Finding my Lost Old Friends by
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The picture featured in this story is me with three of my good friends from grammar and high school. I am second from the left. The two to my right are dead. The one to my left is lost to me. I have tried Internet searches to no avail. Her name was Janice Barnett. She probably married, so that name is useless. She is one of the people from my high school who never responded to requests for information. Like many people from my past, she has simply disappeared.

As I age, I reflect back over all of the people who were important to me for a period of time and then lost as our lives took different paths.

As I age, I reflect back over all of the people who were important to me for a period of time and then lost as our lives took different paths. Perhaps we exchanged letters for a brief period of time and then stopped because we were busy with our separate lives. Perhaps we simply parted ways after high school or college and never reconnected. I have tried to find them via Facebook or the Google machine, but like Janice, women from my era took their husband’s last names when they married, names unknown to me.

I was showing my wedding album to one of my granddaughters, which made me think about the women who were my bridesmaids 51 years ago. At the time, I was young and a recent college graduate. I remember telling my mother and mother-in-law I wanted to include my BFFs as well as the relatives they thought were more appropriate choices. They told me friends come and go, but family is forever.

Yellow and gold – so 1968

I have to admit they were right about that. My BFF bridesmaids dispersed all over the country, life happened, and we lost track of each other. I knew two of them had died and one lives in New York, and we stay in touch via social media. But I was haunted by my inability to find out anything about JB (same initials but not my high school friend), far left in the photo, frozen forever at age 21, wearing a ridiculous yellow bridesmaid dress trimmed in daisies.  Whatever was I thinking? But that was back in 1968. In this age of social media, how could I not locate her? It bothered me off and on. She didn’t show up on college alumni lists. Her husband’s last name was too common. All I knew was they moved to Florida after college.

Finally, I found her using her maiden name. Or rather, I found her obituary. Seems she had divorced and remarried somewhere along the line, so I was searching with the wrong name. This is the second time an Internet search for someone from the past ended with an obituary. Several years ago, my husband and I decided to look for his cousin who had moved to Texas many years ago, never to be heard from again. We had been talking about how we might want to try reconnecting. Too late.

Experiences like these make me both more determined and more nervous about finding two BFFs from high school and college, both ironically named Elaine. These old friends definitely dropped off my radar, but I think about them from time to time.

High school Elaine

The first Elaine was my high school friend and we shared a birthday. She was Elaine Rawsky when I knew her. We went to different colleges and lost touch. The last I heard about her was 47 years ago when my high school celebrated its tenth reunion. She didn’t come but somehow we exchanged letters. I know she married, became a teacher, and lived in a small town in (I think) Michigan. And that’s all. I guess I should be happy that I haven’t found an obituary yet. Still, I cannot let go of this loss. I feel like I am missing an important part of my memories of that time in my life.

The second Elaine, Elaine Wolsky, was my roommate at the University of Michigan for two years. I think Benton Harbor was her hometown. She was the first truly free spirit I met – a woman ahead of her time. I have to thank her for getting me out of my girdle and into my jeans. But after those first two years of college, we saw each other infrequently and completely lost touch after we graduated. I have no idea why that happened. We were friends who came from totally dissimilar backgrounds and ultimately drifted off in different directions. I have no photos of her. Either she didn’t take a senior photo (that would have been in character) or she left before graduating. I’m sure she never knew how much she influenced me during those college years, and I would love to tell her now.

I wish I had an iPhone back then filled with selfies with these besties. Maybe it would be easier to find them. If email had existed in the 60s, I likely would not have lost them. I also know it is a fantasy on my part that we would still have anything to talk about or that we would connect on any level. I was a very different person back then, and so were they.

During my search for JB, I was reading a book called Friends Disappear by Mary Barr. It’s really about something else, but I can’t get that title out of my head. Friends do disappear, and I wish I could meet them one more time before it’s too late like it was for JB.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

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: well written

Comments

  1. Marian says:

    Amazing BFF bridesmaids’ photo, Laurie. You are so right about friends coming and going. We can bond (temporarily) due to something in common, and then lifestyle choices can encourage us to drift away.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I guess having some ability to track people down via the Internet and social media makes me yearn once again to make contact. I have had little success, other than finding out that someone I wondered about is dead because I come up with an obituary.

