One question that I get asked a lot is where the name for my Visiting Linda hat came from. I am always unsure of how to respond, because the hat is a tribute to a dear friend who died far too young, and as such the story doesn’t have a happy ending. But I simply cannot resist the chance to talk about one of the best friends I have ever had, and undoubtedly one of the most fabulous people I have ever known – the magnificent Linda K. Stine.
We first met in the mid-1970’s when, both struggling actors in NYC, we were cast together in an Off-Broadway production of the play Chamber Music by Arthur Kopit. Linda and I met at the first rehearsal in someone’s apartment on the upper west side. She looked so familiar to me, and it wasn’t until about half way through that initial rehearsal that I realized that the reason was that the week before I had seen her on the TV game show The $10,000 Pyramid, where she played brilliantly and won dramatically at the very last second. At that rehearsal I also learned that she was a very talented performer, with a true gift for comedy. She had us all laughing hysterically every time she opened her mouth, and often even when she didn’t say a word.
When that rehearsal broke up it turned out we were walking to the same subway station, and so we walked together, and during that ride on the 2 train a lifelong friendship was born when she reached into her bag, pulled out something wrapped in silver foil, and asked “Do you like chocolate?” On that train ride we learned that we not only shared a passionate love for anything chocolate, but also for reading, and theater, and that our birthdays were 1 day apart (August 14 and August 15 forever more deemed “our birthday”) and that we lived a mere couple of blocks away from each other in Brooklyn Heights. Clearly the friendship was meant to be. How had we not met each other before?
The only thing we didn’t have in common was our stature – she was 5’9” and I am 4’11”. She immediately dubbed us Mutt and Jeff, after the old comic series, but she said that she didn’t like the negative associations she had with the word mutt, so she said would call me Mütie, and I should call her Jeff. The nicknames stuck, the only nickname in my entire life that did.
I could write an entire book about the love, laughs, fun and friendship that filled the next 36 years, the movies we saw together, the chocolate and ice cream we ate, the road trips, endless conversations, books, music, boyfriends, bad dates (she set me up on the only blind date I have ever been on –an unmitigated disaster!!), the performances we applauded each other in, the meals we ate together, the dramas we supported each other through, the dreams we shared, and the plans we made. And through it all we talked, talked, talked, and solved all the problems of the universe. She was such a great friend, always there when you needed company, support, a shoulder to cry on, or someone to celebrate good news with, and a great companion for any activity from antiquing at Brimfield MA to a trip to the lower east side to go clubbing. She made us real popcorn whenever we went to the movies, and always carried emergency chocolate. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding; I wore her grandmother’s cameo as my “something old”.
She moved from NYC to Colorado in 1988, so our friendship went long distance for the next 20+ years, but it was the kind of friendship that always felt like we had just seen each other the day before. We wrote letters, sent photos, made phone calls, and as time went on switched to long emails.
She was always thinking of other people, and though I have sadly known a number of people who got cancer I have never known anyone but Linda that told me of their diagnosis with such worry and care about my response “Honey, I have some really bad news, and I don’t want you to be too upset…”
You know where this is going, so I’ll skip over a lot of the next part of the story. She did live a miraculous 18 months after her diagnosis, and she spent it with her loved ones, even traveling to both coasts to see people and visit places she loved. My husband, daughter and I went back to NYC to meet up with her, and we spent an amazing day that I will never forget, walking miles and miles through our old neighborhood, remembering things we had done, sharing our history with my daughter. We sat on stoops and reminisced, looked at old photos she had brought with her to give me, ate ice cream (of course!), and made plans about what we would do the next time we got together, because we both needed that to get through the day. And as we sat down on the 2 train, taking us from where she was staying on the upper west side to our old neighborhood she reached in her bag, pulled out something wrapped in silver foil, and said with a smile and a wink “Do you like chocolate?”
I needed something to knit on the three and a half hour trip down to New York to “visit Linda”. I had knit a lot of hats for her during her chemo, but I wanted to create something special for her now that her hair had grown back, so with her smiling face in my mind’s eye I cast on and this hat came off my needles. She loved it, and was excited to have a knitting pattern named after her.
I think of her often; every year on our birthday, and on so many other days too – when I read a good book I wish I could share with her, watch a good movie, hear a good joke, eat ice cream or chocolate, or walk the streets of Brooklyn Heights. I’m grateful for all the years we got to share together, and all the joy she added to my life. I miss her like crazy, but feel her with me always, especially when I wear this hat. I hope that if you make it you too will feel her smile.