Janet's Jargon

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Best friends

Sometimes things just fall into place where they should. Not often, but when they do, they can last a lifetime. Such was my friendship with Gwen Crawford soon after we moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota.

We had just come back from Venezuela, where we were missionaries. We didn't know anybody there, but before too long I met Gwen Crawford. She was the secretary at the Religious Studies Dept. at the University of North Dakota (UND). We immediately "clicked" and I soon learned that she and her husband, John, had been missionaries in Mexico. We could converse in Spanish or English, and it was one of those bonds that formed right off the bat. You know the kind--where we could finish each other's sentences--in either language.

Over the nearly 40 years that we lived in Grand Forks there were few days when we didn't talk to each other on the phone, or meet somewhere in person. We shared our dreams, our frustrations, our hopes, our successes and our failures with each other. We literally had no secrets.

I was there for Gwen when John went to China to teach English. She was there for me when we faced some tough times dealing with "the system," which seemed to attack us on a personal and family level. We cried on each other's shoulder when Ivan lost his leg and when John had open heart surgery.

When Ivan died, John sang "Amazing Grace" (Ivan's favorite song) at the funeral. A women's choral group sang "I'll Fly Away," which Ivan loved. It wasn't planned, and nobody announced it, but when John got to that last verse--"When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun..."--the entire group joined in and sang it with more gusto than I've ever heard it sung before. After the service John said to me, "I wish I could have sung 'I'll Fly Away' instead of 'Amazing Grace.' What a great way to have a send-off. I'd love that." I told Gwen what he said, and she said it didn't really seem like the kind of a song John would pick, but she would remember it. So, when just a few months later John died, the choir at the Methodist church gave him his own grand send-off by singing "I'll Fly Away."

Time has passed, but we still talk to each other on the phone about once a week. Some things just can't be destroyed, and our friendship is one of those special precious commodities. So it was with great joy that Gwen began talking about coming to visit me in NE Wisconsin. We originally planned for the visit to occur on Easter weekend, but the weather was "iffy" at best, with snow in the forecast, so it was delayed until Mother's Day. Gwen, at 84 years old, drove alone the 500+ mile trip, arriving in just over one day. She had no problems other than that blasted detour that crosses Lake Superior between Duluth MN and Superior WI. But she made it and got back on the right road to finish the trip.

Two old ladies, but we stayed up until midnight catching up on everything we hadn't been able to say on the phone. We looked at pictures and talked over old times, and what might lie ahead for both of us. We told each other about fantasies that we still cling to, and thoughts of lonely times--and the memories (both good and bad) that carry us through.

Gwen said she wanted to see what my "normal" life is like. She will gladly tell you that there is nothing "normal" about my life, even in a tiny town. I kept her busy, and by the time the 5 days were over, she was ready to go home--and then some. She made the entire trip back to Grand Forks in just one day, proving what I have always believed, that the distance home is always shorter than the same distance when you are going somewhere (anywhere) else. Will it happen again? Possibly not, but it is a very special time that will never be forgotten, by either of us.

Good wine, when aged, might improve, but you can never improve on true friendship. I hope you all have a friend who is as special to you as Gwen Crawford is to me.


  • At 9:35 PM, Blogger Thomas Palakeel said…

    I remember Gwen and John, whom I met on my very first day in Grand Forks. I had coffee with John, and Norton Kinghorn. Thanks Janet for keeping this blog.


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