October 25, 2013
This is not a story.
Mitchell Lewin and Howard London, both 86, insist it's not.
"We met at Sullivan High School," Lewin says, sitting in the dining room of the senior community where he lives. "We both got married, had kids. Our wives died. We both got old. Then I moved in here about a month ago. And Howard moved in this week."
That's it. Why, they wonder, would that be a story?
I explain, again, that Lewin's daughter Jill has written to tell me she thinks that 72 years of friendship is worth writing about, and I agree.
"The only thing remarkable is that we're still here," London says, amiably. "Everyone else is gone."
It's noon on Thursday, and here at The Park at Vernon Hills, they're sitting almost as close as they did the day they met in 1941, at Sullivan High School in Rogers Park.
Freshmen that year were seated alphabetically. Lewin. London. That's how it began.
London remembers. Lewin had forgotten.
"He'll answer the questions better than I will," Lewin says. "My memory hasn't been that good."
Lewin and London were studious boys — "not extrovertish," London says — but from the beginning they got along.
Through college (Northwestern for Lewin, University of Illinois for London), and on through stints in the military, they stayed in touch. Lewin went into the metal-casting business. London, who became an accountant, still does Lewin's taxes.
Lewin married in 1950, London in 1954.
"Did I go to your wedding with Bertha?" Lewin says.
London nods. "Yes. I have a picture somewhere."
"A great woman," Lewin says.
Over the years, Lewin had three children. So did London. Lewin and his family moved to Skokie. London and his family moved to Skokie too. Just coincidence. So was the fact that for a while they both wound up in Highland Park.
With their wives, they had get-togethers where the men played bridge, the women played mahjong. Sometimes they golfed, went out to dinner, and in recent years, often, to lunch.
"Funny, you asking these questions," London says as the waitress refills their coffee cups. "Things go by and you don't think about them."
After Bertha died, Howard London married Dorothy, who passed away almost five years ago. In 2010, Mitchell Lewin lost his wife of 60 years, Sally.
"She was a beautiful woman," Lewin says, fishing his battered wallet from a pants pocket and opening it to a photo of his wife. She is slender, blond.
"A long time ago," he says. "In her heyday."
In September, Lewin moved out of his large Highland Park house and, shedding a lifetime of belongings, set up home here in a one-bedroom apartment.
He brought a bed, a table, a computer, a couple of TVs, some chairs. He hung a painting of Wrigley Field on the living room wall, and in the bedroom, wedding photos of himself with Sally.
This week, his friend Howard moved out of his Buffalo Grove condo and settled into a one-bedroom apartment in the opposite wing.
"It's like going from a stretch limousine to a Toyota Corolla," London says.
London brought with him a bed, a table, a computer, a couple of lamps, family photos, a couple of paintings, a clock that has been in the family for a century. And his 2003 Lincoln.
Unlike Lewin, who gave up his car after a stroke, London still drives. He'll use it to go to the doctor and, a couple of times a week, to his Deerfield office. He still works part time, though most of his clients have passed away.
London and Lewin look forward to using the car for excursions to lunch or dinner. Until then, Lewin is introducing his newly arrived old friend to the dinner companions he has made in their new home.
"He'll fit right in," Lewin says.
Lewin calls it "an unseen hand" that has woven his and London's lives together for so long.
"He's my closest friend," says Lewin. "We were always friends."
"And our friends were friends," says London.
"And we ended up in the same place," says Lewin. "I don't know if you can call it happenstance, but we were just always there for each other."
Is that a story?
Whatever you call it, it's life. Life distilled to its essentials:
You're young and you grow old and, if you're lucky, you have a friend who travels with you from somewhere near the start to somewhere near the end.
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