Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An unusual beginning

I found a friend online.

I am not talking about a Facebook friend. Nor a dating service. Nor a chat room.

But about thirteen years ago, as I was writing Ragnhild's Story, a historical novel based on the life of my grandmother, I was looking for information about the Merchant Marine.

My grandfather traveled the seas with the Danish Merchant Marine until he finally landed in Jacksonville, Florida, where he "jumped ship," so to speak, abandoning his assignment in order to stay in America. He made his way to New York City to join his brother who worked as a baker at Ellis Island.

I found a research website where I could post a notice requesting further information. I got a reply from a person in Queens, New York.

She was also searching for information on the Merchant Marine, but for a different reason. She was using every means she could to identify and locate her birth parents. She had a lead on someone she thought her parents may have known, who was in the Merchant Marine, and asked if I had ever heard of this person along the way in my quest. I had not.

But as we shared our reasons for searching, some of our findings, and our stories, a friendship developed. I learned her name was Shelly. She and her twin brother were adopted at birth. The need to find her birth parents was strong for her; not so for her twin brother.

It quickly became clear she was a far more experienced researcher than I. She gave me suggestions of other websites to visit, and offered to look through microfilm records for me in New York.

About a year later, I had a business conference scheduled in New York City. I told Shelly about it, and suggested we might meet someplace.

She not only invited me to stay with her after my conference was over, she insisted I was more than welcome and she would love the visit. She would accompany me to the New York City offices to search the microfilm records there.

I accepted, I visited, and the e-friendship we had established online became a personal one. I have since visited her many times, staying with her in Queens, and, last fall, with my daughter, at her new townhouse in New Jersey. We always take in a Broadway musical and go to South Street Seaport to shop and eat.

Shelly and I at South Street Seaport, one day after we met face-to-face (1998)
My book is written. She found her birth mother. Our missions have been accomplished.

But our friendship endures.

A strange beginning? Perhaps. But, oh, such a treasured friendship.