Dear Mama,

Today is my college roommate Sally’s birthday! As you know, we were roommates all four years and we are still dearest buddies who share the joys of raising kids, (she has triplets) hard challenges with our parents (not you, of course) and life with our friends from college. We don’t talk on the phone much because when we do it takes hours and nothing gets done. When we do, we gab endlessly while one of us is driving, but since it is Covid19, we aren’t driving much. I do know that her boys bought a meat smoker and they are learning how to use it so she had beef brisket for her birthday dinner and her mom, who is in her 90’s brought her a homemade birthday cake. Sal is doing well down in Tejas despite losing her dad last September. He was in his 90’s, that’s older than you!

I remember when I was growing up how you’d talk about your friend “Dix,” Barbie D. who lives in Florida. What loyal friendships you’ve shared, always meeting up at your DePauw University reunions. One of my distinct memories of you and your girlfriends formed at our lunch with Donna L. and Alice D. a few years ago up in Door County. You forever described Alice as the funniest person ever because she hummed non-stop, even when eating her meals. Donna has a house in Door County and Alice was visiting from California. They drove across the peninsula and we ate lunch in the Harbor Grill and those ladies told some wild stories of your growing up years. I kept listening for the hum, but I guess she’s outgrown it in her 80’s. After lunch, up the bluff we went and they stayed for an afternoon, laughing about the “good ol’ days.” They did NOT talk non-stop about their health which old people tend to do. In fact, I don’t recall any mention of hip or knee replacements, aching joints – nothing. Also, they looked fabulous, but you looked more fabulous. Both of those women were sharp as tacks.

Birthday Queen

Thank you for modeling for me what it means to live out loyalty in friendship. One of my favorite books growing up – I think I’m saying that too often in these letters – was Joan Walsh Angland’s, A Friend is Someone Who Likes You. Her illustrations intrigued me, the children didn’t have mouths so I always thought they lived silent lives. They also didn’t dialogue, but they indulged in the simple pleasures of girly childhood friendship. Tea parties occurred on a daily basis, the girls pushed each other on swings, sailed handmade boats in the creek and never seemed to interact with their parents or adults — Idyllic! I imagine friendships forged in childhood that continue into adulthood are rare, but you’ve kept many of yours. I wonder why that is? (Caregivers – could you ask her this question and write down her response, please.) 

Might it have something to do with the way the Elm trees arched over the streets in River Forest? You all lived beneath a canopy of giant trees, before Dutch Elm disease destroyed the protective, holy covering of the sidewalks where you cruised on your bikes.Their limbs touched at the top and formed an archway atop Jackson Avenue, Augusta, Bonnie Brae, Chicago Avenue, Lathrop Street. You grew up in a living cathedral of trees. I remember roller skating at Goggie and Jessie’s beneath those green towers and feeling like a dwarf child. Perhaps, the trees helped to anchor your own roots in your community of friends? You knew, even subconsciously that life amidst the trees was special and carried its own unique, irreplaceable protection and connection. Their roots touched beneath the ground causing sidewalks to rise and crack open like a granite drawbridge.

When we exited the expressway at Harlem Avenue and zig-zagged our way to Grandma’s house on Chicago Ave., we took the right turn at the Catholic church and you and dad winced out loud at the loss. “Look at all the Elms that are gone!” A foreboding silence penetrated the remaining blocks until we parked and ran up the front steps to Grandma’s front door, kissed her rouge smeared cheeks and went straight for her candy drawer, the loss of the trees forgotten and replaced by Milky Way and Snickers bars.

Great friendships grow like trees, but they need tending and all my life you tended yours. Remember these sweet ladies: Anna, Suzanne, Pat, Mary, Liz. I won’t name them all, but they’ve been a deep rooted part of your tree and I’m thankful to have stood beneath their shade.

The magic of giant elm trees

Love to you my beloved tree hugger,