If they measured friendship in dollars, I would be a trillionaire. In my life, I have been blessed to have the most wonderful friends. Some have come and gone quickly, some have stayed for a while, then drifted away, but many have stayed long term. Two such friends have stayed in my life for forty years.
It was the summer of ’73 as I recall. I was living in New Hampshire at the time, raising my son, Great Danes, Basset Hounds, Afghans and horses. I received a phone call from a young couple in California who wanted to breed to one of our Great Danes. They had been sent to us by their California breeder. Arrangements were made and they drove all the way across the Country, diagonally, in their Winnebago to breed their bitch to our harlequin Great Dane, BISS Am & Can Ch. Dinro’s Simon Templar.
The minute I met Jane & Ernie, I liked them. We took them sightseeing and down to my hometown of Gloucester, Mass to eat pizza and to Essex for fried clams. As they were leaving to drive home to California, they said if you ever get to California, please come stay with us!
Well, the breeding to their bitch didn’t take, but the friendship did.
When it became obvious it was time for me to leave New Hampshire in the summer of 1974, my then three year old son, Trent, and I boarded a plane for Northern California. It was as far away from my life as I could go before I ran out of land. We had the clothes on our backs and a suitcase (that was all I could carry). We stayed with an older friend in the Petaluma or Sebastopol area (it is all a bit fuzzy now). All I remember is the summer fog rolled in about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and stayed until 2 o’clock in the afternoon the next day. It was so gloomy, it drove me mad! I lasted three days in that weather.
I asked the kind woman I was staying with to take me to the airport so I could fly south to see some other friends. She asked me if I had a place to go and, even though I had NO idea where I was going, I assured her I did. She dropped me off at the San Francisco airport and I went searching for the nearest phone booth. I called Jane & Ernie, whom I hadn’t talked to in over a year I think, and the conversation went something like this:
Me: Hi, this is Helen
Jane: (long pause while she tried to think who in the world I was).
Me: Helen with Simon. You drove back to New Hampshire to breed to him.
Jane: OH HELEN! YES! HI!
Me: (uncomfortable chuckle) Does your offer to come visit you still stand?
Jane: OF COURSE! When are you thinking of coming?
Jane: (uncomfortable laugh on the other end of the phone)Where are you?
Me: At the San Francisco airport.
Me: Well, this is a bit embarrassing but…(I explained our situation briefly to Jane)
Jane: You are welcome to come and stay with us as long as you need to.
Me: Thank you. How do I get there?
Jane: You fly into the Orange County Airport (This was long before it was known as the John Wayne Airport) and we will pick you up.
Me: OK, I will let know when I get a ticket.
Trent and I went to the ticket counter and I bought a ticket to Orange County. Then we sat in the terminal for hours waiting for our flight to leave. While waiting, Trent picked some old, chewed gum from a chair and put in his mouth before I could stop him. I tried to explain to him that was not a good thing to do, but it fell on deaf ears.
Jane & Ernie met us at the airport. It was a tiny little strip mall type thing where you walked down the stairs from the plane and across the tarmac to the little terminal. My how things have changed. The current John Wayne Airport is quite large and the terminal is covered in travertine, granite and marble. It is quite spectacular these days.
Both teachers, Jane & Ernie had the summer off, so we spent many of our days lounging by their pool. I was blown away that most houses in their tract had pools. I had never seen a tract let alone so many swimming pools in a square mile!
Jane and Ernie were so good to us. Shortly after we arrived, Trent developed trench mouth from that old gum he found at the airport. Life was pretty horrible. He screamed much of the time, wet the bed every night (we shared a bed in their guest room) and had terrible nightmares. My breakup was very hard on him, but it was a LOT harder on Jane & Ernie I think!
Life was too easy for me. I made no effort to find myself a place to live, or to get anything that resembled a life. I had it made! All I did was clean up after their two dogs and they did everything else. How they put up with me for all those months is beyond me!
After about five months of mooching off my new friends, Jane said very nicely and kindly, “I think it is time for you to find your own place.” She was right, it was. So after looking high and low, I found a place in Agoura Hills, got my California driver’s license, borrowed some money from my brother to buy a van and off we went on our new adventure.
I often made the two hour trip down to Garden Grove to visit Jane & Ernie on weekends. They helped me find homes for many of the dogs I had in New Hampshire, but the best ones I gave to them.
Eventually, I met the breeder of their Great Danes who had sent them to us in New Hampshire. She was a self-proclaimed match maker. She couldn’t stand anyone to be single. She kept trying to fix me up with guys. Sometimes I accepted, but most of the time I refused. There was this one guy she worked with, and electronic engineer, whom she said was perfect for me but “a little older.” She lied to me about his age, and lied to him about my age. She bugged us both so much that we finally gave in and agreed to go on a blind date, as long as the matchmaker and her husband went along too.
Well, that guy was Mel (Sir Cussalot to most of you) and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mel hit it off with Jane and Ernie and the four of us were inseparable. We went everyplace together. We visited each other on weekends; either they came to our place in Simi Valley or we went to their place. We corrupted them and eventually they moved out to Norco (then mostly farm country) where they could have more dogs and some horses.
