It was a Thanksgiving turkey that kept us connected and a phone call 27 years in the making.
Jim and Tink Callahan were our best buddies in Eugene, Ore., the come-on-over-for-dinner-and-play-pinochle-until-you-drop type of buddies, but jobs whisked them to a better life in Bremerton, and two years later we arrived in Spokane for the same reason. Before they left Eugene, they put a silly turkey pin in my hand. “To stay connected,” they said. The plan was to send the turkey back and forth every Thanksgiving.
For 27 years that turkey pin has flown across the Cascades, roosting for a year in our desk drawer until November when it took flight to roost at their home. The solid friendship of long ago had faded from time and distance but the bird kept us oddly connected.
And as with everything, over time you tend to forget faces, laughs, the tone of voice, the hands that held you up, the shoulders leaned on. They had their lives, we had ours. Times change, distance separates. And although our little turkey pin was a ‘friendly’ reminder, it sorely lacked the words, laughter, heartache, joy, hands and hugs that embody friendship.
This past summer we were at Olympic National Forest when it hit us like a can of cranberry sauce between the eyes that our turkey-sending friends lived an hour away. We dug through papers and cellphones but couldn’t locate their address or phone number.
Modern technology has its moments and this was one of them. I sent a Facebook message. Within minutes we were on the phone catching up. “We should get together for coffee,” Jim said, but the cosmos refused to align in perfect order, the stars were moving in precarious ways and I fretted. “What if we meet and that awkward silence happens? What if we’re so different? What if …”
The what-ifs are horrible little beasties.
We never got together for coffee, but in September we called after Jim had minor surgery. This time the friendship bond had a dab of super glue on it because of the phone call in July.
October arrived along with an email inviting us to Jim’s 70th birthday. “A surprise party,” Tink wrote. “It would be great if you could be here. Maybe we can get together the night before? It’s been a long time.”
It had been a long time, but I had finally beaten the what-ifs to a pulp and stood ready. We rearranged schedules, pulled out our trusty debit card and boldly made reservations at the swanky Super 8 in Bremerton. “Aha!” I shouted to the gods. “Just try to ‘what-if’ that!”
Still … reconnecting with the past can be daunting … or fun … or heart-rending. Reunions that meld past with present are the stuff brutal time warps are made of, yet there we were careening across bridges, pushing through traffic and lying to Jim like a politician that we were in Seattle visiting relatives and thought we’d stop by. “Come on over,” Jim said just like he said a million times in Oregon.
We got out of the truck, approached the house and rang the bell. Thoughts of “it’s been a long time, what if …” invaded my mind. The door opened.
Ready smiles and open arms melted the years into oblivion. The people before us were still the friends we knew from long ago. The four of us, a bit grayer, a bit wrinkled, a bit wiser, but friends nonetheless.
It was a night of warmth and welcome, camaraderie and familiarity; a night of endings and beginnings, of acceptance and thanks for the memories. A wonderful night, really. I haven’t felt like that in a long, long time.
And to think, this connection endured because of a Thanksgiving turkey and friends who refused to fade into the distance.