I sometimes see our family as a quilt and each memorable experience a piece of fabric sewn together as our collective memory. This summer we added a unique piece of fabric.
In June we traveled to New York City to visit my wife’s twin sister’s family and see their new daughter. It was a nice visit with equal amounts of family and sightseeing. But also planned into the vacation was a side trip to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, to visit a woman who had been a friend to my wife’s mother.
The back-story on this visit goes to 1973. As a girl she had been told about a woman, Val, who helped her mother when she gave birth. At the time my mother-in-law was a single, pregnant woman working as a private duty nurse. She was caring for Val’s husband as he died of cancer. He passed away in the summer and my mother-in-law made his eternal exit comfortable. In return, Val was with my mother-in-law in the fall when she gave birth, giving comfort to a mother all alone.
My mother-in-law knew this woman for a short period of time – Val left the city shortly after the girls’ birth – but the memory of her kindness was passed to my wife and endured. When Val re-connected with my mother-in-law recently my wife was encouraged to go visit.
My wife contacted her and found an amazing connection. Like my wife, Val is an architect. She had taught at Columbia and Yale and lived in Paris working with her husband who had also worked with a world famous architect. The excitement and anticipation for this visit only grew at this point.
We planned to have dinner and spend the night with Val and maybe have a few stories in between. We hoped the kids would be okay in the home and not get overly bored and we hoped that whatever conversation there was about a connection over 40 years ago would sustain the evening. We got more than we planned.
We pulled into the gravel driveway next to Val’s pink clapboard home. We all approached the screen door and knocked. We had no idea what she looked like but when she appeared she seemed to fit our expectations. She was plump but not fat with short grey hair and a “kindly face” filled with the lines of life. She had an accent of a person who has a great command of English – each word is carefully enunciated – but definitely spoke other languages. She graciously welcomed us in to a dinner already warm and ready.
When we entered the kids found a home filled with – of all things – children’s books and toys. Val has grandchildren near our children’s age and has spent a life involved with the Waldorf school movement.
As we sat and ate a new world opened to us. Val told us how her parents – from Holland and Germany – met in New York City in 1928. How their common interest was a shared experience in Brazil. She told us of gaining a Fulbright scholarship in the 1950’s and living in Germany studying architecture. The streets of Paris came alive as she told us of how she met her husband; they formed an architecture office together; worked on a project in Morocco and ultimately moved to New York.
She also told us of the pain of the loss of her husband and the great joy of helping a woman bring two new lives into the world.
The next morning we left feeling as though we had experienced a great adventure and gained a new and wonderful friend. We said our goodbyes and headed out.
About an hour later my wife turned to me and said: “We didn’t get a picture.”
“Well, it looks like we have to come back,” I told her.
I look forward to returning for that picture and we appreciate the new piece of fabric she has given us.