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Kelsey Berryman Nonfiction

Sometimes it Takes Fifty Years to Repair a Friendship

by Kelsey Berryman

            I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, Babcia, growing up. We would swim in her pool, she’d make delicious food, and I’d dress up in her old clothing- she even let me wear her high heels. But what I loved most was when she told me stories.

            Sometimes she would tell me about being a little girl in Poland. Usually, she would gloss over her teenaged years. Sometimes she would talk about her time in Chicago as a single woman in the fifties. But then other times she would talk about the time that she was happiest; as a married woman and later young mother in Erie, Pennsylvania, where she lived in a little apartment building with a bunch of other parents with young kids.

            My grandparents had only dated for a few months before they got married and left Chicago for Cincinnati and then Erie. Babcia hated Ohio. It was too dirty for her. But she loved Pennsylvania.

            She told me about the one neighbor with the bum husband and told me about the one with too many kids, but her favorite neighbor was her best friend Cathy and her husband Fred. They had two kids: Cathie Lu and Mary. Cathie Lu had arthritis. Everyday Mary would knock of her door saying that it was Halloween and ask for some candy.

            When Babcia went into labor with my mother, Cathy and Fred took her to the  hospital. It was a different hospital than my grandparents had planned on going to and my grandfather, Grandpere, didn’t know where to find Babcia until he talked to Fred. It turned out that Cathy and Fred had taken Babcia to the Catholic hospital.

            When my mother was born Cathy told my grandparents to name her Deirdre. My grandparents liked that it was a name that you could yell. But they wanted to change it slightly and named her Daedre.

            Cathy wanted to be godmother to my mother and sent over to my grandparents a Catholic priest to facilitate matters. Though both my grandparents were raised Catholic, they had become disillusioned with the church. Grandpere was called the son of the devil and expelled from Catholic school because he kept asking “how do we know” when ever religion was brought up. Babcia lost her faith during childhood her family was poor and the priest kept telling them to give more to the Church. They didn’t even marry in the Catholic church because the priest demanded that they promise to have as many children as they could. Anyway, a new Catholic priest came over to the apartment to discuss a baptism and when he found out that my grandparents were married in the Episcopal church, he screamed that they were living in sin and had to get remarried. My grandmother sent him packing.

            Babcia said Cathy was a large woman with dark, Italian skin. Once when my infant mother wouldn’t stop crying and Cathy put her on her breasts and rocked her. She knew how to help with a baby because she had so many kids. She would buy her kids clothes rather than wash the dirty ones. But as soon as her husband came home she made him watch the kids and she’d go out to see the same movie twice just to be away from them.

            Eventually, my grandparents moved to California because my grandmother wanted to grow oranges. Since Babcia was a girl in Poland she had hated the cold climate and dreamed of living somewhere warm. Florida had too much mildew so they chose California.

            Cathy and her husband moved to Texas. But both couples all still kept in touch. My grandparents even drove to see them in Houston when my mother was in elementary school. My grandparents saw that Cathy and Fred had a big house with a swimming pool and had had three more kids: Deirdre, Ralph, and Florence.

            Cathy decided to come to California and visit my grandparents. They took her all around Los Angeles, especially Beverly Hills. Cathy wanted to be discovered. She was mad about Rock Hudson and thought that if he would just see her he’d fall in love with her. My grandmother bought her some diet cookies. As soon as Cathy heard that they were diet she ate the whole box.

            My mom said that she had been waiting to meet “Auntie” Cathy. She had heard so many good things about her but didn’t end up liking her. Everything that Cathy said was a patronizing, “Honey” this or “Sweetie” that.

            Cathy talked about to my grandparent about moving out to California. Babcia told her that it was so expensive. Cathy could have a much nicer house in Texas.

            Finally, one night Cathy told my grandparents the real reason she came. She was going to divorce Fred and needed their help. She wanted to punish her husband and wanted my grandparents to hide their children from him. My grandfather immediately said no. Fred loved those kids. It was also illegal to take them over state line.s Cathy was insulted and kept saying that if they were divorcing she would hide my mother for one of them.

            Babcia and Grandpere didn’t hear from her again.  I always wondered what it would have been like if my grandparents had taken her five kids.

            To me Cathy was just a character from my childhood. She was as safe and real as Peter Rabbit. Part of me never thought of her as a real person but a figure of stories that I was told.

            During spring break of my junior year of college, I went to visit Babcia. She was sitting in her maroon recliner and sipping coffee. Babcia had already grilled me about school (“Are you getting A’s?”, “I hope that you will go to grad school” and “Kelsey, education is something that no one can ever take away from you.”) I had given my pat answers. Then we got to an interesting part of the conversation. I lying about my friendships (“Oh, I have really great friends, we hang out all the time.”)

            When Babcia said, “It’s so important to have friends. You know like I had Cathy Xxxyz….” She took a sip of her coffee before adding, “I wonder what she is doing now.”

            Back in college and lonely, I decided to find out what happened to Cathy. I knew that she had lived in Texas and googled her daughter’s name and found a workplace that advocated for the disabled. Given that Cathie Lu had had arthritis that seemed to make sense that she would in a capacity for the disabled.

From: Kelsey Berryman
Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2012 9:08 PM
To: Cathie Lu
Subject: old friendship


I know that this might seem kind of random but I might as well ask. My grandmother is named Anna Cottrell and she used to live in Erie, Pennsylvania, and was great friends with Cathy Xxxyz and her husband, Fred. She was wondering what ever happened to them and I told her that I that would look on the internet for them. I assume that you are their daughter Cathie Lu. I hope that this is not too much of an intrusion but if you are so inclined please email me back. My grandmother would be really happy to know what happened to her old friends.

Thanks so much,
Kelsey Berryman

Ten days later I got

From: Cathie Lu
Subject: RE: old friendship
Date: March 26, 2012 12:34:40 PM EDT
To: Kelsey Berryman

Hello Kelsey,

Yes, I am the oldest daughter of Fred and Cathie Lu and we did live for a short time in Erie, PA when I was a child. My mother lives in a Dallas suburb and my dad and his second wife live in Houston. If your grandmother is interested, we can exchange phone numbers so she can call and speak with my mom and dad.

Cathy  A. XXXYZ

            We exchanged a few more emails and on my normal Sunday call I said, “Babcia, I’ve found Cathy XXXYZ for you.”


            “In Texas, I’ve got her phone number for you.”

            “Why on earth would you do that? What if she is still angry at me for not taking her kids.”

            I rolled my eyes because that was so typical Babcia.

            A few weeks later, when I called Babcia she said, “Cathy called me.” She found out that Christine had two kids and Florence worked in design and that Deirdre had a dog that was like her kid and that Cathie Lu had never gotten married. She had forgotten to ask about Ralph. She also talked about Mom. Cathy wasn’t still angry.

From: Cathie Lu
Subject: Sad News
Date: June 20, 2012 8:40:04 PM EDT
To: Kelsey Berryman

Good Evening Kelsey,

I wanted to let you and your grandmother know that my mom died unexpectedly on May 26. My brother will be spreading her ashes in New York City (her hometown) next month.

Cathie Lu XXXXYZ 

Your Mom, my grandmother and my Mom in front of their house in Pacific Palisades before Mom’s ballet recital.


Kelsey Berryman grew up in California and has been writing since she was twelve years old. She attended the University of Iowa to study writing. She currently works as a teacher and is working on her latest book.

The Writing Disorder is a quarterly literary journal. We publish exceptional new works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. We also feature interviews with writers and artists, as well as reviews.



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