A Friendship Tale of Love and Work

On the shelf above the desk in my Tucson studio stands a little pale blue framed square picture of Pooh and Piglet walking side by side. The writing on the frame reads:

“We’ll be Friends forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet. “Even longer,” Pooh answered.

I received this little picture from my friend Nancy Benoit quite a few years ago while I still lived in Massachusetts.

‘Forever’ means in perpetuity, an eternity. In a relationship of two persons it is a promise to stay in that relationship as long as one lives. When one person dies, the relationship in the real world ends for that person. The forever and “even longer” has to be carried by the one who is still alive.

On Sunday, September 26, just two days after my return from Cape Cod to Tucson, a phone call from Ray, Nancy’s husband, had the sound of tolling bells. And indeed Nancy Louise Benoit died at her Auburn (Massachusetts) home that morning. Knowing about Nancy’s tragic health issues and her struggles with them for quite a long time, I was not surprised by such sad news. I should have been ready for it, but I was not! I guess one never is….

Nancy Louise Benoit

Nancy and I met on Cape Cod as two young mothers – one baby each – about a year after my arrival in this country. We met when I responded to her ad in a local paper. She was giving away a bicycle and I needed one. That day I became the owner of a terrific, fat-tired, one-speed bike. Later I learned that the bike was of importance to her and that is why she did not want to sell it, but “to give it to the right person.”

We “clicked” that day as some people do when they feel some form of kinship.  We lived nearby, were ecstatic about our babies while at the same time a bit overwhelmed by having them. Since neither of us worked professionally at that time, we could arrange our “tea times” relatively easily. On such days we would have a good talk, exchange recipes, and share our notes about children while they played together in the back yard. The seed of our friendship germinated and became a little seedling that year.

Very dynamic times arrived for both families. The Benoits moved out of the Cape to Auburn (about 90 miles away). I went back to work in science.  Later both of us became mothers again. We were busy with building our homes. Still, we kept in touch, but saw each other rarely. So the seedling of our friendship was growing very slowly. The difficult time of my divorce and single motherhood enlivened its growth greatly. Nancy stood strongly behind me and we visited each other more often again.  The seedling became a larger and stronger plant.

Most relationships have some stormy times and so did ours. Actually, we almost killed that plant of friendship, but the plant was smart and went dormant for a long eight years. When it was awakened again, I was an established writer on the Cape and getting ready to enter the world of books. Nancy was writing for and editing a local paper in her corner of Massachusetts. When I decided to publish the book Son of Mashpee, I needed an editor and an excellent one. So I proposed that assignment to Nancy. She accepted and from that time our friendship plant grew like crazy – in height, in width, and in depth. It grew through our hard work together and through long, intimate, middle-of-the-night conversations.  We found great allies in telephones and computers. The distance between Falmouth and Auburn suddenly shrank. We met often – for working in person, for the celebrations of our finished projects, and just for fun. Those were the best and the happiest times of our friendship!

Ray and Nancy Benoit Nancy and Ray Benoit at the door of Alicja’s studio guarded well by Mr. Einstein

My moving to Tucson did not change the dynamics of our work relationship or the personal one. We learned to deal with the huge distance between Massachusetts and Arizona. I was also spending my summers on the Cape and we could see each other once in a while.  But the clouds of Nancy’s unkind fate were coming our way. Still, we threw ourselves into a project of putting together my book of essays. It took longer than we expected with major interruptions by my emergency travels to Poland. As a result we ran that final stage of the project depleted of energy – I by my mother’s death and Nancy by her own health issues. In spite of it all, and thanks to our stubbornness (both of us being Taurus), we finished that race on time and with kudos for the book. Looking at the World Twice would never have seen daylight without Nancy’s perseverance and dedication.

You can see why my most vivid memories of Nancy will be always connected to our work on editing and polishing the words endlessly. And there is some humor in that as well. The process of book editing was long and complex. It went as follows. The file for Nancy’s editing was labeled by me as READY.  Then after her work on it I would receive it back as FINAL, but it was not. A discussion of various details was ahead for us. After that the file would be labeled as ALMOST DONE and I knew that more discussions, especially about placing commas, would follow. Then, after receiving the file marked as DONE, you might think that it would be ready for publishing. Wrong! There was always something more Nancy found in need of correction. Only a file marked by her as DONE DONE could face the world! I truly loved that attention to detail in her work. Now, after Nancy’s departure, I have to carry the flag of DONE DONE excellence – all by myself.

Nancy Benoit and Alicja Mann in Word Studio Nancy and Alicja at work

“We’ll be Friends forever, won’t we?

“Yes, even longer.”

* * *

Copyright © 2010 by Alicja Mann

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8 Comments on “A Friendship Tale of Love and Work”

  1. steve benoit Says:

    Thanks so much for the fantastic post Alicja. It was great to read of the beginnings of one of my mom’s closest friendships (and to get a glimpse into the working side of my mom!)

    One of the most comforting things I’ve been witness to since mom’s passing is a countless number of people (who may have only scarcely known my mother) recounting moments in which they were made aware of her kindness and generosity.

    This entry serves as a reminder of another side of my mom which most may not have known, a dedicated editor and friend.

    Hope Tucson is treating you and your family well,
    Steve

  2. Terri Svarczkopf Says:

    Nicely said Alicja.

  3. Pam Says:

    Alicja,
    After our conversation the other evening I knew that you would be writing right away about your dear friend and editor, Nancy. It is a beautiful and loving piece. Thank you for sharing. I forwarded to Chris, Jon and Benj.
    Pam

  4. Marina Says:

    You told the story of your friendship with Nancy beautifully, Alicja. I’m so sorry that you have lost a dear friend. May you find some comfort in knowing that she is at peace. I trust that you will continue to carry her spirit with you, and that in that way, your connection will carry on.

  5. george Says:

    Dear Alicja,

    My condolences to you and to Nancy’s family at the loss of someone so greatly treasured.

    As you know, I never met Nancy in person, so I can only make a few comments from what I know from one special angle. That is, I was able to appreciate her outstanding qualities as an editor as the result of some long-distance discussions in which the three of us were involved, by phone and/or e-mail. For example, I was very glad she agreed about using the series comma (also known as the Oxford comma). And we all finally agreed that “There is…” was the best choice. She was one of those people, so rare nowadays, who could appreciate the damage a misplaced comma can do, as in “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.”

    Of course, the heart of any piece of writing is in its content, the vision, the concept, the feelings, ideas, information, inspiration, and so on, that the writer wishes to transmit to the reader. The smaller details that you and Nancy, and I also dealt with-—matters of editorial styling, punctuation, spelling, grammar, word choice, etc.—-well, when they’re done right, all minor obstacles, confusions, potential misunderstandings, are removed so that the full force of the work shines through with the minimum of technical distraction. That’s what Nancy helped you accomplish so wonderfully well in “Son of Mashpee” and “Looking at the World Twice.” In them, an important part of her lives on—-a monument to the two of you and your friendship.

    All best wishes,

    George


  6. […] Alicja Mann Waves Notes on events, ideas & places « A Friendship Tale of Love and Work […]

  7. Jennifer Richardson Says:

    Alicja,

    I’m very sorry for your loss. Of course, nothing I can write to you will comfort you better than your own expression of the love and friendship you had with Mrs. Benoit. Like Pooh and Piglet, I have no doubt your friendship will endure this physical separation.

    I very much enjoyed reading this piece. Thank you for sharing it.


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