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Close call illustrates longtime friend's true values

November 04, 2007|By KATE COLEMAN

The recent California wildfires were on the other side of the continent, but with my friend JoAnne visiting from her Encinitas, Calif., home, my view of the disaster was heart-wrenchingly up-close and personal.

JoAnne and I have been friends for nearly 40 years. She's lived in California for nearly 35 of them. We met as first-year students at a small women's college near Philadelphia. We weren't roommates, but had tiny side-by-side singles. Despite differences in our academic proclivities - I majored in English literature, she in math - we got close.

I remember many late-into-the-night conversations, our long hair wrapped around our heads so it would be straight in the morning, goopy cosmetic concoctions coating our 18-year-old complexions.

I traveled to see her once, years ago, but since her parents live in Washington, D.C., she comes East every few months and manages to steal a night to visit me.

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We no longer do the facials or hair thing with the soup-can rollers, but the late-into-the-night conversations remain. We've grown through many changes in our lives. Despite time and distance, we've stayed close.

JoAnne flew from San Diego to Baltimore a few days before the fires started and drove directly to my house.

It was a typically easy evening: We each had a glass of wine with the soup and salad I'd made, we stretched out on TV-room couches to watch "Dancing With the Stars" and we talked. And talked.

We considered going out to lunch on Friday, but we chose the more comfortable option of staying in our pajamas until early afternoon. And we talked.

Jo drove to her parents' home, spent the weekend and planned to fly home Monday. But on her way to the airport she called and asked me if she could come back.

The home she shares with husband Peter and their blended menagerie (cats Murphy and Miss Kitty and dog Buddy) was possibly in the line of fire - fire propelled by powerful and unpredictable Santa Ana winds. The San Diego airport was operating, but Peter didn't know if roads would be open so he could get there to meet her plane.

Monday evening was tense. When Jo reached Peter by phone, he was fine, awaiting evacuation instructions. Miss Kitty, relegated to the laundry room in case a rapid exit was required, was yowling but safe.

I stood nearby hearing one side of a transcontinental conversation about some really big stuff. I got a glimpse into my friend's heart, and, to mix metaphors, what I heard was my friend's true colors.

Peter asked Jo if there was anything she wanted him to not leave behind if he had to evacuate. She joked that it would be nice if she didn't lose the "perfect" bathing suit she had recently shopped for hours to find.

Then she said, "I don't care about anything. I just want you to be safe."

Although I never doubted for an instant that JoAnne's values were such, it was wonderful to be an earwitness to that declaration - to hear those words out loud.

She flew home Tuesday, and I heard from her late that night.

Peter was not one of the more than 560,000 San Diego County residents forced from their homes - the biggest evacuation in California history, according to an Associated Press story. My friends' home was not one of the more than 2,000 destroyed by flames that burned more than 500,000 acres and caused more than $1 billion of devastation.

JoAnne is back to work, Miss Kitty is out of the laundry room, and Peter has unloaded the car and reconnected the several computers his home-based software business requires.

Jo learned that he had packed another item in a plastic grocery bag in case he needed to escape - her new bathing suit.

Perfect, indeed.




Kate Coleman writes a monthly Lifestyle column and covers the Maryland Symphony Orchestra for The Herald-Mail. She can be reached via e-mail at katec@herald-mail.com.

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