Today would have been my lovely friend, Alice’s, birthday. April 2. My birthday falls on May 2. We celebrated our birthdays together in 1987 and 1988.
Unfortunately, that was all the time we were blessed with…
We moved to London in the fall of 1986 for a (short… way too short) two year adventure with my husband’s accounting firm. Knowing that I only had a very limited period of time, I decided that the best way to do things was to jump in feet first; and ask questions later. So that’s exactly what I did. “Getting cozy” with the Brits, however, was a rather daunting task. It was much easier to develop friendships with the New Zealanders, Aussies and the other Americans. The British are, overall, a bit more distant and hard to get to know. And I am the first to admit that my personality might be a bit “over the top” for them. Regardless, I decided to venture out of the old “comfort zone”. We had been attending mass in a massive English cathedral… cold and dark and full of gold and stained glass. “Cozy” is not exactly the word that I am going for here. I decided to pursue some volunteer work through the church. I made some contacts, and before I knew it, I had a slip of paper in my hand with two names, addresses and telephone numbers. They were “older women” who might welcome a visit or two. One of the names scribbled on that piece of paper….was Alice.
I phoned her “straightaway” and made arrangements to stop by for tea. Her flat was down a quiet little cobblestone street near “Marble Arch” in the heart of London. I knocked, the door opened… and, in that very moment, a friendship began. Yes; Really. Just like that. We started out setting specific times and dates for my visits. But as the friendship deepened, we started having “impromptu” visits between visits! I would phone her to see if perhaps I might stop by for a quick visit. “That would be lovely”, she would say. She loved the word “lovely”. Not once did she turn me away. And they were not usually quick visits, either – ha! We would just sit and talk for hours. Alice had lost her husband many years prior and had no children. Her closest relative was a niece (and her family) who lived outside of London, but she didn’t really get together with them very often. I knew that my visits meant the world to her. Truth is, they meant the world to me, as well.
Alice would leave the front door open when she knew that I was on the way. I would let myself in, and from the moment that I stepped inside that tiny, dimly lit, cozy little flat – it was like my heart coming home. If I close my eyes I can still remember everything like it was yesterday… the sound of the teacups and saucers clanking against the tray as she made her way
to the tiny little kitchen table… the scent of freshly brewed tea and something warm from the oven… sometimes the soft little purr of a kitty that also called Alice “home”. Alice had a frail little body, crooked fingers, soft golden white hair and a tiny little voice. Her eyes would sparkle when I entered the room with a love that was, indeed, mutual; and shared between the two of us. We were separated by many, many years; it’s true. But we were kindred spirits; friends of the heart. It was a gift, and I think that we both knew that we were blessed in the moment. We treasured those moments up until the very, very end. Leaving Alice felt like I was ripping out a piece of my heart and leaving it there in London… Indeed I was.
Upon returning to the states, we kept our promise to each other to write often. Those letters meant the world to me. Sometimes I would even call her just to say a quick “hi” and hear her voice. I still remember calling to tell her that I was pregnant with twins and she was going to be a “grandma”… xo! She was SO excited and just kept saying how “lovely” that was… her favorite word!! She started making plans to come to the United States after they were born. “Nothing would make me happier”, I told her.
I still remember the day the letter came.
It was from her niece. I sat down. I started crying before I even opened it. “Auntie Alice” had passed away peacefully in her sleep. She knew that I would want to know. She had found my letters, along with my address, there next to her bed. She thanked me for being such a special person in her “auntie’s” life. Wow. “Ever had a memory that sneaks out of your eye, and rolls down your cheek…?”
So today, Alice, I am thinking about you with my whole heart… I brewed a pot of tea, selected my favorite little floral teacup and saucer and put some quiet music on to help me write this post. So many memories are running through my mind. It truly feels like you are right here with me. I know you are. There were tears in my eyes as I wrote this entire blog post, but they flowed uncontrollably as I attempted to type that last paragraph… I still miss you so much. I always will. I realize, however, that I am so very, very lucky to have been blessed with such love. “Missing someone isn’t about how long it’s been since you’ve seen them or the amount of time since you’ve talked. It’s about that very moment when you’re doing something and wishing they were right there with you.” Oh, Alice; If only heaven weren’t so far away…. Happy Birthday, my dear friend.