Thursday, November 07, 2013

Reliving the Old Days: A Sudden Phone Call, a Reunion, and Recalling One Fabulous Birthday Cake.

It may not be X-rated, but it's at least "adults only."

I'm talking about my 50th birthday cake 25 years ago at Terry Fucini's home in Cromwell, CT. Above, I proudly showed off the cake, oblivious to its obvious message: that, divorced and dating around, I had an eye for pretty women.

Everybody knew this about me -- but me, I guess.

Twenty-five years ago? Today that makes me -- how old? OMG!

Forget that number, you hear?

Back to the birthday cake. What brought it to my mind was a sudden phone call from a former work colleague, Terry Fucini, with whom I had not been in contact for 22 years. She was a co-conspirator with the cake's creator, Chuck Fulkerson, pictured at right.

This was not a cake made from a mix, put in the oven and just served. This was a work of art, a creative wonder. It was not just the best birthday cake I ever had, it was the best I have ever seen. And the taste? To die for!

Great cake, Chuck, you artiste, you provocateur!

Way back then, the three of us were staff writers at American Education Publications in Middletown, CT -- publisher of Weekly Reader, Current Events, Read Magazine, and many other educational materials for American classrooms, grades 1 to 12.

When I started at AEP in 1966, I was fresh from three year's teaching in Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. In the photo at left, I am with some of my students in Maiduguri, Northern Nigeria. A few months later, I was at AEP.

I got the job after seeing an ad in The New York Times for a writer and submitted a story about life in Kenya. AEP liked the story, offered me a job, and soon I was writing for Read Magazine, Current Events,  and social studies unit books.

After teaching for a year, Terry also started at AEP in 1966. We were both 20-somethings out to make it with a major educational publisher whose periodicals and books were read in schools everywhere in the U.S. Altogether, Terry and I worked together for 26 years.

Toward the end, with both of us having moved from editorial to the advertising department, we worked in the same office as advertising copywriters for ten years. As the company's fortunes declined and it downsized, Terry and I left within months of each other, early in 1992.

On this long road together, despite deadlines and many other pressures, Terry and I got along with nary a bump. Maybe it was because we were so different in our approach to work. Terry enjoyed it. I gritted my teeth on it.

Here's a couple of photos of us in the old days. See what I mean? Terry enjoying. Me gritting.

Oh, all right. The truth is that Terry and I both worked hard and we both loved the work.

But then, with my moving to Worcester, MA, and life being what it is,Terry and I lost touch with each other for all those years -- until one day, she called.

My wife Barbara took the call and said, "Terry Fucini called. She said that somebody you worked with has died, but she didn't want to say who over the phone."

Terry Fucini, I thought, and the memories of all those years working together flooded back. And when I called her back and she answered the phone, the voice was the same. She was the same person I had worked with longer than anybody else in this world -- my entire career in publishing, in fact.

"Terry," I said. "Terry Fucini! I don't believe it! After all these years! I don't believe it!"

But it was a very short conversation, actually no conversation. Neither one of us wanted to talk over the phone. The phone was too cold and remote for both of us. In this, we were on the same wave length, just as we were in the old days.

Terry invited us to her place for dinner, gave us the date and time, and said that Chuck Fulkerson and Jerry Esposito and his wife Pat were also coming. Jerry was art director at our old company and later worked for Travelers, and taught art in college. Pat has been a teacher for many years. Both had just retired.

"I'm not telling them about you coming," she said. "You are the mystery guest."

And that was that.

Barbara and I were the first to arrive at Terry's Cromwell, CT home where she has lived for over 40 years. Having lost her husband Jim to liver disease two years ago, Terry now lives alone in the spacious home in a very nice neighborhood.

But she is not lonely. She has three grown kids and three grand kids, all nearby. "I also have lots of friends," she said.

We talked while munching on all kinds of delicious appetizers. That's when Terry told me who had died. It was Nate Olshin, our longtime boss. She said that she had gone to see him in the care facility where he was living out his final days.

Despite the natural boss-underling divide, Nate and I got along well. He pretty much left me alone to do my work. But then the company was sold and resold, there were repeated waves of layoffs, and the company's future turned bleak.

Seeing the writing on the wall, I began freelancing with the idea of going out on my own. Nate knew, but looked the other way, such as when I published a freelance article in The New York Times Magazine (Nov. 8, 1987). Getting published in the Times is a big deal. Fellow staffers lined up outside my office to have me sign their copy.

At left is a photo of me signing.

Nate could do without my signature. But he did walk by during the signing -- a spontaneous thing on company time -- and gave me a little knowing nod. He knew what I was doing and why and did not interfere.

While working full time, I was able to build up a list of clients and leave the company on my own timetable to operate my own business -- which I ran from a home office for several years.

Thank you, Nate!

And what did Terry do for the 22 years that she avoided me? For several years, she worked part time, just a day a week, as an advertising copywriter at Business and Legal Reports in nearby Madison. Then she did the same at S and S Worldwide in Colchester.

Since losing Jim, Terry has focused on her three grown kids and three grand kids, friends, and doing just what she feels like doing. "For the first time," she told me in a later phone call, "I'm living like a man and I like it. I have freedom. I have privacy. I have food."

The doorbell rang. Terry went to the door and ushered in Chuck Fulkerson, birthday cake creator extraordinaire. We had worked together for about seven years before he went on to work at Reader's Digest for many years. He came over and shook my hand, but didn't recognize me.

But then he did. "George! George Pollock!" And he took me in his arms and gave me a long, long, tight, tight hug. Like his cake, Chuck's hug is, shall we say, over the top.

Jerry Esposito and his wife Pat arrived and we were all soon seated at the dining table eating a delicious meal that Terry cooked herself: roast pork chops, squash casserole, green beans, baked apples, choice of wines, and for dessert ice cream with hot fudge drizzle.

Yummy. And besides preparing everything herself, Terry did all the serving. In the photo below, our gourmet cook, server, and hostess is on the job.

The conversation was easy, relaxed, and nonstop.

A great time was had by all.

Thank you, Terry!

This story should be over now, but is not --  because of an implausible coincidence. It turned out that both Terry and Barbara and I had tickets to the Goodspeed Opera House in Haddam, CT to see "A Most Happy Fella" on the same day, at the same afternoon performance! 

What are the chances of that?

Anyway, we left Terry's home agreeing to meet at the Goodspeed, which we did a week later. We saw a great show, met up with Terry and her two neighbors, Carol and Gail, and had a barrel of laughs. Here's a photo of all of us outside the Goodspeed:

From left to right are: my wife Barbara, neighbor Gail, Terry, me, and neighbor Carol. Four pretty girls and me! That's what I like, man -- all the babes fighting for my attention! 

Chuck, do you see another birthday cake here?  Maybe for my 80th?

Only thing is, could you make it so I can show it to my grand kids?

So long and keep moving.

.Amazon E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on the author's real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life; "A Long, Happy, Healthy Life," is about how to live the title every day; and "Unlove Story," writing anonymously as "Elvis," a husband, dumped after 38 years of marriage, lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.

Link to Terry Photo:


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