|Alicia deep into color at Penland.|
Before I left home to begin married life, my mother gave me lots of last minute advice, including this: “Hold on to your friends. There will come a day when you’ll be grateful for the people who knew you when…
By the time I met Alicia in 1986, I was wearing only sensible shoes with white anklets for the warm weather, and black, brown or navy knee socks for the rest of the year. I’d always dressed carefully, choosing matching or harmonizing sweaters and jewelry but the color palette of my wardrobe was conservative. She changed all that, and had a profound influence on my life in other ways.
I was writing and producing catalogs on contract for Penland School of Crafts. Desktop Publishing had just been introduced and Penland’s director Verne Stanford was eager to give it a try. He knew Alicia’s work and wanted her to design the publications and produce them in-house. A graphic designer and an artist, she had been working in magazine publishing in New York. We formed a bond almost from the first handshake, and even though she is in the age bracket of my children, we have been close friends ever since.
After a few trips to North Carolina, she moved to Penland, eventually becoming a resident artist. We worked together for seven years, several of them after she moved to Petaluma, CA. Twice I did as much as I could on the summer catalog and then flew out there a for a week so we could put it all together. During one of our California marathons, she declared we needed a break and took me to a spa in wine country where she introduced me to a mud bath. Whether we were working, going shopping or cooking a meal, everything we did was fun. To do my part of the work, I was forced to keep pace with rapidly evolving computer technology. Alicia virtually inhaled all the innovations, but for me it was a struggle. She boosted my confidence, kept me laughing and eventually I learned each new thing. In her work she is a perfectionist, and over the years as I learned to do more copy formatting, I also absorbed her attention to detail. In spite of her exuberant personality, she is a private person, and when she suffers, it has the same kind of intensity as her joy. A few times she revealed something painful to me, and I felt like she had given me a gift. I was also grateful to be there along with my husband Bill to share her happiness when she married her Billy.
Alicia is a colorist whose work with textiles and rugs reflects her exuberant zest for color. I came to believe that she got up every morning and designed herself. She always has a perky haircut to which she may have applied some color theory, and her clothes are a burst of vibrant textural hues that seem to increase the energy level in the room. Without really commenting on my dowdiness, she made pronouncements or suggestions that made me, for example, start thinking about socks as a fashion statement. Now I have a large drawer full of different colored knee socks, some with bold designs, and both white and pastel anklets for summer. I expanded the color range of my sensible shoes and bought a purple raincoat. As I loosened up about wardrobe, worked intensely with this graphic perfectionist and enjoyed endless conversations about everything, I not only expanded my skills, I also lightened up.
Last week Alicia was part of an artist’s retreat at Penland and I was able to spend four hours with her one afternoon. We had not seen each other for ten years although we kept in touch by email and phone. During that decade, Bill died and more recently Alicia’s mother and soon after that, her brother. I wrote and published my book. She started a business designing and overseeing the production of carpets. But as we sat at a brightly painted table in Penland’s coffee house, we didn’t feel the need to catch up. Alicia is the personification of what it means to be present in the moment. I asked about Billy, her sisters and some mutual friends. Then we just talked as we always have about the things that are currently occupying or captivating either of us.
Off and on all summer I have been in touch with my college friend Sue. We both married DePauw alums soon after we graduated and she was my Matron of Honor. She has lived in Iowa ever since, while Bill and I moved many times before establishing our permanent home in Celo. Sue and I exchanged Christmas letters, had a few phone conversations and saw each other a half dozen times over the past 58 years. Strangely, there have been many parallels in our lives, including her husband Ward’s medical history, which altered the second half of their marriage, as Bill’s illness changed ours. Luckily Ward is still going strong.
She called me last June, just before my knee surgery, to say that her book club was going to read Decrescendo in September; she hoped I could come out and be there for the meeting. As the time drew near, I worried that a trip involving two stops and three different commuter planes would be difficult. Sue pointed out that when you’re almost 80, perhaps it’s not a good idea to take chances. So instead, she emailed me questions and I sent her answers and we had a great time in the process. After the meeting, Sue called me and we had a long chat with Ward chiming in now and then. Just before we hung up, she commented that old friends are just great. I heartily agree.
Photo by Wes Stitt