My friend Cindy (now Cynthia) knew I liked Rupert Bear and when she was travelling in England the year she and her folks lived in Spain she sent me a Rupert Bear puzzle and orange chocolate bar (possibly with Rupert on it) for my high school graduation. Cynthia graduated from high school a year early so she could go to Spain when her father took a year-long sabbatical from teaching. She wrote a colorful, slightly silly, slightly inspirational note on the back of the puzzle box.
June 29, 1975
Happy Happy Graduation!!
This isn’t much, but the thought behind it is!! I hope you have a super summer. And a good Fall & winter too! (why did I write that?? I’ll be talking with you before then!) Anyway, I’ll be thinking about you, struggling away on this 800 piece puzzle with sticky, orange chocolaty fingers.
Just keep a stiff upper lip & you’ll make all life’s ups and downs pass like porridge!
I’m not sure I have ever put the puzzle together, but I kept it nearly 40(!) years.
We lost touch for a while, but have reconnected on Facebook. She lives only a few hours from me and one of these days I hope to jump in the car and visit her. Maybe I will bring the puzzle and we can put it together. Together.
Dean and I married in June of 1985 and in July set off on a six-and-a-half-week tour of Europe. While it was all very memorable, one of the most memorable parts of the trip was our few days in the Netherlands. I was a little apprehensive about visiting Amsterdam, having heard tales of rampant drug use and general debauchery in and out of the red light district, but was young and curious as well.
We arrived in Amsterdam on the train and was immediately approached by a young Irishman asking us if we needed a place to stay. We were familiar with this tactic — having been approached in Ireland at the train station in Galway — and knew that, while it was not going to be a 5-star accommodation, it was bound to be an experience. We followed the young man a short distance to a houseboat, moored on the canal. This, we discovered, was called a “Botel”.
Our room was adequate, for a houseboat, but the shower (I don’t recall if it was a shared bathroom or not) was another story. The bottom of the shower contained ankle-deep water. Ankle-deep dirty water that sloshed around when the boat rocked. I remember thinking, at the time, that this would be a good story to tell when we were back in the States.
The Botel Alida, as the botel was called, was a bed and breakfast, so we met our fellow passengers at breakfast the next morning. One couple was about our age and we struck up a conversation with them. His name was Jens and he was from Sweden. He had finished college, I think, and was about to start military duty when he returned from his vacation. His companion was a woman from Austria. Jens spoke English, but his girlfriend did not. Dean and I didn’t speak anything other than English, so Jens spoke in English to us, Swedish to his girlfriend (I think) and translated for the three of us. We spent the day together, if I recall correctly, and then had dinner together. I believe we had a Rijsttafel, but Dean doesn’t remember it. I do remember the conversation at dinner though. Jens said that he’d noticed Dean and I at breakfast and was surprised that we were not like the other Americans on the botel. He said that he heard the others complaining about the accommodations and breakfast offerings. They didn’t like their rooms or the smell of the canal. They didn’t like their breakfast. He said we were not typical “Ugly Americans”. I still bask in the warmth of that compliment, these 25 years later.
After dinner we went to a coffee shop (which was called The Hard Rock Cafe, but not the one that is there now) and saw, with our own eyes, hashish listed on the menu. None of us ordered any. Dean was about to begin a new job and was concerned that if he did try something it might show up in any blood test he may have to take. The same went for Jens, except he was going into the Military directly after his vacation. Jens’ girlfriend wanted “space cake” (the one English phrase she spoke), but the coffee house was out of it. I think we had coffee and perhaps dessert.
After the coffee shop we went back to the botel. There was a private party going on inside, so we all went to the deck and continued our conversation long into the night.
When we left Amsterdam we exchanged addresses with Jens and hoped to keep in touch. We sent a Christmas card to his address, but it was returned to us — he was not at that address anymore. He sent us a Christmas card which I’ve kept all these years. I came across it the other day, while organizing my office and sincerely hope, that if we met again*, he’d still think we were not “Ugly Americans”.
