I attended a funeral today. The funeral was for a woman I befriended at work and who ended up being a wonderful travel companion and friend.
Her name was Elsa and she was born in 1929. The birth was so difficult, they didn't think she'd make it, so they ran and got the minister and had her baptized immediately. I was thinking about this, about God's child returning to Him (as today's minister said), about the fact that Elsa did survive childbirth and a world war and touched several lives.
Elsa and I never lacked for conversation. As a travel companion, she was extremely easy-going and sensible. She smoked and one could say that smoking was what killed her. I have my own theory, though (more on that in a minute). The smoking gave her a characteristic cough which helped me find her in a crowd on a few occassions. When we travelled, we always had separate rooms. That made travelling much easier on both of us. We could retreat and we could suit ourselves if we wanted to.
Separate rooms led to the habit of me going to her room in the morning, she'd make coffee, perhaps serve a little tipple (for medicinal purposes, you know, to keep the tourist's stomach in shape) and we'd plan our day in a relaxed fashion, then go to breakfast. Although we had different tastes in food and different needs in sleep, we were in agreement about most things. We enjoyed wine with our meals. We enjoyed relaxing meals. We enjoyed museums, history and window shopping. Elsa had travelled so much, that she no longer souvenier-hunted and she indirectly taught me to be discerning about purchasing vacation trinkets.
She taught me a lot, actually. She was a practical and experienced woman and I enjoy travelling much more now that I know some ways to make it easier. (For example, always keep your hands free. If you can put it on your back, do so. If you can wheel it, not carry it, do so.) Elsa always claimed she had a phlegmatic outlook, and I have to agree with her. We never fussed if the plane was late or the food was weird. We took it all in stride, telling ourselves that this situation would make a great story later.
At home, we would meet once a month at a restaurant in town, with a superb view of Bergen's harbor. Elsa was a native of Bergen. I often picked her brains about different things. Today at the funeral, I thought of her telling me that the girls would observe the "buekorps" boys rehearsing and that this was how a lot of romances started.
Elsa and I met while working together at the then in-house education department. During this time, her husband of 36 years up and left her for another man's wife. It was this man who called Elsa and informed her of the affair. She was devastated. She never stopped being in love with her husband (now ex). It wasn't long after this that she took early retirement. Then her lungs started to give out on her and she became more and more short of breath. Our summer vacations together came to an end. Eventually, so did our monthly lunches. I know that the divorce deeply shocked her system and that she never recovered. That's why I believe she actually died of a broken heart.
Elsa was not a physically attractive woman, but she had a sweetness about her and a disposition that always made you look beyond appearances. Lack of classic beauty didn't keep her from looking stylish, though. She had very good taste in both art and clothes and she was colorful. She loved to sew and knit, the more complicated the pattern, the better, and I am the proud owner of a few unique sweaters thanks to her.
There is more I could say, I know there is. There is more than 10 years of friendship with Elsa, things that mean so much, like her humor and generosity and her voracious appetite for books and foreign cultures. I'll leave you with her favorite joke: Did you hear about the dwarf? His father was a Scot.