Time Among Friends

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin each Thursday. Read past columns here.

In my childhood, sometime in the years of the first through the sixth grades, I began to find a special seat at lunchtime. I placed myself along the outer edge of the cafeteria at the LeConte Elementary School.

You see, this room doubled as the school library. What seemed like miles of book shelves lined the perimeter of this multi-purpose room.

I have always managed to multitask well. During lunch I often scanned the shelves for books that I had not yet read. I have an indelible visual memory. This is of finding one of my favorite childhood books on those shelves. Bottom shelf, halfway across the left side of the cafeteria beginning with authors A and B.

“Best Friends” was written by Mary Bard in 1955. It was a whimsical story that features a girl named Suzie and her best friend, CoCo who had moved from France to the house next door. Eventually, in this book, Suzie’s mother marries CoCo’s father and the best part of the story is about their blended family. A romantic at heart, and a child of a broken home, this story enchanted me.

When I was twelve years old we moved from the city to a new house in the suburbs. It was there where I found my best friend who lived in the house next door. Our parents never married – they had spouses of their own, of course. And neither of us was from an exotic place like France. We were the only girls in families of unruly boys. We became inseparable best friends within months, if not weeks.

As young teens we shared wardrobes, record albums and term papers. We complained bitterly about our brothers and we shared annoying babysitting jobs. As young adults we declared our loyalty with sisterly acts like standing up for each other in our respective weddings. We gave our firstborn daughters each other’s names. Over the years and throughout the ensuing decades we weathered life’s losses, we endured separations of thousands of miles and we reconnected again after a very painful, many-years friendship storm.

A few weeks ago, a colleague in the library recommended Gail Caldwell’s recent book, “Let’s Take the Long Walk Home.” In it Caldwell recounts her extremely close friendship with another author, Caroline Knapp. For many years Caldwell and Knapp walked together with their dogs through Massachusetts woods. They swam and rowed together on the Charles River. They confessed their deepest fears and hopes and shared the secrets and rituals of their lives. It is a memoir of life and death and a bittersweet tale of a friendship found and lost. Knapp, the author of “Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Their Dogs” died of lung cancer in 2002. Devastated, Caldwell works through her grief in this beautiful story of the journey of their attachment.

Last summer I was drawn to the book written by Martha Stewart’s estranged friend, Mariana Pasternak. “The Best of Friends: Martha and Me” is a poignant, sometimes rewarding but mostly bitter description of a twenty-year friendship which ended in a schism caused by Pasternak’s testimony in Stewart’s high-profile trial. It is, in the end, a long, tedious, painful and sad tale of friendship lost.

One of my favorite books about friendship was written in 2004 by Paul Newman and A. E. Hotchner. While “Shameless Exploitation In the Pursuit of the Common Good” is the story of the Newman’s Own brand of salad dressings and the testing and marketing of many gourmet grocery items, it is also about the story of a friendship. Paul Newman and writer A. E. Hotchner created a successful brand, made tons of money for charity and made miracles happen with their “Hole in the Wall Gang” camps for critically-ill children around the world. (Hotchner followed up with a memoir of this friendship in 2010 entitled “Paul and Me: Fifty-three Years of Adventures and Misadventures With My Pal Paul Newman.”)

Last October a book was published in which woman golfer Kris Tschetter recounts her deep friendship with golfing champion Ben Hogan. “Mr. Hogan, the Man I Knew: An LPGA Player Looks Back on an Amazing Friendship and Lessons She Learned From Golf’s Greatest Legend” is a lovely story. Beginning in 1980, when Kris was a collegiate golfer, her relationship with the formidable Mr. Hogan lasted several decades until his death in 1997.

In 2009 Jeffrey Zaslow, Wall Street Journal columnist, wrote about the power of the friendship of eleven childhood friends who grew up in Ames, Iowa. “The Girls From Ames” is the special story of young women who scattered across the country, who married, divorced and died, as one of them would. Bittersweet, tearful and witty, Zaslow successfully captures the amazing bond of women friends into their forties – especially those inspirational bonds which were formed in those tender years of youth.

On a recent trip to a conference in Southern California I was stranded due to the weather emergency that closed airports across the Midwest and East coast. It was my sister-friend, this bonded friend of childhood, who immediately purchased a ticket to Northern California and invited to me sit out my unfortunate layover in her home. It was her husband, my ‘brother-in-law’ by nature of our sisterly relationship, who made sure I had a confirmed flight home two days later. Nurtured and amused, the hours and minutes of my long sequestered time passed in comfort among the best of friends.

For help searching in the Minuteman catalog or for placing requests for books about special friendships, please visit the Morrill Memorial Library, call the Reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the Minuteman Library Catalog on our website, www.norwoodlibrary.org.

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