Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Unexpected Friendships

This is a picture of my friend Ellen from New Jersey. If asked to describe herself, Ellen would say she's a wife, mother, genealogy addict, and mystery addict. It was that last obsession that brought us together in 1999.

At the time, Ellen was working in a bookstore in Morris County.   A dedicated reader of murder and mayhem, she'd signed up to attend Malice Domestic, a Washington, D.C. convention for fans of traditional mysteries as typified by the novels of Agatha Christie (no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence). I had also registered for the con, and had driven to Washington with my husband, who planned to do the tourist thing while I was hobnobbing with other mystery fans at Malice.

Mary Higgins Clark was the guest of honor that year at Malice. While the other attending authors gathered as a group to sign books bought by their fans, Ms. Clark's fame was so great that she was accorded her own time and room in which to sign, that room being the grand ballroom. When it came her time to sign books, her fan line wound serpentine-like through the ballroom, and extended out the doorway and down the hall almost to the hotel lobby. As you can guess, it took forever to get a book signed that afternoon.

But I couldn't complain, because Ellen was the person in front of me in that line, and during the course of our slow stroll down the corridor and through the ballroom, we went from strangers to friends, with much in common both mystery-wise and life-wise. Later that evening, Fred and I joined Ellen and her husband Kevin at dinner. The two men hit it off immediately. Pretty soon we were making plans to see each other again at Deadly Ink, a mystery con held in Parsippany, New Jersey.

Thirteen years have passed since we first met, and in that time Ellen and I have become good friends, exchanging news of our families in emails and visiting each other in New Jersey and the Chicago area several times. I was thrilled when Ellen recently emailed to say she and Kev were coming to town for a wedding. We arranged to meet during their visit, and this past Saturday we did exactly that. 

We last saw each other six years ago, but as Ellen remarked while we hugged hello, it seems like it was only a few short months ago. We easily fell into the kind of conversation you only have with intimate friends. Ellen and Kev regaled us with a hilarious story of their trip to Costa Rica for their son Kyle's wedding. Fred and I then told them about our son Matt's fantastic wedding weekend at Cumberland Falls, Kentucky. Afterwards, while the men talked politics and business, Ellen and I oohed and aahed over our two sons' wedding photos, caught up on our other kids' doings, and of course talked books.

And when it came to books, we discovered we have more than we knew in common. Ellen was checking out the books in my bedroom bookcase and pointed to the top shelf where I have several Miss Read novels. She laughed and said, "I have that one, too. And that one, and..." It turned out she owned most if not all of the Miss Read novels after buying them at a library sale. If you don't know Miss Read, let me just say her books are comfort reads about two towns in England and the people who call those places home. I turn to the author's Thrush Green series in times of high stress, and always close a book feeling more at peace with myself. Then Ellen pointed to another series I own, an old set of baseball mysteries by Crabbe Evers. It turns out she owns those books, too.

Baseball and Thrush Green. You can't get farther apart than that when it comes to books. But both of us love those novels, and to me, it only shows how much the two of us think alike. I consider myself lucky to know Ellen. She has a gentle heart, a loving attitude, and a ready smile. What more could anyone want in a friend?

Ours was an unexpected friendship that began with a chance meeting in a signing line. How about you? Have you ever had the good fortune to make a new friend in a totally unexpected way? If so, I'd love to hear your story. You can relate it here, or comment on my timeline on Facebook.

And oh, yes, I have to say, Mary Higgins Clark has no idea how much I appreciate having had to wait all that time for her to sign my book. :)