or work left us little time to socialize.
Seated with two of our old gringa group, I am struck by the wonder of this encounter. “Look at us! Grey-haired grandmothers now! Did we ever imagine back then that decades later we’d be sitting around remembering the days when we were young and energetic and hopeful for the future?”
What impresses me is how quickly and easily we reconnect. The basis for friendship is still there. We feel the sorrow of a mother for her deceased child and sympathize with another over the difficulties of dealing long distance with an ailing, aging mother.
“Let’s start up our group again!  Maybe for birthdays?” I suggest.
Another day, four of us meet for lunch. More laughter and questions. We ask about the children we knew as toddlers and now want reassurance that they are doing well. We update each other on our jobs and families and share photos, names and ages of grandchildren.
Laura is the center of attention.
“I remember the cookies you were always making!”
“My Nicholas remembers your old house and the big apricot tree in your backyard.”
“It’s really amazing how we can seem to pick up the threads from when we were last all together.”
Laura’s eyes turn watery. “It’s because we lived through some emotional times with each other.”

Laura has gone. The house feels empty. She texts when she arrives in Texas: the trip went well and her heart is full. Although she came for a funeral, she received an unexpected gift: the opportunity to reconnect with old friends.
Her visit sheds blessings on me as well. I’d let some friendships lapse. Yet this is the stage in life when time is my frequent companion. Writing at the keyboard and cutting dead flowers don’t completely fulfill me. I resolve to nurture these renewed friendships. A round from my Girl Scout days comes to mind:
Make new friends, but keep the old;
One is silver, the other gold.

I open my address book and update phone numbers and addresses. Laura and I are now connected by Whatsapp.

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