Terri and I had been attending the First Presbyterian Church in Winter Park for several months. As churchgoers do, we found a pew where we were comfortable and every Sunday that is where we sat. Sitting in front of us was an attractive couple and their pre-teen son. When the time to greet each other would arrive, they would turn, smile, shake our hand and proceed to greet others around them. One Sunday, the lady in front of us smiled as she shook my hand and said, “I’m Barbara Felkel, and my husband Bill and I would like to get to know you.”
After the service we talked over coffee and they introduced us to several other couples; among them, Ray and Jeanne Cook. Over the years, the circle of friends widened and our friendships deepened. Saturday nights we would get together, either at a restaurant or someone’s home and once a month we would all help out at the church night suppers. We noticed that our time together centered around food and that led to the idea that became the Dinner Club.
Once a month the Dinner Club would meet at one of the member’s home. The host would determine the theme, provide the entrée and the members would bring the other courses. Over the years we sampled the cuisines of Brazil, France, Italy and numerous other countries; it was always an epicurean adventure—sometimes good, sometimes bad but always fun: evenings we will remember; some more unforgettable than others.
During a meeting of the club at our house, I was in our home office showing Barbara Felkel something on the computer when we heard a roar from the dining room. I rushed into the room to find Bill Felkel holding his stomach as he rolled on the floor with laughter, other club members laughing, unable to speak, with tears running down their face and my 88 year-old mother, quietly and angelically, smiling. It was some minutes later, when my friends could again speak, that I learned the ruckus was occasioned by my sweet, Presbyterian mom telling a joke that I wouldn’t repeat in a men’s locker room.
There were many memorable evenings: the night, after outpatient surgery I inadvertently blew my nose in the tablecloth; the “Costco” evening when everyone brought an already prepared appetizer from Costco; at Jeanne’s insistence eating chili “five ways”—prepared the way they do in Ohio; the dinner at my brother’s hotel in Ocala. All of the times together, dining, worshipping, sharing happiness and heartache, united us into a closely-knit group of friends. However, the Dinner Club could not survive the changes in the lives of its members and eventually faded away.
Even without the club, we tried to remain close: when someone would visit from out of town or for a special occasion, we would again gather together. At the heart of striving to maintain the closeness of the group were Ray and Jeanne Cook.
Since I hadn’t spoken to him in a while, when Ray called, intuitively I knew something was wrong. He asked how I was doing and after inquiring about Terri and our children he said, “I have bad news, Jeanne has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.”
A month before she passed away, I visited Jeanne at her home. She was weak, so my visit was short: we spoke of days past, children and friends and when I kissed her goodbye, I knew I would not see her again.
As I left Ray and Jeanne’s home I thought about how casually I say goodbye to the people in my life: how I take it for granted that each goodbye will be followed by a future reunion. I couldn’t help contrasting the confidence in being together again with the grief of a final farewell.
You never can be sure when you part from those you care for, that fate won’t intervene and that your goodbye might be your last; so take care to say farewell to friends, relatives and colleagues in a way that shows them that you are looking forward to the time when you again say hello.
“Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief.” – Joseph Addison