A friendship reincarnated

Gracia Lam

MY FATHER MADE FRIENDS everywhere he went. But of all his friends, he loved Bill the best. They went way back, to Marblehead High School, where they graduated together in 1949. My dad was the lovable troublemaker, the kind of guy who might be called a bad influence. Bill was just plain lovable, with his soft-spoken charm and luminous blue eyes. They were an unlikely pair, but their friendship endured, through both hard and happy times, for the rest of their lives.

I remember childhood nights at Bill and Jane’s house, running barefoot in pajamas through their big backyard while the grown-ups reminisced and drank whiskey and grapefruit juice. In the tales my father told of crazy teenage exploits, Bill was the sane one, the straight man. Listening to his friend Bob, Bill’s eyes twinkled.

I remember how quiet my dad got when Bill died — my father, who never stopped talking — and how the strangeness of his silence underscored the stunning vastness of his loss.


Fast-forward 16 years, to 2009. My father was gone now, too, leaving a permanent void. I had moved to Plymouth and had had my first child. It was time to find day care for my daughter, and the process seemed overwhelming. How would I really know if a place was good or not? I confided my anxiety to a friend. She considered the situation. “Isn’t there anyone you know down there with kids whom you could ask?”

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Nearly all my friends with young children lived in Boston or on the North Shore. But then a vague memory surfaced: One of Bill and Jane’s grandsons had recently settled in Plymouth. He had had his own first child the year before. I didn’t know Michael — he had grown up on Cape Cod — but the tie seemed strong enough to test. I Googled his e-mail address and drafted a message, introducing myself and explaining my dilemma. Could he recommend a day-care center?

He responded swiftly and warmly, as if we were old friends. Yes, he knew who I was, and he could help. He and his wife were very happy with their daughter’s day care. He could recommend it without reservation. Here was the certainty I needed, from someone I knew I could trust.

Nearly four years later, our daughters still attend day care together. Against all odds, both bear more than a passing resemblance to their forebears: My daughter is the spitting image of me and my dad, while blue-eyed Molly looks, to me at least, remarkably like her great-grandfather. It is a small, unexpectedly thrilling coincidence.

Seeing them sitting next to each other, practicing their letters, I feel closer to my father and the past. It is impossible to overstate how ecstatic it would make my dad that his granddaughter and Bill’s great-granddaughter are friends. Those unlikely connections were the stuff he lived for — the common ground that makes an ever-changing world feel more familiar and close-knit.


This fall, when my daughter moved up into a new preschool classroom, she struggled briefly with the transition, crying at drop-off and clinging to my leg. It was Molly — a savvy veteran of the preschool’s senior class — who reached out to comfort Cadence. “It’s OK,” she told her friend. “You can sit next to me.”

Her quiet kindness made me think of Bob and Bill — and how their lasting friendship, 60 miles to the north and decades in the past, had brought these little girls, whom they would never know, together. It wasn’t exactly what they would have wished for, perhaps. But as a parting gift, it wasn’t bad.

Jenna Russell is a Globe reporter. Send comments to

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