Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Story of My Lost Friend Clara--Part I

Have you ever had a friend – a really good friend – that you lost touch with and have never reconnected? I did. It has been many years since I last saw her. But I think of her often and wish she was still my friend.

But many years have passed. Would we feel the same comradeship now, after all these years, that we once did?

It’s an intriguing question. And one I’d like to explore. Or maybe not. Perhaps it’s better to just keep her in my memory bank, to remember the friendship as it was and leave it there. Let her remain in my memory as a person I laughed with, and with whom I shared some very good times.

I met Clara through a mutual friend who thought we would “hit it off,”despite the fact that she was a number of years older than I was.  And we did upon our first meeting. She was funny, intense, interesting, talented, She had a spark and an enthusiasm about her that I needed at that time, as I was passing through a rough spot in my life.

Clara was an artist of some success, her oils and acrylics well placed in several galleries in the large metropolitan area where we lived. The first time I visited her home, a spacious light-filled second floor apartment overlooking the water, I was intrigued by her things: Native American rugs, fine English bone china, crystal, pottery, Indian brass candlesticks and bowls, wood carvings. In the middle of her sitting room was a very low and large coffee table with huge pillows for seating in a William Morris print. Her lamps and side tables were antiques. Such an eclectic mix of old and new, contemporary and traditional, created a most unusual and appealing setting. Clara was an exotic-looking woman -- flowing caftans, flaming red hair swept back in a soptisticated chignon, clunky jewelry.

And then there was her art, hanging on the wall, leaning against furniture, it seemed to be everywhere. A little spiral staircase led to a second floor alcove that served as her studio and she walked me up there to see some of her work in progress.
Clara painted with a passion for life; that was obvious to me. She pointed out a large canvas she had recently completed. It was all greens and blues and blacks, an abstract, but yet impressionistic. Unlike anything I’d ever seen. She told me she found that in many of her painting she was trying to create a place where she could hide out  – among leaves and trees in a forest.
I thought this odd. It was the kind of thing I’d never heard anyone admit. But once we left her studio and returned to the sitting room, she flung open the doors onto a small balcony where overflowing pots of flowers and vegetables grew with reckless abandon. Tomatoes, lettuces, marigolds, squash, beans, petunias, foxglove! Wow, I was so impressed that anyone could grow this many things in such a small space
I don’t remember what she served me on my first visit, but all the food Clara prepared was very good– some of it my first exposure to the dish.
As the summer progressed, we spent time together, me tagging along when she delivered new art to vendors or went by to pick up her paycheck. Other times we drove into the north Georgia mountains, the top back on her Trans Am convertible. Oftentimes we packed picnics in wicker baskets and ate on the rocks beside a cool mountain stream. Sometimes we would pilfer through junk shops or antique stores.
One day, after I’d known her for about three months, she said she wanted to tell me the story of her life. I remember that I was a bit taken aback, as I couldn’t remember anyone every saying that to me. And without my saying alright, and without catching her breath, she launched into her story.
I will relate herstory in condensed form:
Clara's first strong memory, or at least her most vivid one, of her childhood was being placed on a train and reaching her arms out to her mother on the platform as the train pulled away. She was crying and reaching for her mother, but it was useless. The 10-year-old Clara was one of many children who were relocated outside of London dor safety as World War II began. Some went to towns in the English countryside, but Clara was among a group sent to Canada. She remembered that after a long train journey, she was on a ship for the trip to Canada. Several ships were traveling in a convoy and they watched one day in horror as one ship exploded, apparently hit by a torpedo.
Eventually, Clara ended up with a Canadian family belonging to some religious group, similar to Amish perhaps, with whom life for Clara was very different than the one she had left behind. They lived on a farm and had a very simple and religious life. Sunday could only be spent at worship services, praying, or sitting quietly and not speaking. Reading  books or any other diversion was not allowed.
When Clara was 15 years old, she slipped away, made her way to the coast and somehow managed to steal onto a vessel sailing for England as a stowaway. Clara didn’t fill in all the blanks of just how she managed to do this but this was her story.
I’m afraid this post is already too long, but the story becomes even more interesting and unbelievable, and I must finish it for you. But I shall do so in tomorrow’s post.
Please come back to read the “conclusion.” Maybe you are beginning to understand why I still think about Clara from time to time after all these years.


  1. Very interesting story. I think once we have shared our stories and life with a person and have truly created a more than casual acquaintance if we cross paths again there would be a feeling of comradership even tho it may be uncomfortable at first. I believe if a person just "disappears" from our life there is need for closure and will always be the need for an ending to the story. Can't wait for the second part.

  2. Cannot wait for the 2nd installment what an interesting woman she is....what a great discription of her apartment can almost imagine being there.Ida


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