Time can be the thing that pulls people apart. Especially now, it seems like it's easy to lose track of how long it has been since you called that friend of yours to check in.
Laraine Kentridge Lasdon found that the pandemic helped her cross that divide.
Earlier this year, we put out a call for your stories about overcoming differences — true stories about finding common ground.
Working with the Austin Public Library and The Library Foundation, we collected the submissions and helped writers shape their stories into pieces to read for the radio.
Laraine wrote about an unexpected gift from an old friend just as the pandemic was starting.
Read Laraine's story below:
I am sitting alone in my kitchen. We are in the middle of a world-wide pandemic.
Every morning I brew coffee and drink out of my favorite Frida Kahlo mug, looking out my window. In the distance I can see the purple outline of the Texas Hill Country. On this day, on my deck, a brown squirrel is noisily eating the stuffing from the striped cushions on my outdoor chair.
The street is deserted this early in the morning. No people.
I turn on KUT to hear the latest news. “Starting tomorrow” I hear, “everyone must wear protective masks when outside, doing errands, visiting parks.” “And,” continued the reporter, “instructions on how to make masks can be found in newspapers and online.”
“Really?” I spoke to my coffee mug and the squirrel. “Do you guys know how to sew?”
I mentally went through my list of friends – all of whom had vanished, sheltering in place in their own homes. I realized, with some degree of panic, that I did not know anyone who could sew!!
But then Laura suddenly popped into my head. We met at the Blanton Museum of Art on the University of Texas campus where we were both volunteer docents - gallery teachers. We loved art and would wander all over the museum admiring paintings. She was a wonderful friend – we were close – sharing ideas, sharing the love of art and teaching. She was also a very accomplished seamstress and fiber artist.
I could picture her in my mind. She was beautiful – she looked as if she stepped out of a Botticelli painting.
I last heard from her about 10 years ago. One day she disappeared from the Blanton program – no explanation, no warning.
I never knew why. And I missed her!
I got dressed and decided at least I could go for a walk and enjoy the cool spring weather. The rules did not require a mask for this, and anyway, I didn’t have one! By late morning, my neighborhood felt like a big night on Sixth Street (or at least, what it was before the shutdown). Everyone was walking, most wearing cloth masks of varying hues and thickness.
We had to be 6 feet apart – this was serious – so I watched as neighbors drew close to me, then, like a small dance choreographed by the coronavirus, zigged and zagged across the road. At any other time, this obvious avoidance would be met with cold stares and hurt feelings. But my zig and my zag were greeted with thumbs up signs and hollered “thank yous” from the other side of the street.
Suddenly my cellphone blared out “The Star Spangled Banner,” which meant the caller was not in my contacts. I looked at the screen and for some reason decided to answer the call.
“Laraine?” the caller asked. “Ummm – who is this?” I asked. “It’s Laura. Do you remember me? From the Blanton?” “Laura – I do remember you – are you OK? Is it your dogs? Are they OK?” “No, no – the dogs are fine,” she said. "I just called because I want to make you some masks. You know we all need to wear masks now, right?”
“Why? Why me?” I asked Laura. I had not heard from her for 10 years.
Yet just this very morning, thinking of neighbors and friends, I had thought of her!
“I want to protect you,” was all she said.
Coincidence? The Universe paying attention? The answer to a prayer? I don’t know. What do you think?
For a minute, I couldn’t speak. Then I took a breath – I may have prayed, I don’t know.
“Yes,” I said. “I do need masks – I feel so worried, so unprotected. Vulnerable. Thank you, Laura. I am truly grateful.”
And in that moment, with all the tragedy around us, time collapsed into this one precious moment of love and kindness.
Three days later a bulky package arrived. Inside were four spectacular, brightly colored cotton masks and a note: For Laraine. From Laura.