  2. Well, I LOVE your wedding picture, Laurie, you look gorgeous, and what’s wrong with those sweet yellow dresses trimmed in daisies?!? It was the 60s…they were perfect! I designed my dress to be reminiscent of a woodland nymph. Go figure. I, too have had mixed success in tracking people down over the years. Some did end, sadly, in obituaries, some in dead ends (and I’d like to strangle whoever decided women should take their husband’s last name, even though I’ve done it…three times), but a couple in rekindled friendships that pretty much feel like we picked up right where we left off ages ago. How lucky we are to be part of the first generation that’s able to do this much. There’s a quote, trite but true, that you’ve probably heard, something about there being three types of friends: friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime. I use it to console myself when I think about the old friends I’ve lost track of. Thankfully we still have the memories.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      That’s so true, Barbara — friends for a season. If I think of it that way, maybe it will be easier to accept their disappearance. I do have old friends with whom I occasionally correspond, more recently via email, and it is so true that there are people in our lives that we can not see for 20 or 30 years and just pick right up on our connection. I guess these were friends for a reason. The one I’m thinking of right now was like a sister to me when we had our first babies and were both far from family support. I will always love her, even though the time we actually were in each other’s lives was a mere four years. We mothered each other and, for better and often for worse, guided each other through the transition into motherhood.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Don’t fret about those bridesmaids dresses, Laurie. They were fashionable in their day. As for friends coming and going from our lives, I understand your feelings entirely. I crave the girls I was closest to at a certain point in my life and nothing else is the same for me. I have done a pretty good job of staying in touch with most, but some do slip away and it grieves me when that happens. For you to discover that two of the girls have passed away must be very disconcerting. We were at my husband’s 50th high school reunion recently and the “in memoriam” list was alarmingly long. Good luck with your continued search.

  4. Laurie, it is true how we loose touch with friends who seem so important at the time. When Danny and I were newly married we were very friendly with a couple named Louise and Steve Garrell. Louise and I had gone to grad school together, stayed in touch, and later when we both married before either of us had children we became a happy foursome and went out together regularly.

    One day they told us they were leaving on a 21-day trip, and we all bemoaned the fact we wouldn’t see each other for 3 whole weeks!

    That was over 40 years ago, and we haven’t seen them since! To this day Danny and I joke about it, and one of us will say, “Shouldn’t we call the Garrells? They must be back by now!”

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I love your joke about the friends who never returned from their vacation, Dana. Because I left the Detroit area right after college, I often feel like that part of my life has been severed. Almost all of my family remained in Detroit and my college friends scattered all over. I had close bonds with the women I knew whose husbands were medical residents with mine. We were young moms living in high rise housing we all loathed. Once again, that group scattered, and I have been able to stay in touch with some, but others have disappeared. It’s funny how friendship groups have shifted since then, but we still have some who date back to when our kids were born and we moved to Evanston. I treasure those relationships.

      • It’s bittersweet thinking about old friends now gone from our loves.
        But 10 years ago when we bought a weekend retreat out of the city we discovered you can make new friends and form new and very rewarding relationships even in your 60s.
        But here’s something funny – our weekend house is in Connecticut, a 2 hour drive from our Manhattan apartment, and many we’ve met there are also New Yorkers, in fact several live in our neighborhood, one couple only 2 blocks away – but we seldom get together in town, somehow we wait to see each other when we’re all up in the country!

  5. Suzy says:

    That picture of you with your bridesmaids is amazing! In every era bridesmaid dresses are pretty ridiculous, so don’t feel bad that you made them wear those. It’s sad that you aren’t still in touch with them. My one bridesmaid who wasn’t a relative was someone I thought I would be besties with forever. And yet we drifted apart. We are now facebook friends, and talk about getting together, but I wonder if it will ever happen.

    Have you found anyone you searched for, other than in an obituary? From your story, it seems like you have not. It’s depressing that with all the information available online it is still so hard to find people, especially women.

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