Sheila West is a wonderful person, ebullient, kind and funloving. Strength is second nature to her. She is like a "Greek Column"..never bending, weakening or losing her resiliency. Being a short stocky person who always has a big welcoming smile, she reminds me of Mrs. Santa Claus.
Sheila is a native of Baltimore, Maryland. We met in September 1982, at one of the AT&T offices in Piscataway, NJ. When I walked into the office, which we shared, there was a sudden aura that seemed to have surrounded her. She looked at me and we both started laughing...for no reason at all. At least, that’s what I thought at the time. But, as I think about it, Sheila had such an unusual laugh. I think I was laughing at her laughing. She sorta giggles with a hark. That’s was my personal description. And, she was usually talking while making this unusual noise. Weird, though it seemed, it was still one of the warmest, most intoxicating and friendliest laughters I had ever heard. It made me want to laugh! That was the beginning! We became instant friends and extended family.
She was a single parent (at that time) with two teenage children, Shelee and Gerald. I, immediately, adopted Sheila and the children.
We had boatloads of fun all the time; at work, after work and, even when we had to chastise the children. Sheila did not like to cook, so she didn’t. We would eat out regularly. We made it a point of trying a new restaurant, at least, once a week. I was a Korean/Thai customer. Sheila loved Italian. Big decision every week! Once another friend joined us. She introduced us to a wonderful Greek Restaurant in Northern Jersey, near Morristown. The food, as well as, the ambience, was fantastic! We allowed our friend to order because of our inexperience in this culture. She made it "quite a memorable occasion". I can’t remember the name of all the varieties we had. The presentation was beautiful..starting with the wine. The waiter suggested the wine. I had never tasted a wine with such fervor. It was not very dry and not sweet...just warm and soothing. The appetizers were absolutely out of this world. Each one had a different taste and melted in your mouth. The entree was roast lamb, with some sort of fruit dish, and a rare delicious vegetable. The entire meal was absolutely scrumptious. It cost us a week’s salary; but, it was well worth it. That was a meal, with a taste, that we still talk about!
But, like all things, this wonderful period in our friendship was interrupted by some very devastating circumstances. The year that Gerald was graduating, he had a tragic accident. I was en route to Chicago when the accident occurred. When I arrived at my cousin’s home, I was instructed to call Sheila’s mother and my daughter, who lived in New York, immediately. My heart started palpitating! I started trembling! I knew, deep inside, that something terrible had happened. My concern was, who did it happen to, Sheila or my daughter? As it turned out, both were calling about a tragedy that happened. Different accidents that happened on the same day. Sheila’s son, Gerald, had drowned in a man-made lake in Piscataway. My son-in-law, Rudy, had drowned in the Carribean Sea, just outside of Haiti, on Wednesday evening, August 4, 1983. (I will tell my daughter’s story at another time.) It was a very traumatic experience for all of us. Sheila was absolutely devastated! I rushed back to New Jersey/New York and became the "Pillar of Strength," much to my surprise! But, I guess God gives you the strength you need when you need it. He certainly did for me! Somehow, I was able to keep everything together in both instances. We all managed to get through this.
Sheila was transferred to Kansas City, Mo. in November 1985. I went to Atlanta around the same time. We were communicating constantly.
In 1993, while working in Jacksonville, Florida, I won a trip to Hawaii. I invited Sheila as my guest. We had a wonderful time, talking, laughing and crying. It was, then, that Sheila told me that she realized after Gerald’s death why we had met. She went on to say that she would have never survived the incident without me. I was so touched when she told me that...I cried then!
Although Sheila is still in Kansas City, it’s like she is right next door. We still talk, laugh and now "pray" together!
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