In the autumn of 1939 there was a heat wave in Northern California. By September temperatures approached one hundred degrees. As the Bay Area sweltered, Hitler invaded Poland, New York prepared to play Cincinnati in the World Series and the minimum wage rose to thirty cents per hour.
Seventy-three years later and the boys in that train car are now old men. Bill is tall and shockingly handsome for a man of ninety. Tom walks slowly, but his Irish/Italian eyes still sparkle. Especially when the stock market is bullish. He’ll be ninety-one this next May.
Tom and Bill teased one another, as young men will, when each fell in love. While Tom wooed a beautiful girl on a picnic in the Berkeley hills Bill found love in San Francisco when he met a feisty blond. The sweethearts married, and Tom’s brunette bride Isabel became best friends with Bill’s gorgeous Bobbie.
Both men served during World War II. Tom was an officer on a Navy tanker in the Pacific. Bill was an infantryman in Europe who landed in Normandy not long after D-Day and entered Dachau two weeks after it was liberated.
After the war, their homes, one a shiny Eichler the other a rambling Craftsman and only a few miles apart, quickly filled with children. At last count there were eighteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
From time to time the families gather together for simple meals of crusty bread, Bobbie’s cherished homemade soup and bottles of Yellow Tail wine. They gather to celebrate. But when Bobbie and Bill lost their eldest and Tom lost his beloved Isabel, they gathered to mourn.
All from a friendship that began when two boys headed to Berkeley on the same train in 1939.
I met the couples and their children four years ago, before Isabel passed. I was astounded their friendship could be measured in decades as my close friendships are only measured in years. In fact, I don’t know that there will ever be another time when friendships begun by happenstance will endure seven decades of war, love, marriages, births, and deaths.
Of course I’m grateful to be a few mouse clicks from friends I knew in high school. But that was almost forty years ago. What do we have in common except memories?
I look at the lives of these two couples and all the good people they’ve brought into the world and I’m nostalgic for a way of life I’ve never experienced. Our lives move artificially fast and in the frenzied wake intimacy borne of a shared meal or a family gathering is lost. We flit around the world and we forget people. We forget moments. We forget.
So strong is my craving for connection and the setting down of roots that I almost lost a friendship this week. For me, it would have been a horrible loss. The lesson I’ve learned from the past few days is that clinging to your idea of something is like trying to hold on to smoke. It’s impossible. I will never have the life-long love of Bobbie and Bill, Tom and Isabel. I won’t have children, or grandchildren. But there’s no doubt I will have love, connection and intimacy. It’s possible I already do, but I’m too attached to what I believe those words should mean that I haven’t noticed they’ve been re-defined for the twenty-first century.