I first met Denise over thirty years ago. It was Thanksgiving Day 1985. Her son Dave, my now brother-in-law, had become engaged to my sister Janice and it was arranged that the Pakula family would come to our house so we could all meet and celebrate the holiday together.
Denise asked my mother if there was anything she could do or bring. “Just yourselves and a hearty appetite,” my mom answered. Then Denise, still a stranger to us, replied in her own inimitable way, “ Okay, then I’ll just bring my green goop.”. Now you see, my mother never, ever, ate any food from another person’s house. The only two exceptions were her own sister and her mother. It was just my mom’s thing. Can you imagine her despair when she heard Denise utter the words, “Green Goop?” For two weeks that’s all I heard, “what do I do if she asks me to try the ‘goop,’ suppose she insists?”
Finally Thanksgiving Day arrived and so did the Pakula clan, and as it turned out, green goop was simply Denise’s term for green bean casserole. If only dear sweet Denise knew the stress that she had put my mom through she would have… well who am I kidding? We all know she would have handled it the exact same way, laughing until she cried! That was Denise, forever laughing, always looking for the humor in just about everything. Of course we all had a wonderful time and knew that very day, that we would always be lifelong friends.
Then the next time I saw Denise was because I had promised to go shopping with Dave for a new wardrobe. Back then, Dave was the ever-so-casual fellow in sweat pants, tee shirts, and baseball caps (Yankees of course) and I was to be his introductory lesson into the art of men’s fashion. I guess you can say that I was his “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” long before the show was ever a concept.
Of course it was fun bonding with Dave during the excursion, but the real fun came when we returned home, where he was living with his parents. I was met by Denise, who welcomed me as she did everyone, with open arms and an opened heart. I remember sitting next to her on the living room sofa, as a very proud Dave not only showed his mom the new clothes, but as per her wishes, gave Denise and I a full fashion show, trying on every single garment. He walked through that living room as though he were a short, chubby, Jewish version of Fabio. Denise would squeeze my hand with pride as Dave beguiled her with his newfound fashion knowledge with such remarks as, “I would never have picked out a paisley tie on my own, but do you see how well this one brings the shirt together with the sport coat?” All the while, Denise doing her famous “Betty Rubble on steroids giggle.”
When the show was completed, Denise gave me the warmest hug and through her trademark laughter, she thanked me for turning her son into a full-fledged grown-up in one afternoon. She laughed as she said, “David became more of a man today than he did at his Bar Mitzvah!” I think I made some sort of wisecrack like, “and they both cost about the same amount, only this time it was his own dime!” I could still hear her laughing from all the way out in the driveway as I left.
During the next year or so, I provided floral décor when her daughter Rose came home to Levittown to announce that she was getting married… THAT very weekend! Sometime later, Jackie was graduating from high school and was not going to her senior prom. I asked if she would attend if I were to escort her – and to make a long story short, she and I BOTH attended our first senior prom. As you would expect, Jackie’s friends and myself gathered at the Pakula house to await the limo which would bring us to the gala. Denise would not have it any other way, and I could see by the kids gathered there, that this happy home was a natural choice for them.
As the years ticked by, through thick and thin, Denise and I became stronger and more dedicated friends. Holidays, birthdays, and family milestones alike, our two families melded together beautifully. I would always enjoy sitting with Denise at the various family functions, sharing never ending jokes and belly laughs with her. No one could be sad with Denise around.
When they received the news, while vacationing with Matt & Courtney in Colorado, that my mom was going to pass away at any moment; Denise and Ben cut short their trip, turned around and DROVE STRAIGHT THROUGH THE COUNTRY to be with us here in Florida. After my mom’s funeral, Denise and Ben came by to see me. Denise pulled me aside and gave me a little card with a verse about a never ending friendship. Please indulge me, as I share it to you:
“Sometimes in life, you find a special friend. Someone who changes your life by being a part of it; someone who makes you laugh until you can’t stop; someone who makes you believe that there really is good in the world. This is FOREVER FRIENDSHIP, and if you find such a friend, you feel happy and complete. You have a forever friend, for life.”
It was a small gesture with a huge meaning. Realizing that I had lost the only truly unconditional love a person knows, she wanted to make it clear to me that she would always be there. Although given to me, the verse ironically sums Denise up to a tee. I kept the card in my wallet since the day she gave it to me, well over a decade ago. It remains there today, and most likely will, until the day that God calls me home. It will stay there not only because it’s a special reminder of an extraordinary woman, but because there was one error in the verse. A FOREVER FRIEND is not only yours for life, when that friend is Denise, that friend is literally FOREVER.
I am always going to celebrate Denise as the happy, kind, loving person that she was in life and who I know, is in spirit as well. I will rejoice in her reunion with her beloved daughter, Rose, her parents, and her grandson Nicholas, who will forever be doted upon by BOTH of his grandmothers. I will thank God that I – out of billions upon billions of people in this world, was blessed to be one of the chosen to have time with Denise. I will be forever grateful and I will be happy in knowing that on Earth or in Heaven, I have a very, very special, FOREVER FRIEND.
Until next time,