COVID interrupts valued friendship

“I waited on Maureen O’Hara at the MGM commissary. She was an observant Catholic and didn’t eat meat on Fridays, so we’d save a plate of chicken and she’d come by after midnight.”

I’ve written before about Bascom, who became family through my relationship with Max, and my bi-weekly dates with this nonagenarian Southern gentleman.

Last February, as we were driving to Playhouse Square to see the Broadway Series production of “Anastasia,” we were chatting, as we often do, about old movies. Turner Classic Movies is the primary reason why I still pay for cable service.

I don’t recall how the feisty Irish star of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Quiet Man” and dozens of other films came up. I’m sure we’ve discussed her before, but Bascom not only neglected to mention serving her midnight meals, I’d had no idea he’d ever worked for MGM.

“Hold up,” I said while navigating through the five lanes of traffic on I-480 West. “When did you work for MGM?”

“I’ve told you that before, haven’t I?” he asked. Yeah, nope.

“When did you work for MGM?”

“Well, it was after I returned from the war. My friend Julia and I hitchhiked from Atlanta to Culver City, near Hollywood, where she had a friend with a trailer we all lived in.”

After the matinee showing of “Anastasia,” which Bascom loved, we went, as we always do after a show, out to dinner.

No sooner had we placed our cocktail order, than I began peppering him with questions, scribbling down his answers in a notebook, which I always carry in my purse.

After graduating from high school in an Atlanta suburb in 1939, Bascom enrolled in ROTC at Northern Georgia College, but studied journalism at Emory College because he wanted to be a writer.

He was drafted in 1943, in the middle of his final semester. Even though he didn’t finish, Emory understandably gave Bascom his diploma. After basic training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, the Army sent him to New York City, where he arrived on his 21st birthday.

Because large numbers of young men had been conscripted for World War II, colleges and universities were suffering from a lack of students. To help with their revenue losses, the military paid for soldiers to attend college while awaiting deployment. Bascom, who lived on Fleet Street in Brooklyn, took courses at Pratt University.

Nearly a year after he arrived in New York, Bascom deployed to Germany. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge where his best friend, Russell Mohler of Petaluma, California, was killed at his side. Bascom was wounded in the same attack and later awarded the Bronze Star. “Mohler had a wife and children,” Bascom told me. “I wrote his wife, and thought of visiting her, but never did.”

After 33 months in the European theater, Bascom returned to Georgia just before Christmas in 1946. And then, the following spring, he and his friend Julia, whose parents Bascom says were “beatnik types,” thumbed their way to Tinseltown.

As I drove him home after dinner that winter evening, I told Bascom I would have more questions for him on our next date. But we didn’t meet two weeks, or even two months, later. COVID landed on our shores and for six months I feared our evening in February might have been our last.

During our long conversations, Bascom closely listens to me. He then goes off and ruminates on what I’ve said and, at our next meeting, returns with probing questions. I find this an expression of love more meaningful than any tangible gift.

In August, just in time for his 98th birthday, Bascom and I resumed our dating schedule, dining on the patio of a local establishment where he’s well known and beloved.

He subscribes to, and reads, several publications—including the New York Times, The New Yorker, Time and more—and we often discuss articles we both particularly enjoyed. But Bascom doesn’t have a radio or television.

A few days after the election, I called and told him his home state, Georgia, was trending blue.

“Oh, that’s marvelous. That’s grand! I remember when Georgia always voted Democrat.”

“Yeah, but, Bascom,” I said, “those were different Democrats, those were Dixiecrats.”

“Well, sure, you’re right, but, oh, how we loved FDR! You know, he was often there, at Warm Springs. Did I tell you I saw him once when he drove by my father’s business on Peach Street in Atlanta?”

No, he hadn’t. And I’m left wondering what other events and people of the past century my dearest friend has witnessed and not yet shared with me.

Last weekend, when the weather was gloriously warm and dry, we spent hours talking at our favorite restaurant. “Bascom,” I told him before I left, “COVID cases are rising like crazy and it’ll soon be too cold to eat outdoors. We may need to stay apart again for a bit.” He agreed.

And so, yet again in this year like no other, I pray I’ve not seen the last of my friend, who is also like no other.

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on November 15, 2020.


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