(This quartet series (Part I) is all about my friends whom I had the pleasure of meeting during my trip to US in the year 2008)
There was a day recently when memories of old friends overwhelmed me, perhaps triggered by the fact that I had recently celebrated my 75th birthday. Over these years I had been enriched by friendships that remain bright. The oldest of these associations was a friend I met in college 60 years ago, and the most recent of them were two friends I met forty years ago
They are all inAmerica, in constant touch with me – thank goodness for e-mail -. despite the ups and downs in our lives. There was a strong urge to meet them and just talk and laugh over past memories. I looked at my desk calendar and saw that June was a free month, and on an impulse I picked up the phone to enquire about air fares to the US.
On the night of June 15th/16th I was airborne on the new Air India non-stop flight to JFK. Thirteen hours and four full length feature films later I landed at NYC at 6 am – half an hour early. (AIRINDIA arrived early??!!).
I tried to call Betty several times but could not get through until someone kindly informed me that the phone “did not work” Trundling my bag to another corner of the vast terminal I found a phone that got me Betty’s excited voice. She would meet my “limo” atHartford, she said. I told her I would see her in three hours, as the van stops at several points inConnecticutbefore reachingHartford. But that was my lucky day – ALL the passengers were going to Hartfordso we zipped along getting there in two hours – again catching Betty by surprise when I called her from the bus terminal.
BETTY will be 80 years old in January 2009. She came to India in 1967 with a group of US teachers on a study tour to develop curriculum materials on India for high schools. We became good friends; she returned to India 1969 on a year’s sabbatical and was “adopted” by my parents as their eldest daughter. Through her I got an opportunity to go to the US for a year in 1970 as a consultant to Connecticut public schools; I stayed with her, driving a jeep I borrowed from her to visit many high schools in the state.
The only child of her parents, she asked her widowed mother to come down from her home in Maine to live with her, and took care of her mother until her death in 1999.
Since she was diagnosed with cancer of the colon in 1988, Betty has had a series of operations volunteering to be a “guinea pig” for the oncologists at Hartford hospital with treatment that involved intensive radiation and anti-cancer drugs. Then, it was the mother’s turn to take care of her daughter! In the 20 years since the first detection of cancer Betty has been twelve times to the hospital for tests, diagnosis and treatment of malignancy which has involved the removal of her colon, breast, uterus, ovaries, and part of a lung. Her doctors agree that she is one of the most remarkable patients they have had to treat. They credit her positive optimistic attitude for her amazing endurance. On one occasion during the removal of her lung tumor, a medical mistake almost cost her her life. Emergency procedures saved her, but she had a long and difficult convalescence. Some friends urged her to sue the hospital, but she refused. “They have been very good to me, and I have much to be grateful for,” she said. The ovarian tumor has grown back twice. She faces another scan in August this year, before the doctors decide how to tackle it. Her medical insurance does not completely cover all costs, and certainly not home nursing. So while she continues to live alone, she has the expense of domestic help once a week for housecleaning, and once a month for lawn mowing and garden care. She is grateful for her pension and Medicare because she does not have any other source of income or investments. Nevertheless she gives generous gifts of food and clothing to poor immigrant or black families, especially so that they may feed and educate their children.
Every summer she goes to a “camp” a log cabin she inherited from her father in the woods by a lake, in her beloved state ofMaine. There is no running water and electricity, but there is a telephone. Good friends living nearby look in on her. This summer she told me she was not sure she could go to Maine as her doctor’s appointments were set for frequent intervals throughout the summer. So I did not expect her to go, or that I would accompany her.
She met me at the bus station in Hartford and drove me to her lovely home. The walls are full of memorabilia from India, exquisite crafts and paintings.. “So you have come to see the sick and the dying!” she said with a laugh and I laughed with her at the huge joke! I found she had shopped and stocked her refrigerator with enough food for several meals, foods that she knew I liked Nevertheless, we did go out to dinner and shopping and except for a brief rest in the afternoons she was willing to drive me anywhere. We discussed her medical report but there was no morbid discussion on how long this fight would continue
After early dinner by 6 pm it was a ritual to watch baseball or basket ball on TV, her only relaxation – except for a rare occasion of going to a movie with friends.
There were no tearful Goodbyes as I left. Except the usual promise – “I’ll be back”
(On the Fourth of July I phoned her, only to be told she had driven her car, alone, to her camp in Maine – a seven hour drive. She was happy and delighted to be in her home in the woods of birch and pine).