Somewhere Out There by
200
(210 Stories)

Prompted By Reconnecting

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

Chicago Sun-Times article, August 31, 1968, with headline
McCarthy Delays Leaving, Blames Raid

I met Ellen in the summer of 1968 when we were both working at the McCarthy for President national campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C. We became good friends doing delegate research together. In mid-August, we drove out to Chicago, along with two other girls (and I use the term girls because we were all still teenagers, or 20 at the oldest), as part of McCarthy’s staff for the two weeks before and during the Democratic Convention.

I met Ellen in the summer of 1968 when we were both working at the McCarthy for President national campaign headquarters.

The featured image is a newspaper article about a press conference McCarthy held after the Chicago police raided the 15th floor of the Hilton Hotel, where we and the other campaign workers were staying, and dragged us all out and down to the lobby. The cops would have arrested us all if McCarthy hadn’t stopped them. Ellen and I were at the press conference, although we didn’t know we were being photographed. (She got the clipping later and sent me a copy.) We both left Chicago on Senator McCarthy’s plane on August 30th, my birthday. He wanted to make sure all his staffers got out of Chicago safely. It may have been one plane that went to New York first and then on to Washington, or there may have been two different planes. I was going to New York, since I lived in New Jersey, and Ellen was going back to Washington. The girl who owned the car we drove out in must have driven herself home.

Ellen and I kept in touch for several years. She was in New York, at NYU, and I was in Cambridge, so we were close enough to see each other from time to time in one place or the other. When she finished college in 1970 she got a job writing obituaries for the Washington Star (the other D.C. paper besides the Post at the time; it folded in 1979). After a couple of years she got a real reporter job at a newspaper in Binghamton, New York and moved there. Before I drove out to California for law school in 1974, I stopped in Binghamton to visit her for a few days.

I invited her to my wedding in March 1983, although I didn’t really expect her to come all the way out to California. I also had an East Coast reception that fall at my aunt’s house in Staten Island, and she did say she would come to that. I was looking forward to seeing her and meeting the man she was involved with. Then at the last minute they had to cancel the trip, and she wrote me a long, emotional letter about their relationship and why they couldn’t come.

We may have kept writing letters for a little longer, but it tapered off, and once I had a baby in 1985, I was hopeless as a correspondent. So we lost touch.

In 2002, I was working at a job that was sometimes demanding, but also had long stretches of not that much to do. I had a computer in my office, and it was still the early days of discovering all the information you could find on the world wide web. In my free time, I started looking for people from my past. (See Don’t You (Forget About Me) for other efforts in this regard.) One of the people I thought about was Ellen. I discovered one of those people-finder sites and typed in her name. It gave me a short list of people with that name and their ages. There were two that were the right age. In order to get specific contact information, I did have to pay some money, but as I recall it was only a few dollars for the one search (a lot less than they charge now), so I did it. I was given the addresses of these two Ellens of the same age, one in Texas and one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I wrote a long letter, made a copy of it, and sent it off to both places, explaining that I had been given these two addresses and was sending the same letter to both. I included my email address and telephone number, so if either one turned out to be the right Ellen, she could contact me in one of those ways if she chose. Then I waited.

About a week later I got a long handwritten letter from Ellen. As soon as I saw the handwriting on the envelope, I recognized it, without even looking at the return address. She was living in Pittsburgh and had no idea about the Texas address. She acknowledged that she could have replied by email, but said it had been such a thrill for her to get my physical letter in the mail that she wanted to give me the same experience. And it was a thrill!

It turned out that she had changed her last name, so I was lucky to find her. It wasn’t because she had gotten married (the usual reason), but because she had become estranged from her father and decided to use her mother’s family name instead of his. She had made that change many years earlier, but fortunately for me, there was still a trail with her old name.

After those initial letters, we then turned to email since it was so much faster. We began to scheme about how we could get together. After months of discussion, we finally cooked up a plan. In August 2003, I would be taking my daughter Sabrina to college in Aurora, New York, after a family reunion in eastern Pennsylvania. At that same time, Ellen was going to be in upstate New York for some reason I no longer remember, driving there in her own car. She would meet me in Aurora, we would return my rental car at the airport in Ithaca, and then I would drive back to Pittsburgh with her. This led to a complicated transaction when my family bought our plane tickets to go to the family reunion. Five of us flew from Sacramento to Newark, but while my husband and two younger kids flew home from Newark on a round-trip ticket, Sabrina had only a one-way ticket, and I had an “open jaw” ticket with a return flight from Pittsburgh. By buying that ticket, I was putting my faith in Ellen not changing the plans.

Everything worked out perfectly. I had booked a double room at the Aurora Inn for two nights. The first night Sabrina stayed there with me. The next day we moved her into her dorm at Wells College (see Launching my firstborn), and when Ellen arrived late in the afternoon, she went directly to the Inn, where I met her. The second night Ellen stayed with me at the Inn. The following morning, after an emotional good-bye with Sabrina, Ellen and I returned my rental car and headed off to Pittsburgh. It was a six-hour drive, but it seemed like nothing, because we talked nonstop the whole way. We probably stopped to eat and/or get gas, and I think I drove part of the time, but who can remember? I just remember that we had so much to say, catching up on everything that had happened in the 29 years since we had last seen each other in Binghamton! I spent several lovely days at her house, and she showed me all the sights of Pittsburgh. (While I was there, I also reconnected with a high school classmate whom I hadn’t seen in an even longer time.)

Here’s the only picture I have of both Ellen and me from that visit. We are in a park, standing in front of some giant statue, of which you can only see the feet. I am mortified about the way my hair looked; all I can say is that it was very humid in Pittsburgh, and I hadn’t yet discovered mousse.

