Many desire to rekindle old friendships

November 09, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Browsing through tables at a library sale early this summer, a novel caught the eye of Muriel Jewett.

The book was "A Servant's Tale."

The author's name jolted her: Paula Fox.

Memories rose in her mind. Two Long Island girls. Shared secrets. Giggles. Hopes and dreams. Pals since grade school.

The book jacket was another clue. It pictured a woman who just might be the mature version of the girl Paula.

But as she stood at the table heaped with books, Muriel Jewett, 68, of Charlotte, N.C., knew more than half a century had passed since those carefree days of childhood.

Could it be . . .?

In our transient age, people lose touch. Names, particularly women's, change. People move. Then move. And move again.

Parents die. And their neighbors get fuzzy about where their grown children have gone.

A new Gallup poll confirms this. It reports that more than two-thirds of Americans have lost touch with a close friend. And not because of a rift.

Mostly, it was because one of them moved.

A lot of people in the survey indicated they were sorry they let those friends get out of their lives. An impressive 92 percent say they want to renew those friendships.

"When we make one of those heart connections with someone, they're always with us," says Alexis Stein of Charlotte, N.C., a psychotherapist and executive director of To Life, a counseling service. "And you never want less. You're always looking to reconnect."

Sometimes people follow a trail of old addresses, friends and relatives that help them reconnect to their old friend. Sometimes, it is just pure luck.

* Sheila Snipes Smith of Charlotte was fresh out of graduate school and waiting tables at a restaurant while waiting to begin her career as a school counselor in 1977. She made instant friends with Jan Ellen Brown. Even after the pair lost touch, Ms. Smith recalls, "I never forgot her. I always missed her friendship."

In 1991, on a nostalgic impulse, Ms. Smith sent Ms. Brown a birthday card to the only address she knew, Ms. Brown's husband's office, and the friendship was renewed. "It makes me feel really good to have found her again," says Ms. Smith.

Alexis Stein, the counselor, says this enduring mental and emotional intimacy is what drives many people to re-establish old friendships, no matter how many years have passed.

"They have this history and these roots are very important," she says.

Patty Rogers of Charlotte learned that even the coldest trail can eventually lead to reunion. But it takes perseverance. And patience.

For nearly 20 years, Ms. Rogers had lost touch with a high school friend, Keri Sivess. Both had attended an American high school in Heidelberg, Germany, until Ms. Rogers' family returned to the United States in 1971.

"We wrote for a while," Ms. Rogers recalls. "But for kids at that age,it's hard to keep up a correspondence. Later on, I would hear of an address and send a letter. I did that three or four times."

Then she stopped. And the friendship became a good memory -- and a yearning.

In 1990, Ms. Rogers' brother came across a list with his sister's old friend's name and phone number on it. He passed it along. More letters followed.

Ms. Rogers was hopeful, but one thought kept running through her mind: "She won't remember me." Then another thought countered: "She'd have to. We were best friends for many years." She did.

"It was exhilarating," Ms. Rogers recalled of the 1990 telephone reunion with her friend, who now lives in Snowmass, Colo., and finally meeting in person this year in Atlanta. Both women are 38.

"It was like a chapter in a book had reopened," Ms. Rogers says. "Never give up trying. It can happen, even after 18 years."

Muriel Jewett, remembering her long-ago friend, did not ponder long.

She wrote the book publisher with a request to forward a letter to Paula Fox, the author she hoped so much was her lost, but never forgotten, friend. Jewett mailed her letter and waited.

Within two weeks, a reply arrived.

It was Paula.

"I recalled you at once," the letter said.

And next spring, when Paula Fox comes to North Carolina for a speaking engagement, they will reconnect in person. As if they had ever really been apart.

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