I woke to sad news last week. My dear friend and longtime journalism mentor Mel Toadvine had died in his sleep on Nov. 18.
He hired me when I was a young reporter in the mid-1980s — a cub, as they say, with just a few years of experience — and we worked together for 11 years before he moved to Florida and I left that Salisbury, Md., newspaper office to accept a position in the Ocean City, Md., bureau, to start a new publication.
The last time I saw him was in 2018. He came to Salisbury to attend his son-in-law’s funeral and had a heart attack. I visited him at the hospital and took comfort that he was OK. A month ago, we talked on the telephone for an hour, reliving memories and asking each other, “Do you remember that time when?” and “Whatever happened to that reporter you hired? You know, the one with one crooked nostril who never tied his shoes?”
We laughed and reminisced. I told him I loved him and thanked him, as I had so many times, for his support, his friendship, for everything he taught me about the rich career I continue to enjoy 41 years later. I had no idea it would be the last time I’d hear his voice.
His death hit me hard, but isn’t it fitting he is so heavily on my mind Thanksgiving week, when we pause to remember what we are grateful for? This week, because Mel was such a blessing in my life, I’ve been concentrating on what brings me joy. Here are a few of my favorites.
- The beauty of the book “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. My mother gave me a copy the year I graduated from high school and told me to be sure to read it. I was quickly absorbed by the author’s philosophy and wisdom: “When you love you should not say, ‘God is in my heart’ but rather ‘I am in the heart of God.’ And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course” and “In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
- A red kitten in the house named Xander, who I adore, who bats around everything he can get his tiny paws on at 3 a.m., from bottle caps to rattling toys, then breaths his fishy essence on my face before dawn because he, and his four-legged brothers and one sister, are hungry.
- Pilot Precise V5 extra-fine pens.
- Petrichor — that appealing smell right before rain starts after it’s been dry for a while. I always thought that would be a unique name for a cat, and I’ll surely bestow it someday, when Xander gets a little older and another feline joins the Canfora clan.
- Unexpected kindness. The other day, a man walking outside the grocery store near me handed me a $10 bill, smiled and said, “Happy Thanksgiving,” leaving me stunned for a moment before I called after him, “Thank you! How nice! Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.” That $10 bought the tastiest banana ice cream cone that evening. And it made me want to do something randomly kind for someone else.
- The squirrel in my back yard who entertains me by hanging upside down from a branch to reach the suet in the feeder hung outside my home office — even when I put peanuts and seeds out for him.
- The shapes of clouds. I swear I saw a dragon playing a cello in the sky the other day.
- The always dependable sunrise and its reflective beauty over the ocean.
- How brilliant leaves are this fall. I don’t when I have seen brighter yellows or deeper reds, even a few purples.
- A hot black-bean burrito with a side of rice and icy Coke.
- Memories of baking chocolate cakes with my mother and how, as we poured batter from her big green mixing bowl into a buttered, round pan, she would say, “Use the spoon to get it all. Don’t waste one drop.” And the day she told me, with such tenderness, “I’m so glad I have you and you have me, honey.”
- Recalling my dad’s talent for imitating faces, voices and gestures and, speaking in a combination of English and Italian, making me laugh until I couldn’t catch my breath. We’d laugh together until we were exhausted, then he’d suggest, “Hey, Sue. Let’s go get a pizza.”
- And all of you, dear co-workers, contacts and readers. From my vegetarian kitchen with its potato gnocchi and roasted asparagus to your festive table, I wish you a most blessed and memorable Thanksgiving.