Although we vowed that we would keep in touch, and not let so many years pass before we got together again, our correspondence has been spotty, and it has now been more than seventeen years since that visit. She sometimes sends me a birthday email, since she remembers the date from Chicago (I must confess that I don’t remember when her birthday is). And then we do a little back and forth catch-up, but that’s it. The last one was in August 2018, when she wrote “we’ve been friends for 50 years!” Of course I wrote back to thank her for remembering, but the conversation ended there.

Early this month, as I was starting to think about what story to write on the Reconnecting prompt, I got a message out of the blue on Instagram that Ellen was following me! She is not on Facebook, and I had no idea that she was on Instagram. I immediately sent her a private message on Instagram, but I didn’t know if she would see it or not. After three days, when she hadn’t answered, I sent her an email as well. When I finally heard back from her, first on Instagram and then via email, we decided to have a video chat.

Our video chat was wonderful, and lasted two hours! We probably could have talked even longer, but it’s hard to sit and stare at a screen for so long. I hope now that we have reconnected again, we will really keep in touch this time, and figure out a way to get together after the pandemic is over.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: , been there, moving, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    A perfect story of re-connection, Suzy! And I love the “coda” in the last two paragraphs about re-reconnecting (if you will) with Ellen in the last month.

    It is clear from your story, and I think will be from other ones on this prompt, that there are certain friendships that “pick up where they left off” regardless of the number of years of separation and silence. You definitely have that with Ellen. So thank you for sharing your (and, to some extent, her) story with us.

    And thanks for the title earworm, a song I loved and haven’t thought of for years. As such, at least for me, the perfect song for this prompt.

    • Suzy says:

      You’re right, we reconnected in 2003, and then RE-reconnected this month, thanks to Instagram, of all things (where I almost never post). And each time, it was as if no time at all had passed.

      Glad you enjoyed reconnecting with the title song, I love it too, and was so happy to have it playing in my head as I was writing this story.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    This is a wonderful story, Suzy. It has inspired me to reach out to my dear friend from when our first children were born. She moved away when they were three, but we still have an amazing bond. Unfortunately, we have let our letters, emails, and phone calls lapse. I’m going to try to email or call today.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I’m so happy it has inspired you to reconnect with an old friend. I hope you do get in touch with her today. Then you can write another story, or add a postscript to your existing one.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    It is nice to reconnect with someone you had such a good relationship with. Once that bond is established, it seems it is really cemented and time can’t erase it. You’ve done great detective work, Suzy. But the basis is deeply rooted and your two hour live chat pays testament to that. I hope you can connect live soon.

    • Suzy says:

      The detective work is fun, especially when it is successful. I have tried finding other old friends but often am stymied by name changes. Luckily, I was able to find Ellen even though she had changed her name. You are right that no amount of time can erase the bond we have.

  4. Marian says:

    Enjoyable story, Suzy, and congrats on the re-reconnection. Funny how relationships can come and go, and survive! And, interesting about when you had kids how the relationship lapsed. I “lost” a few friends when they had kids and I didn’t, and your story has inspired me to try to reconnect with them.

  5. Old friends are the best friends, especially when you have shared an important experience. I’m glad you re-reconnected.

  6. A wonderful friendship story Suzy!
    Getting away for a few days with a girlfriend is heaven, I’ve done it a few times – a woman’s retreat with my cousin, a professional conference with a colleague, political campaigning out-of-state, to a beach just for fun – and after Covid hope to do it again!
    Hoping you and Ellen have more lovely get-away times together!

  7. Absolutely love the story, Suzy. So many touchstones. First, Binghamton. My hometown. That’s where the house featured in my story this week is. I left immediately after graduation in 1971 when my parents sold the house and moved to Florida. And your means of reconnecting: in an earlier story (title escapes me at the moment) I described using the same approach to try to reconnect with my roommate of four years and mentioned that one of the two letters came back with a “not at this address” in handwriting. His handwriting. Finally, Aurora: magical place on Cayuga Lake.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Tom. I remember your story “Still Nosy After All These Years” on the Tracking People Down prompt, and your roommate who was also named Tom. I offered to help you track him down but you declined.

      How fun that you connect with both Binghamton and Aurora. Aurora is a charming place, and my daughter loved going to college there, but it is very difficult to get to from the West Coast.

  8. What a fun story, Suzy! The phrase “gal pals” came to mind while reading this…and don’t we treasure them! There’s just nothing like an old friend with whom you share so much history. How sweet and thoughtful that she wrote you a handwritten letter in return as you two got the ball rolling again.

    Here’s a little hint for anyone inspired by all the great stories here: I’ve had success in finding old friends by searching for their parents’ names. Twice I found obituaries listing, as “survived by,” their children, including the married names of daughters.
    .

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Barb. And thanks for the hint, although it requires knowing the parents’ names. With most of the people I’ve been searching for, I never knew the parents, and have no idea what their names were.

  9. Khati Hendry says:

    Does anyone remember the old Brownie song–“Make new friends, but keep the old–one is silver and the other gold”? Lovely story–this friend is clearly golden.

    • Suzy says:

      Of course I remember that song! Not only from my own Girl Scout days, but from many years as a leader of my daughter’s Girl Scout troop – they still sing it! And you’re right, Ellen is clearly golden.

  10. This is a very satisfying story, because it keeps having happy endings in spite of the long hiatuses (I hope that plural form exists) in your bonds. Wonderful to contemplate the long arc of your friendship.

Leave a Reply