A Christmas Letter from an Old Friend by
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1972: With Connie holding Diane’s baby Lauren, our sons Jon, John, and Nicky

Written April, 2015 for my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real**

What is it about a friendship that stays with you forever, even when your communication is reduced to an annual letter and a few emails and phone calls?

I only receive one Christmas letter in recent years, and it generally arrives sometime in January. My friend still hand-writes her annual note (her fingers are not as arthritic as mine, I guess). It’s several pages of blue ink on real stationery that’s crammed full of things I want to know: the health of her husband, the latest project she is working on, what her three sons are doing, and cute anecdotes about her grandkids. I write back, remembering how important she was to me and filled with nostalgia for our brief but intense friendship. In our annual letters, we resolve to stay in touch, but we both know that another year will fly by without much communication. Since she moved away from the Chicago area in 1975, we have only seen each other a few times and have spoken by phone and emailed infrequently. And yet, the love we shared has somehow stayed intact.

1975 get together with Connie’s family at Disney

What is it about a friendship that stays with you forever, even when your communication is reduced to an annual letter and a few emails and phone calls?

I used to hate receiving annual Christmas letters from folks who sent them to brag about everything they and their kids had accomplished. Facebook killed these letters. Now people can subtly brag year-round. You know what I mean. The post generally says something like, “What a huge expense taking Caden to Barnes & Noble every week to get a new supply of books. He reads them so quickly (way above grade level!).” In case you skip over these kinds of posts rather than “liking” them, you can see the short version in the “Year in Review” Facebook creates for its users. So, no, I don’t miss this kind of Christmas letter at all. But I start checking the mail in early January, looking for the letter I would miss like crazy if it didn’t arrive by the end of the month. When I see that fat blue envelope with her return address in the corner, my day becomes something special. I read it several times and then rush to my computer to reply. It feels like receiving a love letter, and in a way that’s what it is.

1972: Diane and Connie with our little ones.

To understand, I have to go back to 1971. We were young new moms staying at home with our infant sons, living in Prairie Shores, a high-rise apartment complex on the old Michael Reese Hospital campus in Chicago. My friend’s husband and mine were medical residents, our incomes were small, and our isolation was considerable. Her mother had died and mine lived out of town. One of her sons was nine months older than mine and she also had a baby. That made her my expert in child rearing. How lucky I was that she was such a calm, sensible mom who could laugh at most anything. Well, maybe not at her younger son pulling a dresser down by climbing up the drawers, but that’s another story.

Every morning at 7:30, my phone rang. Which sandbox should we go to, or did we want to start at the park? Your apartment or mine? By 8:00, we were out and about, snow or rain, frigid or hot weather. I can’t remember what we talked about for all of those hours. Only that we laughed a lot, figured out how to parent our children together, and shared some sadness as well. She was the friend who rescued my one-year-old son when the elevator doors shut before I could take him off, resulting in a ride to the top and back for him and hysteria for me. She was the friend who saved me when my diaper bag became entangled in the escalator we were riding up and down with our little ones to entertain them on a cold winter day. She was the sister I had longed for but never had. Call it karma or fate, but our oldest kids ended up professors in similar fields. They even roomed together for a semester in Cambridge. Was there something about the way we raised them together those first three years?

My kids (minus daughter #3) and Connie’s

Well, residencies end and folks move on, ending up all over the country. I stuck close to Chicago. She ended up in Oklahoma City and then Bethesda. We met for vacations when the kids were small, and then life just happened. Now we are both grandparents. The last time I saw her, we swapped stories about that. As always, we laughed until we cried. Not surprisingly, we were pretty much on the same page.

Diane’s kids and mine

When I think of her, especially at the beginning of a New Year, I still miss her presence. We were so young back then that the notion we would be grandparents and turn 70 seemed impossible to imagine. But now here we are, both wondering how so much time had passed since we took our kids on the shuttle bus to downtown Marshall Fields, or went on a vacation to Disneyland with four adults and six kids all fitting in a jumbo station wagon with the back seat folded down, or meeting again when our sons shared that apartment, or sharing wedding and grandkid photos.

 

2008: Last time I saw Connie in person

 

2014: With Diane at restaurant in Vienna (our last major vacation together)

Even as the years pile on, there is a thread that will always connect my life to hers. So, I’m going to keep writing my Christmas letters to my dear old friend. They may not be in the mail until after the New Year. That’s OK. She understands.

**Update December 2021

We don’t need that letter anymore because we reconnected via zoom this past year. Diane, another dear friend from that era, with whom I have stayed in closer touch, joined us. Unbelievably, even after so many years have passed since Diane and I saw or even talked to Connie, the connection is still there. Now we are all grandparents, sharing how that works during a pandemic, and supporting each other through serious illness (Connie’s husband — now doing well), anxiety, and disappointment over the obstacles to seeing our children and grandchildren who live out of town. Time passes, but the love endures.

With apologizes to Diane, who wasn’t really sleeping, our latest zoom

 

 

 

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Yes, Laurie, those letters are worth waiting for. Catching up with old, dear friends is worth everything. It is true that the Internet has made snail mail archaic, but we can still treasure the connection.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I have shoe boxes filled wit cards and letters. Someday, my kids will likely toss them, but it does feel good for me to know I have them. I also keep the annual calendars my daughter and I make, and every year, I make a book of my favorite photos. I’m running a bit late this year, but I know I will get to it soon. Hope all is well, grandma!

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    What a lovely story, Laurie. The pictures are great. And it’s wonderful that you have now connected by zoom. I too have a couple of people I have known for a very long time, and time doesn’t seem to have changed much between us. I connect mostly once a year, and I do look forward to those times and letters. Since I don’t Facebook, and haven’t gotten into zooming or skyping or facetiming with friends, those connections are still welcome.

  3. Marian says:

    It’s wonderful that you three reconnected over Zoom, Laurie, which might be a more personal, positive replacement for the holiday letter. However, what a thrill to get that blue envelope. Hope you, Connie, and Diane continue your terrific friendship.

  4. Wonderful story of a truly wonderful and enviable friendship, Laurie. When I see two young mothers laughing and talking as they push baby carriages or strollers down the street I remember those days and wonder where the time went!

    I hope when travel is safe once again you and Connie will be able to hug in person.

  5. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Laurie, about the importance of that yearly connection. Great pictures and a great narrative about two young mothers supporting each other, and how that bond survived over the decades. And how now, with zoom, you can connect even more closely, seeing and talking to each other almost as if you were together in person. Love the zoom screenshot from just the other day, even though none of you are looking at the camera.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    Much like Marian, Laurie, you have written beautifully about that one special friendship and the connection you look forward to every year in the holiday letter. (And otherwise disdaining such notes.) I am so glad it has endured, which is certainly understandable given all the adventures you two have shared over the years.

    And, yes, one of the ironies of COVID is what you describe in your update: the ability to actually be a little closer with distant friendss via Zoom. May the friendship continue to endure — however it is accomplished!

  7. Lovely epistle, Laurie. I was especially struck by your description of the lasting quality that friendship can endure, even over long periods of separation. The photos leave a wonderful impression of young families and that final Zoom capture says it all. Hooray for the interior shots of everyone’s private spaces. We learn so much!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Charles. I am always astonished by the enduring love Connie and I have for each other, even after so many years of living apart and minimal communication. This awful year brought us together via the magic zoom machine. That may be one good thing that happened in 2021, a year that was mostly terrible.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    A friend like that is one of the true joys of living!

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