My merriest holiday memory did not actually occur on Christmas Day. It took place the day after. I remember it was on a Sunday in 1999. I had recently had the Internet installed in my home and was spending a leisurely evening browsing the World Wide Web. I’d heard about this biography of an actress from the Forties and Fifties I wanted to add to my growing reading list and found the website of the person who’d written the book. Her name was Elsie Van Savage, and she had several other books to her credit. On a whim, I decided to contact her and ask her some questions about the biography that interested me so much. I had no idea one Email could launch an enduring friendship, but that is exactly what happened.
She replied to my message that same night. This was one of my first correspondences with someone over the Internet, and she seemed very nice. Elsie asked me a couple of questions. I wrote back, never expecting to hear from her again. You can imagine my surprise when I did. For a while, we exchanged one message per day. These were long and much like letters. We would discover more about each other every time. Receiving one of her Emails was the equivalent of having being given a present. I never knew what she was going to say next. I’m sure Elsie felt the same way when she heard from me.
Having Elsie as a friend meant a great deal to me because she had a sort of grandmotherly impact on me. I never knew what it was like to have grandparents, so I found someone with whom I could share the daily goings on of my teenage life. We connected when I was sixteen, and she was in her early sixties. It did not matter that we lived miles apart from one another. Just having the luxury of communicating by this technical marvel was nice. It still is.
Elsie helped me get through some tough experiences. I recall one instance in which there were two girls at school who kept teasing me. They would say the vilest things to me when they were together. They were always making fun of my weight. I could not understand how anyone could be so cruel. I’d never done or said anything to them to make them dislike me so much. Every night after getting home and doing my homework, I poured out all of my pent up anguish into a lengthy note to Elsie. She responded by offering words of sympathy and encouragement. From her, I learned how to use writing as a way of dealing with problems. I will always be grateful for this.
I credit Elsie for helping me to become a professional writer. She always insisted I submit stories to publications, but I did not take her advice until years later. It wasn’t that I did not want to write. This had been my dream even before I got to know her. As I look back now, I realize I felt nervous about taking that first step. Fear of uncertainty stopped me. Elsie taught me how to do what I believed in and hope for a positive outcome. Once I began conquering my trepidation, I started to see all of the things I could achieve, both in writing and in other areas.
Elsie’s birthday is on New Year’s Day, and I call her every year on that day. She does the same on my birthday, which is the thirtieth of April. This is our present to each other. These conversations are all too brief, but they are always enjoyable.
When I graduated from high school, I sent her a photo of myself. She told me she tacked it to her refrigerator, and the picture is still up there. It’s nice that someone who lives so far away would think of me as a part of her family.
As I write this final paragraph, I am astonished at how much time has gone by since introducing myself to Elsie. No greater gift can compare to friendship. It is important to reach out to others and make those you care about feel special. This is what I try to do in my frequent correspondence with Elsie. I know that someday she won’t be around, and I don’t like thinking about when I will not be able to talk to her during those instances when something is bothering me or I just need to be told some reassuring words. So, I enjoy the time we have. Without friends, this world would be a lonely place. They bring us joy, make us laugh, and help us through the toughest of times. And we do the same for them. That is what friendship is all about.