Ellen Kehoe, my closest friend and sweetheart in my youth, parted company with me near the end of 1957. We went our separate ways. I thought of her many times in the years that followed but never really expected to see her again. Her path took her to Los Angeles and eventually into marriage and a full life with Ted Hays.
Eventually, I came to Los Angeles, too and in March of 1973 I went on the air on KFWB. One afternoon, my phone rang at the station and a familiar voice asked, "Is this Charlie Brailer?" Nearly 16 years had passed since I heard that voice but I immediately knew it was Ellen. We chatted awhile and made arrangements to have lunch.
We were no longer sweethearts but our friendship was rekindled and would grow stronger for the rest of her life.
At first, Ellen and I would meet once a year in October to celebrate her birthday and it was just the two of us. Then Carolyn and I and she would make a threesome for the annual birthday lunch. Ellen was hesitant to have Ted included but finally the ice was broken. The four of us met for lunch in West L.A. And from time to time we planned outings to museums and a few luncheons at their home or ours.
Ellen was a prolific writer and we exchanged a lot of e-mail. On October 18, 2002 her note carried a bombshell. She told us she had lung cancer.
"... Charlie I've been frantic, sad, angry, depressed, terrified, amazed that this could happen. I thought I had gotten rid of that possibility years ago. I stopped smoking 12 1/2 years ago and thought I had rid myself of that possibility. I thought I was taking good care of my health. I have no symptoms. I'm still able to work out at the gym. I'm trying to keep my head together and move ahead one day at a time.
... I'm so sorry to lay this on you, but this is what has been going on. When I got the original diagnosis it was so horrific to me that I wasn't able to talk to anyone about it.
She was treated with a cancer drug that induced remission. But side effects of the disease and the treatment were part of her life for the rest of her days.
Children, if you have enjoyed "Grandpa Charlie's Journey" you have Ellen Hays, in part, to thank. Along with Carolyn, it was she who encouraged me to put these memories on paper. Much of the book was written in 2003. By the time of Ellen's 70th birthday in October it was printed and copies were ready for each of you children and for some other people, too, including Ellen. The Hays came to our home one Sunday afternoon for lunch. After dessert, we brought out Ellen's gifts ... a CD and the "book". We sat around the dining room table while Ellen opened a card and her presents.
It had been a wonderful day. Shortly before she and Ted left for home, Ellen murmured to me, "Charlie, this is the first time I've been in your house in 50 years."
It would also be the last time!
Late in the spring of 2005, her disease flared up and on June 29th she passed away. Just a week before she died, we sent Ellen a get-well card and a note. The last words I ever wrote to her were these:
"Between your afflictions and mine, it may take a while but I look forward to the day when the four of us can get together for a few hours of face-to-face conversation. And believe me, that day will come. In the meantime keep your spirits up."
No such face-to-face conversation would ever take place --- not in
this life, at least. But I hope it might in the afterlife.
In early July, 2005, at a Memorial service for Ellen, I spoke a few
words. My remarks ended:
"One chapter in Ellen's life story is now closed and a new one
begins. In the next chapter, she lives on forever in our hearts and
memories. To that chapter, Carolyn and I offer this prologue:
Rest awhile in peace and free of pain.
Then move ahead a bit and set a place for us.
In time we'll sit around the table once again
To share old memories and dream new dreams."
Love, Charlie and Carolyn