I guess you have to call me just plain plum lucky.
This year, when a scrubby shrub in my garden surprised me by bearing beech plums for the first time, I had a friend on hand to teach me how to make jam from them. As I stirred the mixture in her kitchen last weekend, I felt as pleased about her friendship as I did about the plums. That’s because, like the fruit on the previously barren tree, the friendship was a gift that arrived unbidden, out of the blue.
Three years ago when I came to Maine for a job interview, I took myself out to dinner at The Waterfront restaurant in Camden. Alone in the restaurant, I pursued the favorite game of solo diners — speculating about the lives of the people seated at nearby tables.
Is the silent, stern-looking couple enjoying quiet companionship or enduring one another’s cold silences, I wondered. Is the birthday girl who is being serenaded by the waiter thrilled or mortified by the attention? Is the lovey-dovey pair newly wed or long-married?
I noticed a pair of women whose comfort in one another’s company was obvious. At times they chatted and at other times they enjoyed dining in silence. They often caught one another’s eyes and smiled.
“What a joy it must be to have a friend like that,” I thought, realizing at the same time that I’d have to make new friends if I were to move to Maine.
As I waited for coffee after my meal, I took out a postcard to write. But before I could take the cap off my pen, one of the women asked politely, “Are you from out of town? I only ask because you have the postcard and it’s not an ordinary time to see tourists here.”
I told her I was from away and had just spent the afternoon in a job interview.
“In that case, would you like to join us?” she asked. “It seems a shame to sit alone.””
Taking up the invitation, I sat and chatted with the pair, who turned out to be sisters. When I told them I thought I would be offered the job, they asked how I felt about it.
“A little bit like ‘The Little Engine That Could,’” I said. “I keep telling myself, ‘I think I can, I think I can.’”
“Of course you can,” one sister said. “And when you do, we’ll be your friends,” said the other.
I did move to Maine and they were true to their word, becoming my first friends in my new world. Sadly, one of the women has passed away since then, but her remaining sister has offered friendship strong enough for two. The proof is in the plum jam, mixed in her pot, cooked on her stove, poured into her jars, sealed in her pressure cooker. As she handed me a cooled jar of jam at the end of the day, I felt like “The Little Engine That Could. “She thought I could,” I told myself. And with her encouragement, I did.