Every once in a while, I like to write to people and make sure all is well in their world, especially if I haven’t heard from them in a very long time. And so yesterday I sent a brief e-mail to a friend and his wife to let them know I was still alive and kicking and hoped that they were as well.
Both of them are in their 80s and really not doing very well at all. I knew this from the last communication I had several months ago, but I always am holding out hope that the good Florida sunshine and climate will be an elixir that is good for what ails them.
When I checked my e-mail early this morning, there was a reply from my old friend telling me that his wife was no longer able to feed herself or manage any of the other necessary functions and was now a resident of a nursing home. I wasn’t a bit surprised, but it was still sad as I thought back to our first meeting back in the mid-90s, the both of them vibrant and healthy and happy-go-lucky.
I became acquainted with Dick one evening by chance back in the America Online days, when all this Internet/Web stuff was new to most of us. His online name—something indicating that he was a writer—caught my eye, and I dropped him a message telling him about my same kind of interest in writing and publishing.
And as it turned out, he was a transplanted, retired Chicagoan living in Florida, and he was very interested in my desire to be a writer, having written and published several books himself. From that very first meeting online, we exchanged long and wonderful e-mail letters (most of which I still have in a three-ring binder) for many years.
I was still teaching middle school, and every March Carolyn and I, our two kids in tow, would head off to Florida for spring break to spend the week with her parents in Sarasota.
The year I met Dick, we made plans to meet with him and his wife, Alice, while we were down there for spring break. Dick and Alice lived farther north, near Clearwater, so they suggested they’d drive down in their camper to a campground of which they were familiar in nearby Sarasota and have us join them for dinner and a get-to-know-one-another visit.
That turned out to be a wonderful time as we enjoyed a real face-to-face meeting and shared our personal stories of our lives, families, and interests. I could tell that Dick was sincerely interested in being a sort of mentor to me in getting started in writing seriously and, eventually, publishing.
I learned a lot from that first meeting, not the least of which was that to be a writer, one must have discipline—a word that Dick would remind me over and over again in e-mails and conversations in the ensuing years.
And though I puttered and tinkered with my writing during those years, it wasn’t until I retired from teaching in June of 2007 that I sat down and told myself that all of the dribs and drabs and various drafts I had started over the years needed my serious attention. In short, I found some of that discipline which Dick liked to talk about and began in earnest to write my first novel. It turned into Black Wolf Lodge, and I even paid tribute to my friend Dick in the story as the “wind chime man,” a person who had inspired the main character, Rick Brenson, to pursue his dream of writing.
Over the years, the e-mail communications slowed and then all but petered out, for one reason or another. I never knew if I had said or done something to offend my friend, but those long and newsy e-mails stopped coming. Carolyn and I did stop and see him and Alice a few years ago on our journey through that part of Florida, but things just weren’t the same. There was an obvious tiredness in the man, and Alice was frail beyond belief.
Sadly, Dick had lost his zest for writing and now spent most days forwarding news items about politics and the great divide this country has experienced. Instead of reading and enjoying things sent from this man—my writer friend—as I did for several years, I now simply hit [DELETE].
Though it was wonderful to receive an actual e-mail note from Dick yesterday, it was also sad and heartbreaking to realize that age and health have caught up with him and Alice, and those glorious days of “getting to know you” are but a memory—yet a good memory!…CortlandWriter