As much as anything, girlfriends enrich my life. Nowadays, geography hardly interferes with friendship. I had no fear I would lose connections with my Pennsylvania pals when Paul and I relocated. However, I set an intention to find a new friend in the 1000 Islands.
We conducted our first serious North Country try-out in a comfortable rental house on Carnegie Bay Road in Alexandria Bay. We had the place for October and November of 2015. I’m the one who actually stayed those eight weeks. Paul would come when possible. The granddaughters could visit on weekends.
I set out to become acquainted with the community. First, I stopped at Macsherry Library to obtain a card only to be denied because I was not a resident. I did not have any bills or mail with the Carnegie Bay address. The chief librarian was so adamant, I felt like a trespasser. A more sympathetic staff-member (who turned out to be Denise, my first friend) suggested I check out the used book sale. I exited with two paperbacks and no inclination to ever return.
On the sunny days I strolled around the neighborhood, hoping to encounter an approachable individual, but mostly found seasonal camps, vacated for the winter. One woman across the street would wait outside to meet her two elementary-aged sons as they vaulted off the bus. Although she smiled at me once, she had her hands full herding those boys home and then along with hockey equipment, back into her vehicle. When I explored Alexandria Bay proper many houses appeared deserted: bare porches, curtain-less windows, and empty driveways. Broken furniture, small appliances, and odd-shaped trash bags waited by the curb for collection. I felt as if the majority of village residents had evacuated.
My hopes lifted when I encountered a flyer advertising the Cape Vincent writers’ group. An upcoming meeting would be held during my stay. I marked my calendar. Although I had just one opportunity to meet the members, a year later I would find them to be reliable friends and like-minders.
If I could find a fellow painter I would be ecstatic. I checked out a website for the Thousand Island Arts Center. Except for an after-school art program for children the other classes had concluded at the end of tourist season. One day, as I browsed the internet reading about local artists, I stumbled upon a web site picturing a most appealing woman in her art studio. Her paintings captured the vibrancy of the 1000 Islands.
I read the biography of Mary Randazzo. A self-taught artist, she painted the illustrations for the local Coyote Moon Wine labels. The vivid, river scenes and unique designs enthralled me. I allowed myself to fantasize. She would invite me to her studio to paint and share life stories. We might take excursions for plein-air painting. In the words of Anne Shirley, we would find ourselves to be “kindred spirits.” In my ideal future, the woman in the photograph just might become my new painting mentor.
Eight months later we bought a house. When my sister came to visit I showed her the wine labels and told her I intended to meet the artist. Tami couldn’t wait for that to happen. I took my visiting friends to the Coyote Moon Winery and they enjoyed the wine and admired the labels. Cathy checked out the winery website and read that each label had a story. I hadn’t yet met Mary Randazzo, so I resisted announcing that by their next visit we just might be drinking wine in her studio.
In fall 2017, as I paged through the T. I. Sun, our weekly newspaper, I was stunned to see a full page dedicated to Celebrating the Life of Mary Randazzo. My heart soared, and then plummeted. Mary had passed away October 10. The article praised her, “She had the ability to make those around her feel loved, supported, and important; because of that people were drawn to her.” And to confirm my own intuition, “Mary made every person who met her feel like her new closest friend.” She had a favorite tree that she intended to paint, but it was cut down before she had a chance to paint it. Years ago I had the very same experience with a gnarly old tree by Twin Bridges. Like Mary, it fell before I had the chance to befriend it.
Nonetheless, I’ve been fortunate to meet an inspiring painting mentor, Donna Hammond, and many fellow painters in her oil classes. I found new friends in writers’group and book club (at the Macsherry Library). Yet I still contend that Mary Randazzo was the first friend to welcome me to the 1000 Islands. I intend to take Mary with me (in spirit) for a girlfriend weekend two weeks from now. She’ll fit in perfectly. Maybe Sally will show up, as well.