I got news moments ago that my friend, Carol, has cancer.
Carol's husband, Charles (then known as Chuck), met my father and mother in the mid-fifties on an Air Force base in Germany. My dad was a pilot and Charles was the doc. From the sound of it, Charles and my father, both boisterous, life-loving guys, had their share of escapades. Never mind that my mother was sitting at home at the base, Chuck and Paul were off to Switzerland with their skis poking out of the back of the Austin Healy.
They grew older together, Charles and Paul, much the way I imagine I'll continue on the road with my friends. They moved stateside, had families and, in the late sixties found themselves together in the Bay Area, now both doctors, my dad just finishing his residency. They were best friends, those two. The ski trips didn't stop, it's just now they involved a giant green station wagon, a gaggle of kids and a seventeen hour drive to Idaho.
In the late seventies, Charles, after a difficult divorce (though what divorce wouldn't fall into that category?), and a few girlfriends, finally found Carol, the woman he was meant for. Carol was equally up for adventure - in their long marriage they have travelled more places than I can spell. Ben and I always laugh when we get their yearly Christmas bulletin - the fabulous trips seem to come twice, sometimes three times a month.
I met Carol when I was probably eight or so. She was always kind to me and even more than that, interested. She treated me like a full entity, not a half-person, as some view children. She always wanted to know my latest news. She posed real questions. Not, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" but asked after my friends, my pursuits, my dreams. When I tired of skiing on a trip to Sun Valley, she also took the day off from the slopes and joined me at the ice rink. We skated to Thriller, just out that year, snow gently falling on the ice, laughing hysterically when we'd fall.
She saw me through my awkward years, still with gentle interest, not with the aversion that some adults have to teenagers, as if the gawkiness were contagious. And then, suddenly, I guess around the time my father died in my early twenties, she and Charles also became my friends. I discovered that they were great fun at parties and, later, that we had much to discuss when it came to home renovation or cooking or any number of topics. They also became people with whom I could remember my dad. They, I found, missed him as deeply as I did, and, between the two of them, had plenty of stories I hadn't heard.
When my children came along, Charles and Carol became honorary grandparents. Cards come on every major holiday (and even some of the minor ones). There is an annual Christmastime brunch at their house, which the girls eagerly anticipate, featuring not only delectable cuisine but gifts, always something that Carol has seen on her travels, often unearthed at a lodge gift shop, pocketed in the down jacket and ferried down the mountain on skis.
I'm holding them in the light, these two daring, dashing souls. As they've always done for me.