We laughed together, we ate together and we traveled together. Jane & Ernie have always been the kind of people around whom we could be ourselves. We never had to pretend we were nicer than we were, or more politically correct or anything else. They were true friends who allowed us to be us with no judgment. Everyone deserves friends like that, but not many are lucky enough to have them.
Eventually, Mel and I decided to move to Washington State where he was born. We wanted more room for horses and to get the kids out of Southern California. When we told Jane and Ernie we were moving, they said they were going to follow us. So, the four of us left our lives in So Cal behind and headed north to find room, peace and quiet, less traffic and eternal happiness.
Jane and Ernie settled in Curtis and we in Silver Creek about 45 minutes southeast. Over the years, we all got busy with our lives and drifted apart. I was very sad about that, but those things happen in life. Our multiple daily talks went to once a day, then every few days, then once a week and so on until we rarely had contact at all. They adopted two beautiful girls about four and nine, who kept them forever busy. We no longer could go anyplace because our nags kept us in chains. Jane would invite us to dinner, but we couldn’t leave the farm. Eventually, she stopped asking and I don’t blame her one single bit. Mel and I had turned into recluses.
When their oldest daughter was married, they invited us to the wedding and we were thrilled. Our lives had slowed down by then. We no longer had nags and we had sold our business. That wedding helped the four of us reconnect. It was as if nothing had changed.
Jane and Ernie retired from teaching and had plenty of time on their hands, and we were out of excuses to not leave the farm. Jane asked if we would consider going on a cruise with them. Mel didn’t say no, so we made arrangements to cruise out of Seattle to Alaska. We had a blast! There are very few people who “get” me, but Jane and Ernie always have. Ernie laughed at my stupid jokes, while Jane looked on in disgust. It was our shtick. Mel would chuckle with approval and even join in with the jokes. There are VERY few people around whom Mel feels comfortable enough to do that, but he was always comfortable enough around Jane and Ernie to be himself. If cornered, Mel will talk to somebody to be polite, but given a choice, he would rather not. There are few exceptions to that rule, but Jane and Ernie are two people around whom he feels safe enough to talk comfortably.
The Alaska cruise went over so well, we continued cruising.
We went up the New England Coast in the fall to Quebec City and around the Mediterranean. When we weren’t cruising, we were traveling by car or plane. We traveled to Crufts in England and then to Ireland.
We toured Washington DC and dragged Jane to a vegan eatery in a VERY bad section. Jane was convinced we were all goners that day. I don’t think she was far from the truth actually. It was a pretty scary place! We sure had some great laughs over it though. Poor Jane, we were always dragging her someplace she hated, like the racetrack in Tijuana Mexico, or some dumb ass movie with slapstick sophomoric humor, or some restaurant in the worst part of town. It always gave us something to laugh about later. And boy did we laugh.
On one of our many trips together, we stayed a few days at a friend’s cabin on the coast of Maine. The mosquitos were so thick, we would take turns sending one of us ahead to draw them away while the rest of us would make a break for it! If you opened your mouth during the sprint from the car to the cabin, you would swallow a hundred mosquitos in one gulp! Even though I grew up in New England, I never saw anything like it! We laughed so hard we cried.
For a while about ten years ago, Mel had a gig making cold cast bronze plaques for Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida. It was a pretty good gig too. As the orders grew, Ernie, then retired, offered to help him every day. Mel accepted. I don’t think he would have accepted help from anybody else. Actually, I know he wouldn’t have. The only thing Ernie asked for in return was a vegan lunch. He refused to take any money at all.
So, Ernie drove 45 minutes each way, every day to help Mel for a lousy vegan lunch. I tried to be creative with what I prepared and he never complained (unlike some ungrateful grumpy old vegan man I know who seem to be getting picky with age ;). When the job was over (these jobs would come a batch at a time) we would surprise Ernie with a unique gift of some sort. No amount of money could ever repay him for all that work, but we wanted him to know how much we appreciated him and his friendship.
This year we were scheduled to take a cruise to Scandinavia. It was Ernie’s dream trip. About a week or so before we were scheduled to leave, it became clear the trip wasn’t going to happen. Ernie had been fighting lymphoma since 1997. They had given him two weeks to live back then, so he really beat the odds and I was sure he would again. He had to! I needed my partner in crime. Who else would laugh at my idiotic jokes the way he did? Who else was just as irreverent and absurd as I was? People like that are very hard to find in this world of political correctness.
Jane kept us updated, but it didn’t sound good. Even so, I knew Ernie would be fine. I just knew it! Surely, the Universe would not break up such an incredibly devoted couple! How could it be Jane and not Jane and Ernie? That just didn’t even sound right!
Then, this past Tuesday, January 15, 2013, just one month to the day short of his 68th birthday, our wonderful friend lost his battle with cancer.
My heart aches for my incredible friend Jane and her girls who lost their amazing dad. It also aches for Mel who lost his best friend and for me, who lost half of the greatest pair of friends anyone could ever want. I long for the day when I can stop crying.
I only hope that wherever Ernie is, the humor is tasteless, sick, twisted and irreverent; just the way he liked it.
Rest in peace my incredibly funny friend. I will miss you forever and a day.
Bad boy Ernie
Want to know what he wrote?