Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pure Gold

One of my oldest friends, Nancy Downey Bustamante, and her husband Carlos, were in town from Atlanta last week, and came out for dinner.  Nancy and I go way back—back to 1968, in fact, 46 years ago. I remember the day we met, in the parking lot of St. Jude’s Catholic Church in Sandy Springs, GA. My family had just moved to Atlanta from the NYC suburbs, and we knew no one. Nancy’s dad, Jack Downey, approached us with an outstretched hand, saying he and his family had been down South for several years, but that they hailed from Baltimore. Atlanta was an interesting place to break into, friendship-wise. The fabled Georgia hospitality largely consisted of EVERYONE saying “y’all come back now.” It took us awhile to realize that most of them didn’t really mean it. But the Downeys from Baltimore meant it, and so began an alliance of the two families that spanned decades, births, marriages, and deaths. 

Nancy at my wedding, 1977
Mom and Anne Downey were very close friends, and I vividly remember looking out the window as they returned from many a lunch-and-shopping outing. They’d continue gabbing in the driveway, sometimes for an hour or more.  The girls, Nancy and Molly, were primarily friends of my sisters Mo and C, respectively. It wasn’t till Mo’s death in 1981 that Nancy and I became really close. Molly and C were always peas in a pod, both sweet kids, both younger siblings, both gifted artists. 

Fast forward to 1984. Nancy and I were pregnant at the same time. Sheridan was born May 19th. Two weeks later, Nancy called me and described some symptoms she’d been having that I instantly recognized as labor. Sure enough, just hours later, along came Tripp. When Nancy lived for awhile in Fanwood, NJ, I’d often take my toddlers up to visit with her toddlers, Tripp and Nina. Back in Atlanta, Nancy had Jack, her third child, a mere three months after I had PJ, my fourth. As they grew, the children became friends too. Tripp performed at our Rehoboth Summer Children’s Theatre one year when he was in college. Jack and PJ had adventures—a trip to Hilton Head, SC; a sleepover when a tornado hit Nancy’s house and they had to go down to the basement.  

Tripp and Sher, age 3

 At dinner the other night, we shared so many memories.  There were eight of us around the table, but the ghosts of Anne, Jack, Mom and Dad were there too. And as we talked about them, they seemed close enough to touch. We aren’t family, the Downeys and the Cunninghams, but then again maybe we are. 

Who are your oldest friends? Who do you consider family? Are you lucky enough to have heart-connections that span much of your life?  As the Girl Scout song reminds us: “Make new friends, but keep the old/ one is silver and the other gold.” I truly hope that you have both.  

I treasure all my friends, silver and gold. Downeys, you are pure gold.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Funny Thing

“I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long.” --Mitch Hedberg

One of the most oft-listed attributes listed in online dating profiles? “Must have a sense of humor.”  But I ask you, what IS funny? The answers are as individual as we are. Do you find Three Stooges routines a riot, or boorish and sadistic?  How about George Carlin’s old standup acts, with their profanity and trenchant observations? Thumbs up or down? Are you more likely to tune in to Comedy Central or reruns of The Andy Griffith Show? And what tickles your fancy in the world around you? When someone slips on a banana peel, is your tendency to giggle? Or to just help them up?

I don’t recall growing up in the house of a million chuckles, though my mom and sisters appreciated humor and were themselves funny people. We just didn’t sit around and joke. One of the reasons was probably the presence of my dad, a strong, silent type who wouldn’t have recognized a quip if it bit him. In contrast, my uncles Jack and Gerry were hysterical, and could be counted upon to deliver rapid-fire family stories so comical that our stomachs would ache from laughing. Theirs was the humor of the Irish, a wee bit sarcastic and sardonic, finding the funny in decidedly un-funny situations.

I decided early on that my future spouse would have to have a quick wit, and was delighted to meet Steve. In addition to making me laugh on a regular basis, Steve shared my appreciation for the same comedians. One of our early dates was to see young Steve Martin and Martin Mull (“The Steve Martin Mull Show”) at the Great Southeast Music Hall in Atlanta.  And my Steve not only thought funny, he wrote funny plays—a bonus!

Our kids, who I find funny, also appreciate the humor of others. They introduced me to comedians ranging from Brian Regan, to Jim Gaffigan, to Louie C.K. Whenever they come home, they pull up videos on the computer of shows and standup routines that I find side-splitting.

Rose’s one request for her October birthday was money to take a comedy sketch writing course in New York City. Rose is known for writing short but hilarious Facebook posts, and I have no doubt she is capable of being an excellent comedy writer. She is stretching herself in a wonderful new direction.
My funny lady

Everyone can’t be funny. But everyone has the ability to appreciate the funny side of things. That is one of my prime resolutions for the new year: to laugh more often, and I think it’s a great resolution for all of us. It really doesn’t matter if you prefer the madcap movies of the Marx Brothers, or the rollicking, veddy veddy British stories of P.G. Wodehouse. What matters is tapping back in to the lighter side, wherever you find it.

So may 2015 be a year filled with joy and fun and lots of belly-laughs too. Life is too short to take seriously.

Groucho and Chico Marx--from "Horsefeathers"