I added to my growing list of losses this week. A longtime friend died.
We didn’t begin as friends, but as supervisor (Warren) and insecure editor (me). I had gotten a job as editor for Weight Watchers by vastly exaggerating my experience. Warren was given the task of overseeing the newsletter. When I put my first issue together, I anxiously asked the printer if I could still make changes. He told me to make as many as I wanted. Being an addictive reviser,I practically rewrote half the issue. But no one had explained to me that there’s a difference between correcting PE’s (printer’s errors) at no charge , and the AA’s (author’s alterations) which the company has to pay for! The huge bill exposed my inexperience and would have gotten me fired if Warren hadn’t assured the powers-that-be I was going to do a “fine job.” (He gave me his own warning in private.)
I continued as editor for the next 18 years, sustained by his faith in my ability. Corporations can be cutthroat settings, but I never knew him to undercut anyone. He was that rare being, a gentleman. But his orderliness intimidated me. I’ll never forget the day we were having a brief conference and I borrowed one of the pencils lined upright in the leather cup on his desk like soldiers awaiting their marching orders. When I put the pencil back, he told me to replace it point down because it had been used. I’m glad he managed not to comment when he saw my cluttered desk!
I finally left the job in order to freelance and we fell out of touch except for routine holiday cards. When he retired, he and his wife, Helene, moved to Florida and I lost contact with him for several years. Then one day I had a moving phone call: Helene had died and Warren was in desperate need of help. He knew I’d written a memoir about my husband’s death and how I’d made a new life for myself. I gave Warren as much encouragement as I could from my hard-earned knowledge. He, in turn, encouraged me when I began writing blogs. He insisted on reading every one and gave me enthusiastic reviews, sometimes combined with his savvy PR knowledge. I told him he was my Number One Fan .
We finally met again after many years when he and his companion, Gloria, came to New York for a visit. My partner and I met them for dinner. I was afraid I might not even recognize Warren, but the moment they walked in the years evaporated. The four of us became a lively quartet, meeting on each of their visits for the next four years.
Then the visits stopped because, tragically, Gloria died, too. Warren and I continued our long-distance friendship, and in what I didn’t realize would be our last conversation he volunteered that I was an “important person” in his life. I can’t think of a better memory to be left with, except for one: his book.
You see, he wanted to write a memoir. Since he didn’t consider himself much of a writer he found a clever method. His father had saved every letter Warren wrote when he was in the army during World War 11. He found the cache in his parent’s attic and brought the letters with him to Florida. He selected the most interesting ones and pasted them on separate pages, along with some memorabilia. Then he wrote descriptions of the memories each letter evoked; like standing on Omaha Beach two months after D-Day and seeing it covered with the “detritus of war.” And being greeted by white flags of surrender when his battalion marched into a German town – “flags” that were actually towels, sheets, tablecloths, even petticoats – whatever the inhabitants could find.
He titled the 300 pages “Looking Back” and brought them to a local copy store to be inexpensively bound. I received one of the first copies and others went to family and friends – including his sole remaining “buddy” from those long -ago Army days.
Warren died a day before his 96th birthday. Yesterday a neighbor asked me why I was grieving. When I explained she said, “It’s not as bad as when your sister died.” I was unable to even answer. On what scale do we measure loss? In what way should we judge how much grief Is allowed ? And how can we ever measure the depth of a friendship?
As I write these words Warren’s book is on the desk beside me, and I hear again his proud voice when it was published. It helps to have sunlit memories on dark days.
BOOKS: COME and GO – available through BookBaby.com, WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY– available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.