Sunday, February 21, 2010

Keeping the Feast, Keeping a Friend

When I opened my local newspaper Sunday morning, the face of a woman I’ve known for more three decades was smiling back at me.

Paula Butturini, whose beautifully written memoir “Keeping the Feast: One Couple’s Story of Love, Food and Healing in Italy” is earning fabulous reviews, was featured in a story in the Portsmouth Herald because she is coming to town March 3 for a reading at our beloved independent bookstore, RiverRun, as part of her East Coast book tour. (Click here to read the Herald story.) This photo was taken when No. 1 and No. 2 son attended Paula’s reading Sunday night in Washington, DC. Paula knit my oldest son’s first baby sweater, which I still have. Like I said, we go back awhile.

I knew Paula years before she was beaten by the Czech police, her husband New York Times reporter John Tagliabue was nearly killed by a sniper during the Romanian revolution – which later plunged her wonderful spouse into debilitating bouts of depression – and her mother committed suicide. In “Keeping the Feast,” she details how important food and other kinds of nourishment – such as friends and family – have been in helping her survive these tragedies and talks frankly about the disease of depression.

During most of Paula's major life challenges, she has lived on the other side of the Atlantic, calling a variety of countries home, while she and John worked as foreign correspondents. They reside in Paris now and although we've communicated by phone, letter, and now e-mail in between her visits back to the U.S., I did not fully fathom just how much Paula has endured until I read “Keeping the Feast.” Although I have known much of her story, and well remember the terror when John was shot a few months after their 1989 wedding, it is staggering to read the narrative in its entirety.

But Paula has always been a brave and determined woman.

She and I arrived at the Dallas office of United Press International, then the world’s second-largest news wire service, within a month of each other in 1977. At the time, we were the token Yankees – she from Connecticut and me from New Hampshire -- and among the token women hired to work in a 24-hour news bureau serving a nine-state region of the Southwest.

Both of us had worked at newspapers, but took very different paths to Dallas. She came from a Connecticut paper; I arrived via one in Lubbock, Texas. She was coming out of a marriage; I had no intention of going into one. I was thrilled to have my own apartment; she had the vision and courage to buy a home in a transition neighborhood and rehab it.

Most of us in the Dallas news bureau were single and/or young. We spent countless hours working and playing together. Because UPI operated around-the-clock, we shared many holidays, sometimes even eating Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners together in the middle of the UPI office. We staged holiday pageants, had poetry contests, and indulged in other creative behaviors to entertain ourselves between breaking news stories.

Central to this bonding was our softball team in the Dallas media league: Dr. Darkness and His Night Writers. Named after our pitcher, dubbed Dr. Darkness because of his years working the overnight shift and sometimes his mood, most of us weren't very athletic (journalists rarely are) but we never failed to make an impression on our opponents and the game stories written afterward were priceless. (Can you pick out Paula or me from this photo?)

The scorching softball season always ended with a memorable banquet, usually at Paula’s house. One year, we even donned formal wear. Constant to the ritual were the the awards, many of them quite unusual as I recall. The most coveted (which I never won) was: “The Shoes of the Doctor,” which consisted of that season's sneakers glued onto one of the leftover mirror tiles the Doctor considered trendy apartment décor. Even then, food and drink were important to the proceedings and nourished our friendship.

I still have the printed program we created for Paula’s going-away party when UPI transferred her to London. By then, I had changed my mind about marriage and Dr. Darkness (now referred to as Husband No. 1), and we hosted the party at our home. It was filled that night with not only most of our Dallas co-workers, but also many fellow Unipressers (which is what we called ourselves) who traveled great distances from throughout our nine-state region to wish Paula well as she began the foreign adventure that continues today. None of us could have imagined the trials she would later face.

But then, as now, we admired her grace, her courage and her honesty -- and knew her friendship was something to be treasured.


Karen Kullgren said...

I just met Paula and heard her speak at Politics & Prose in Washington, DC tonight. She was fantastic and the story she shared about how depression affects a family was so important!

Pat Remick said...

So glad you got to meet her, Karen! She has a few more bookstore stops before she gets to us... we pick her up from the Harvard bookstore on March 2... but she was thrilled with the event tonight. Did you see my children in the audience, perchance? The oldest one looks like a cop -- very little hair -- and the youngest has quite a bit more and probably was unshaven!

MaxWriter said...

What a great story and especially what a great picture! I look forward to reading Paula's book, too.


betty said...

Pat: Give Paula a hug for me. Your post brought back memories. Well done. Betty

Anonymous said...

OMG Pat...I had forgotten how you and Frank had once looked, but remember well tales of the UPI softball team and unique events. I, also, remember talk of Paula. I will have to get her book...amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. Be sure to give Dr. Darkness a hug from me! Love to all...

Diane Valley said...

OOPS, pushed anaonymous, but I'm not so!!!

PatRemick said...

Thanks!Brought back memories for me, too!