WHEN YESTERDAY BECAME TODAY……
Some events are so special, so unique, so filled with love and laughter and joy and memories that they seem to defy description, but I will try to describe once such recent event in my life.
Part One of this story occurred a little over two months ago when two former French students of mine at the Academy of the Holy Names in Silver Spring, Maryland, and I were reunited in Rome after 50 years! As I wrote then in this column, as we reminisced over several meals and a prosecco at my home, in the shadow of St. Peter’s, Monica (Longen) Knudsen and Anne (Quinn) Glickman and I felt that the years seemed to disappear and yesterday became today in an instant!
When I told them I would be in D.C. for a book promo event, Anne, who still lives in Maryland, said she’d love to organize a dinner for me with other AHN classmates who were still in the area. Monica now lives in Oklahoma City but has remained friends with Anne ever since their days together at the academy.
Both gals did a lot of work to make this reunion happen and it was a marvelous, magical and, as one said, a “miraculous” night. One former student, Janet Lado shared her photos on FB the very next morning so you had some idea of the fun we had that night. The only complaint everyone had was that the evening was FAR too short! This should have been in the manner of a Roman dinner, that is, a meal so long and relaxed, you might feel you are running into the breakfast hour! But who knows, might we meet again in Rome!
I arrived about a half hour before the planned dinnertime but a number of gals were there already so we had a head start on catching up. Mary Widener (who, with her sister Judy, came on one of the European trips with me) had made name tags with everyone’s maiden name and that helped enormously in placing each person.
Hair styles (and color) change, fashions change, and some of us have more laugh lines than others but one thing, at least for me, had not changed – eyes! Those had not changed and were another great clue in name and face recognition. The eyes have it!
If we do a Rome tour, we’d be re-creating some of the experiences we had in my years at the Academy (1964-68), that is, the six-week long summer study-travel programs in Europe when I led groups overseas. You cannot imagine the many stories and memories and laughs that emerged about those summer excursions on this memorable May 10 dinner. It seemed to me that each of us wanted to try to remember every single thing we experienced together at AHN!
As we shared stories during the cocktail hour at Positano’s, everyone asked Monica and Anne how they found Mlle Lewis. It was Monica who, shortly after a trip they had taken to the Holy Land in 2014, heard my voice on TV, found me through EWTN, discovered my Facebook page, wrote some letters and voilà, we had our first reunion in Rome!
I would love to have had the quality time with each of my former students that Monica and Anne and I had in Rome. Each one, as we met and hugged, told me a favorite story about our AHN days or about the study trips in summer. They spoke of how they waited each morning to see what I wore to school – “you were always so classy and elegant!”
Monica shares the story of how she and Anne Quinn “found” me in Rome.
They remembered the day I drove to school in a little Sunbeam sports car loaned to me by a friend. I did not have a car and made the trek to school on city busses, but with Rusty’s car I shaved one hour off of travel time! With the little green Sunbean, I’d just become the students’ personal rock star!
As I left school that afternoon, I offered a ride to Virigina whom I saw every day on one bus. Several dozen students gathered around the car, cheering as I drove off. That was my first and last day in the car because, just several blocks from school, both the regular and emergency brakes failed and I could not stop as I approached (slowly, fortunately) a red light and I hit a much bigger car in front of me. No external damage to the station wagon and little to the Sunbeam, thank the Lord, but the car went into the garage for extensive overhaul before Rusty’s return from flight school in Florida. Most importantly, Virginia (whose last name I have forgotten – she was not at the dinner) was OK!
Everyone remembered when I had my hair cut! At the time, my hair was past shoulder length and I’d worn it in a then-fashionable French twist (younger readers are asking, ”isn’t a French twist something you have with coffee?), although my French hairdresser, Jean-Pierre, had longed to cut it. One day I finally said, “oui” and got the cut I should have head far earlier! It was very flattering, the students loved it and within several weeks, about a dozen or more had the exact same haircut! Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery!
As we spoke before and during dinner, I was stunned at the breadth and depth of the girls’ memories about their French teacher five decades earlier! I mean, 50 years is a long time but the memories seemed as fresh as today’s coffee!
There were so many “wow” moments for me. I never knew I had impacted so many lives in so many ways that were vividly remembered and shared around the table that splendid May evening!
One former student, Susan, hugged me and said she was so very happy to meet again because she could finally tell me that, fifty years ago, I changed her life. “You taught us how to dream. You taught how us to be young women and grow into ladies. You taught us the value and importance of education. You taught us how to be classy and strong and how to always wear a smile. But most importantly, you taught us the importance of knowing how to dream. You gave me the freedom to feel I could dream and I have made many dreams come true in the years since. God bless you! Merci, Mlle!”
She hugged me again, this time with tears in her eyes. I was speechless and could only return the hug!
And her words were echoed as we went around the table at dinner to share stories. Just amazing!
I could write much more. I could share many hilarious and heartwarming stories, but I prefer to share, not to inflict so I’ll end this tale of a remarkable reunion.
Opening gifts –
I do have a final line: There were two surprises that evening! I was floored and overjoyed when I saw Monica who had flown in for this reunion from Oklahoma City! She stayed with Anne and they put the finishing touches on the reunion plans, including balloons in the school colors, an AHN pennant, a yearbook and other pieces of memorabilia that they assembled for the evening.
The second surprise were the two gifts I received. The reunion itself was already a gift. However, as you will see in these photos, I received a magnificent frame with the words “Merci beaucoup, Mlle Lewis, May 10, 2016” and a very elegant crystal apple! It will always be where I can see it and will be a reminder of those beautiful heady days so long ago, and one heady night in May of 2016.
It will be, together with my memories, the “apple of my eye!”
Merci, mes chères amies! Vous etes splendides, incroyables, adorables comme il ya cinquante ans! Je vous embrasse e je vous remercie avec tout mon Coeur!