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Make new friends? and keep the old

I want to tell you about my newest old friend and how it came to be. She is the author of 18 non-fiction books and three novels. Presently she is writing a murder mystery. She is 83 years of age. Her name is Mary McHugh.

It all came about because of a birthday gift I received from a friend – a book titled "How Not to Act Like a Little Old Lady" by Mary McHugh. It is part memoir, part advice and many parts humorous.

Mary and I had many things in common. I sent her an email to compliment her writing and point out our similarities. I loved carousels. She was a tap dancer and I always wanted to buy myself a pair of tap shoes. We were each a mom who had lost an adult daughter.

Mary and I exchanged a few electronic messages. She sent me her newest book, "Go For It! 100 Ways to Feel Young, Vibrant, Interested and Interesting After 50." It is full of magical ideas and common-sense suggestions. She signed it thus: "To a kindred soul, I hope we meet someday."

I did not think this was outside of the realm of possibility. She lived in New Jersey and I was visiting Long Island in the near future. I suggested we each take a commuter train to Penn Station and meet in Manhattan. She was delighted and suggested we meet at the carousel in Bryant Park.

On the appointed day, I rode the Long Island Railroad into New York City. It was a rainy day and I soaked my loafers walking midtown through puddles. When I arrived at the park, the carousel was closed up in a large plastic raincoat. I walked around admiring fountains, foliage and the balustrade into Bryant Park Grill. I have photographs of a fashion show held on this great lawn. My daughter Kendra covered it as a reporter shortly before she died. So this park tugged at my heart a bit.

I looked over the crowd, wondering under which umbrella I would find Mary. She soon appeared, as adorable a little old lady as they come. Mary is tiny and pretty and has a cover girl figure to please AARP. She wore a light blue suit and heels with sparkles on the front and no backs. Glamorous. And I had on my flat-bottomed wet loafers. Frumpy.

The carousel was opened and the music began and we two spry ladies hopped up on our horses and galloped away. Mary treated me to lunch at the grill. It was a classy place with delicious food and coffee. She was well-known there. We chatted about our husbands, who each had survived a heart attack, our families, the daughters we lost, our mutual interests and pet peeves. It was uncanny how much our stories matched; as though we each had written half.

There were differences also. We each loved Paris. I visited just once on a church bus tour, and Mary lived there for a year while studying at the Sorbonne. She had been a reporter all of her life. I had wanted to write all of my life, but it did not become official until after my family was grown and gone. She speaks French. I can say "merci" and "bon jour." Mary raised two daughters. I raised five daughters and one son. She has two grandchildren. I have 10.

We joked about our daughters in heaven who also had much in common – Kyle and Kendra being the instigators to bring us together. However it happened, it was divine.

Pat Webdale, who lives in Fredonia, recently traveled to Manhattan to meet a new friend.