Sunday, January 20, 2013

What Is A Friend


Every year since 1984 I would receive a letter inside a Christmas card from a woman I barely knew. Shirley, the mother of Shawn, a 15 year old actor who played Billy in Circa 21's production of "On Golden Pond" in Illinois took a liking to me. She saw that Shawn and I had bonded. He was such a delightful kid - talented and very smart. I saw a bit of me in him. He had the offerings of the whole world so abundantly in his reach. I guess I envied him a little but liked him a lot. Shirley obviously recognized this and, so, took me into her life as well. While in Illinois doing this crowd pleasing play, I spent a few days here and there as a guest at her home just hanging out and having dinner. Shawn would walk me half way home and we'd have long talks about music and the arts and such. I was amazed at his particular tastes. Here was a 15 year old boy talking about Charles Ives!

Anyway, the play ended after a long run. I stayed on to do "The Music Man" and Shawn and Shirley went back to their lives. Since they lived close by, I continued to see them when time would permit. Rehearsals were pretty grueling and then, of course, we settled in for a long successful run.

When I returned to my home in New York City, Shawn wrote a few letters but as will happen with the young, their lives go every which way as they discover and uncover the world -their world - so his letters stopped. Maybe, if we had had email back in the 1980's, keeping in touch would have been easier. Come December of my year back from Illinois, as Christmas approached and the cards began arriving, Shirley's first card and letter to me appeared in my mail box. It recounted Shawn's and her's  goings ons since I last saw them that year. The card and letter was signed Shirley and Shawn. In subsequent years the signing changed to just Shirley. And so this continued for 28 years. I began to know Shirley through these annual letters. What emerged was a warm and very loving person. A woman a little pummeled it seemed by life. A single mom with grown children who all lived in places other than Rock Island, Illinois. Even Shawn moved to Denver where he eventually married. He didn't stay in theater although he has a band that performs in Colorado performing music he composes - the Charles Ives influence? I learned through Shirley's letters that Shawn went to China with his wife. I learned that Shirley's job was not secure of late and worse, that her health was not the best. She never explained what her health issues were but I could easily surmise they were serious. In all this time, it was Shirley who evolved into my friend. I haven't heard but twice from Shawn in those 28 years - once about 5 years ago when he was planning a trip to NYC which never happened and 2 years ago when I received a post card from China.

This Christmas of 2012, I did not receive my annual card and letter from Shirley. I felt it odd but didn't think much else about it. After all, these "friendships" tend to drift off. 28 years was a pretty long run but, well, we haven't actually seen each other since the early 80's. And, of course, not a word from Shawn. Last night I thought about Shirley. I may not know her like her intimates but its not like Shirley to drop me like this. So I googled her.

Dear Shirley passed away December 1, 2012. Her obituary stated that her memorial service was held  in Rock Island on December 7, 2012. No mention of cause of death. Shirley was 77.

Maybe, I will finally hear from Shawn. But probably not.


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  2. Tony, I am so touched by your story and your friendship with Shirley. - submitted by Joanne Giglia May

  3. How lucky your paths crossed & your acquaintance became such a special friendship. It's sad that Shirley has passed but lucky that you were in each other's lives. I hope, eventually, Shawn reaches out to you. Lovely story.