Chocolate and Friendship

Friendship … not friendly acquaintances whom all of us people our life with, but the kind of friendship that endures through the years. Lewisburg, West Virginia, is on a path between my hometown in northern Indiana and my home in Richmond, Virginia – okay, long path! My husband and I discovered Lewisburg on one of our many treks to visit my Indiana family, stopping for lunch at what the AAA book listed as a charming and historic place called the General Lewis Inn. Thus, we discovered the town and all its charms.

Actually, Lewisburg is a gem. I don’t want to sound like I work for their tourist bureau, but the Inn that we discovered (shown in the lead photo) is located on the site of an 1862 Civil War battleground. Each of the 24 rooms is furnished with antiques, and the place itself – including its lovely dining room – is both beautiful and comfortable. The second photo below shows the welcoming fireplace in the lobby, which includes – behind the photographer (me taking the photo on my iPhone) – a lobby bar that opens late afternoons and provides a perfect setting for drinks and conversation.

Lewisburg itself was named after Andrew Lewis, one of George Washington’s officers in the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War. The town was formally laid out in 1780 right after the Revolutionary War, and was established in 1782 by an act of the Virginia General Assembly to “accommodate Virginians west of the mountains.”

Well anyway, jumping ahead to today, Lewisburg is no longer in Virginia, but in West-by-God Virginia as my husband used to say, and I was there this past weekend meeting a dear friend named Karen who lives in Oxford, Ohio. Roughly speaking, Lewisburg is about halfway between our homes (a bit longer drive for her), and this is at least the third time we’ve met to spend a few days in the mountains that lie between our cities. Karen is like a sister to me, and we’ve known each other since our academic days as psychologists – with spouses also psychologists, sharing our lives over the years, occasionally vacationing together in various places.

This particular weekend, aside from two or three of our favorite restaurants, wine shops, little boutiques and even a live theater, Lewisburg had a special attraction: A chocolate festival the town holds annually as a fundraising event for civic causes. Karen arrived Thursday, and on Friday it snowed … accompanied by howling winds that did not deter us from hiking around and enjoying the sights. And then Saturday: The festival! Large crowds gathered in lines to buy tickets that allowed them to visit venues displaying chocolate goodies of various kinds.

As we strolled around, we enjoyed live music from a small band on the village green (third photo below) and, as you can see from the last photo, the crowds milled around in the main street as it was blocked off to accommodate the chocolate lovers who came from all over the region to sample the town’s wares, chocolate and otherwise. We actually sampled otherwise, and found a very good window table for an early lunch in one of the fun restaurants called Food and Friends, commenting on the various sights out our window as we sipped some lovely wine.

So we did the town from late afternoon Thursday until Sunday morning breakfast, with a wine-tasting dinner on Friday evening at a lovely French restaurant called the French Goat where we had long chats by the lobby fire, sharing excerpts from what we were reading and trying not to get too hysterical about the political situation developing in our country and elsewhere. We were on vacation and happy to indulge in life together as we have over the years.

Which brings me to the main point of this blog: Friendship. Not friendly acquaintances whom all of us people our life with, but the kind of friendship that endures through the years.

If you look back through my blogs, you will see that on Oct. 2, 2016, I referred to a book by Anna Quindlen titled Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. I also drew from this book in my latest book, The Fiction of Our Lives: Creating Our Stories Over a Lifetime. Quindlen’s book is a wonderful series of essays about life itself – especially from a woman’s point of view. And in it, she has a piece titled “Girlfriends.” Let me quote a bit because it fits so perfectly here. She says:

If you push [any woman] on how she really makes it through her day, or more important, her months and years, how she stays steady when things get rocky, who she calls when the doctor says “I’d like to run a few more tests” or when her son moves in with the girl she’s never much like or trusted, she … will mention her girlfriends. The older we get, the more we understand that the women who know and love us – and love us despite what they know about us – are the joists that hold up the house of our existence. Everything depends on them. (pp. 27-8)
So my dear friend Karen, who has been in my life over the years with good memories and tragic ones. The one I wanted to go on a Viking River Cruise with – and so we sailed from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland, a couple of falls ago (after one weekend in Lewisburg where we made our plans) – and the one who flew to Richmond immediately when my late husband died of prostate cancer. And before him, when my beloved first husband of 35 years died of complications from dementia and cardiovascular disease. There she was at the other end of the phone, saying, “I’ll be there as soon as I can fly to Richmond.” She came, and she stayed to help me through the worst of it.

Usually every other day Karen and I chat on the phone – or more frequently if something big happens that needs to be shared. Quindlen also talks about chatting with a dear friend and saying:

It’s not that there’s anything really to discuss. Or maybe there will be. Maybe over those twenty-four hours one of us will have bad news, or just a bad day, or something great will have happened and we can crow over it together. … Or maybe we will just have one of those desultory conversations friends have: What are you doing? Not much. How’s your cold? Better. What’s on for tonight? Nothing.” It’s knowing that the other is there – a “levee that protects us … [someone] we can call anytime, day or night, to say, “I’m drowning here.” (pp. 37-38)
Now that I’m mentioning it, I’ll try to call Karen this afternoon. We haven’t talked in a couple of days. So I’ll close with Quindlen’s words:

What will we talk about? What did we talk about? Who cares? It’s the presence at the other end of the phone that matters: reliable, loving, listening, caring, continuing. What would I do without her? (p. 38)
I can’t even imagine.