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Outlook Columnist Sharon Nesbit reminisces about her good friend Freidel, who died the day after Christmas.

Sharon NesbitFreidel died the day after Christmas.

The holiday would not have mattered to her, but it was also Hanukkah when my old friend, a Jew from Hitler's Germany, lost her light.

She was a practical woman. When they finished the ham at the senior center, Freidel begged the bone so she could make split pea soup. She did not keep a kosher kitchen and split pea soup, she said, was not right without ham.

Our friend, Wally, a rigid, righteous conservative Christian, told Freidel she was sinning, but she didn't believe in silly sin. Freidel had known real evil. She and her family left Germany when Hitler would not permit Jewish children a good education. During and after the war, she kept up correspondence that would ultimately reunite families shattered by the Holocaust.

Freidel was a Maui friend. We met in winter at the same place, she and her husband, Lew, escaping Massachusetts, and we out of Troutdale. By rights they should have gone to Florida, but Freidel and Lew were travelers. When they found the place beneath Lew's "green, green mountains," they made it a habit.

I have written about Lew. He wore the same sagging T-shirt every winter. Likewise sagging Bermuda shorts with no real kinship to Bermuda. He drove the same old pickup every day of his life. But he drove it to his own factory.

When the Super Bowl pot got big, Lew was delegated to hold it, because Lew, Hubs said, was richer than anyone there. And smarter. Lew sat at the end of the pool and read three-inch, hard-bound tomes on lofty subjects.

But it was Hubs who taught Lew the art of romance, convincing him to buy flowers for Freidel on Valentines Day, a habit he kept to the end of his life.

After Lew died, Freidel continued to come back to the Cove. We four friends formed a special group and took a day, sometimes several days, to go exploring.

Old Chinese missions. Remote homes on ocean shores. Honolulu museums. An isolated ranch of Molokai. As Freidel aged, we watched out for her. One day, we deemed the crossing of a stream too dangerous, so we designated a spot under a tree where she could wait. Having waded to the other bank, we looked back and realized we had parked her under a palm with dozens of coconut "bombs" waiting overhead.

Many jaunts ended up at a favorite, too expensive restaurant where Freidel would announce that she had spoken with her investment adviser that day and could afford to buy lunch.

But we took all her M & M's away from her playing poker. Bridge she knew. Poker she didn't.

We were an odd quartet. A Minnesotan with practical notions. A local woman covered in tattoos. Freidel, tall and lanky, exuding Massachusetts. And me, shorter and plumper than I believe I am.

Freidel was an old sea hag. Swimming in rough waters. Snorkeling with the best of us. And in the summers, living on Cape Cod, paddling her own canoe.

She was not bothered by peeing in the bushes when we wandered too far from facilities.

Like her husband, she was very smart. She watched the hours of news broadcasts every night sipping watered-down Scotch advised by her doctor. (Oddly, she was also a fan of "The Bachelor," making Monday night sacred.)

She listened closely to her doctor about diet restrictions, sticking to fruits and vegetables and the rare dessert. I told her that lettuce was bad for her because her body might outlive the rest of her, and that is what happened.

In recent years she entered care. The Freidel we knew has been gone for some time.

In that way, her death is a relief. But her passing broke the dam and memories come flooding back.

We survivors meet in Maui soon where we will raise a toast. No watered-down drinks, except for a splash of tears.


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