She was just a voice from across the hall exchanging pleasantries until the blizzard happened in 1982. It was unexpected and so severe, traffic was paralyzed and could not get through the Lincoln Tunnel; and without cell phones nobody knew what became of friends and family en route to the city. That’s when Claire knocked on my door asking for help from my then-Assistant U.S. Attorney husband. Because he worked for the government, she thought he could gather information otherwise unavailable.
Elizabeth, who also lived across the hall, had lectured in Princeton earlier, and hadn’t phoned or returned home. After an all-night vigil we ascertained no hospital or police reported Elizabeth in an accident…and finally, the next morning, she returned, thanks to a good samaritan with a tow truck.
That was the beginning of a 30 + year friendship filled with laughter, birthday, holiday, and ‘just for no reason’ celebrations shared with the Ratrays from the 10th floor. It’s amazing how ‘family’ grows out of friendship and how age is no factor when so much is shared – although it did feel good to be referred to as the ‘kids’ – that’s what they called Ann & me; Claire & Elizabeth referred to themselves as the ‘old bags’ but they were no such thing. Claire especially had the youngest spirit; she could make the most mundane chore a joy! I still hear her laughter and expect to hear her joyful “hey neighbor” as I step off the elevator.
All I have now are wonderful happy memories and tons of photographs taken at countless gatherings including my ‘bah winter bash’ where everyone
wore summer clothes – and the whole 14th floor was transformed into a tropical paradise…and true to form Claire & Elizabeth arrived with straw hats, shorts, sandals & a smile in 29 degree weather!
I think of Claire driving their vintage Mustang convertible, politely keeping the salivating would-be buyers at bay… imagine thinking they could
pull the wool over Claire’s eyes just because she had grey hair, and was so friendly, never a hint of her phd & worldly travels…. Nobody, not even her doctors had any idea how bright Claire was…. I learned that toward the end while accompanying her. I don’t know why she kept it such a secret, perhaps she enjoyed being the occasional “dumb blonde” – though she was neither of those…. Maybe she thought ‘phd’ would keep people at bay…. I honestly don’t know. I do know that she brought smiles & laughter whenever she entered a room – or lobby – or elevator – or hospital.
How I long to hear that laughter again….
Take care of your friendships, savor them; they are precious and rare and you never know when you will no longer have them.
Thank you Claire for knocking on my door one snowy night so many years ago….. Thank you.
[Longtime Block resident Claire List died March 5, 2014 at age 81]