*in case you are wondering, yes I did look him up on Facebook. Do you know how many Jens Erikssons there are on Facebook? About 150. I did send a message to one that seemed the right age. Although we have no photos of Jens and his Austrian friend, I can sort of recall what he looked like. I’ll keep you posted on any further correspondence. Or if I get banned from Facebook for stalking. (this would be a good time to be friends with Lisbeth Salander)
I think I remember the first time I met Marcia. It was at a picnic. Near a lake. With an outhouse. I think. After that we were together a lot. Not because we were friends, really, but because our parents were friends. Best of friends. They did everything together and we went along for the rides much of the time.
In grade school Marcia hung out with a different crowd than I did. She had a large and gregarious family. I had a small and less outgoing family. She knew how to be around other people. I didn’t.
When Marcia’s family had parties I often dreaded them because I didn’t know how to deal with a crowd of kids. I only knew how to interact with one friend at a time. For years I thought it was Marcia — that she ignored me when she had other friends. But these many years later, I know it was me. I was not a team player.
Anyway, from the day we met and throughout much of my life, Marcia was often a part of the surroundings. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so good.
As juniors in high school we both participated in the same exchange program with a grammar school near Leeds, England. Her family hosted Chris and we hosted Vilma. When it was our turn to visit the UK she stayed with Chris’ family and I stayed with Jeremy’s family. (Search “Vilma” on this blog to see what happened with her)
Marcia and I shared a hotel room in London our last night there — not because we requested it, but because our last names were next to each other on the alphabetical list. It turned out fine though. I think I’d become afraid of her, and I realized she was the same Marcia as that first time we met on the picnic. By the lake. With an outhouse.
We finally became friends after high school. We both kept ties with England — me through Jeremy and Marcia through Sue (a friend of Jeremy who stayed with Marcia’s family one summer). We had fun going to bars in Minocqua, Wisconsin, the town near where our families bought summer homes. I also remember taking a hike through the meadow at the top of the hill behind her parent’s lake house. We came back covered in wood ticks and helped each other remove them. We found over 50 ticks between the two of us.
One summer evening I went to a beer garden in Dundee, Illinois with my soon-to-be roommate, Julia. We met a few guys, one of whom reminded me of Christopher Reeve. Being young and single, I boldly invited the Christopher Reeve look-alike and his friends to a party we were hosting that weekend.
The party was a welcome to the USA party for Julia (she was from England — of course). The Christopher Reeve look-alike and friends showed up. In the kitchen, Marcia whispered to me that she knew the Christopher Reeve look-alike from an art class she’d taken and she was interested in him. I suggested that they go sparking. They did. They married not long after. Thank goodness for Wintergreen Life Savers.
The next summer or perhaps the same summer, I finally got my drivers license. To celebrate, Marcia and I rode our bicycles to a local biker bar for a few drinks. When we got there I was dismayed to see that the bar was completely crowded. Not one table or bar stool was empty. Being me, I would have gone home, but I had Marcia with me. Marcia, in her Marcia way, went up to a man sitting alone at a table if he’d mind if we joined him. He said no and we sat down. When Marcia went to talk to people she knew in the bar I began talking to the man at the table. It turned out that I knew of his sister, who died in a car accident the year before. I also knew a neighbor of his. By the end of the evening we’d exchanged phone numbers and I had a feeling that this man was “the one”. We married about 5 years later.
Since moving away from Elgin, I didn’t see Marcia much. Rarely we’d make it a point to get together when I was in town and we’d occasionally be in Wisconsin at the same time. She had 4 kids — the youngest about the same age as my eldest.
About a year ago or so — maybe two — my mom called to tell me that Marcia had ovarian cancer and was going to have surgery the next day. She called back to tell me that the surgery was successful and the doctor had high hopes that with chemotherapy Marcia would be a survivor. I spoke, briefly, to Marcia not long after that. She was in good spirits and hopeful that it would all work out fine.
Marcia was allergic to the first choice, and most effective of chemotherapy drugs and had to take something weaker. My mom continued to give me updates.
Last month my mom called to tell me that the doctor gave Marcia 6 months to live.
She died last night.
I’d been meaning to write to her to tell her how much I was in her debt for “finding” me my husband. That without her boldness I’d not know my two wonderful children. I think I knew I’d never write that note — I really didn’t know how.