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How would you get along with your sibling(s), parent(s), or any other person you’ve known for a long time — if you only met them for the first time today?

I was drawn to the woman I just met at a friend’s barbeque, because of her 100-watt smile. She seemed glad to meet me and her smile extended to her eyes so that she seemed genuinely pleased to meet me. Our hostess introduced us, and I repeated her name in my head — Jean Jean — Genie in the bottle (I always try to think of associations to remember names). We entered into easy conversation, meeting other people at the gathering, too.

Like me she was a grandmother, all boys, three of whom were triplets! I couldn’t claim that achievement, but I did outnumber her 5 grandchildren (all boys) with my 9 (3 girls and 6 boys). We talked about our children, all adults now, how educations and jobs were progressing. I learned that all of her children live within 10 miles of her, while three of mine live from 5 to 90 miles, and one lives about 3,000 miles away! That’s hard to take — I see her only twice a year, which I actually should be grateful about.

Dinner was served and we sat down together as we at tasty chicken and lots of salads. As we ate we chatted companionably. I learned that her husband had died about 5 years previously, and that she had cared for him for two-and-a-half years as his cancer spread and a surgery to remove a growth on his spine confined him to bed. I remember how genuine and warm that smile had been when we met, and wondered how she could be so happy. She was obviously a strong woman, but gentle and caring. I hadn’t sensed a bit of self-pity or a “why-me” attitude. She also had some kind of inner light that was stronger the life’s hard blows. I found that I respected her as much as I liked her.

Dessert was served, a wonderful ice cream cake in honor of the hostess’s birthday. After gifts were opened, and the birthday person was toasted, darkness began to set in, and guests began to leave. Jean and I said good-bye and we exchanged our phone numbers. I had a feeling that I had made a new and welcome friend.