by Jude Southerland Kessler
In this great city that has no end,
Years go by and the weeks run on,
And before I know it, a year is gone,
And I never see my old friend’s face,
For life is a swift and terrible race…
– Charles Hanson Towne
January 1965: Two families moved away from Alexandria, LA, on the exact same day: Tom and Maxine Southerland with their daughters, Judy and Lisa, and Manny and Debbie Singer, with their children, Patti and David. Manny and Debbie had owned Alexandria’s revolutionary One Hour Martinizing cleaners on the corner of Bolton and Jackson Streets.
Tom had been the Assistant Superintendent of Schools for Rapides Parish while Maxine had taught Home Economics at Bolton High School. Judy and Patti were best friends – and devoted Beatlemaniacs.
For years, the girls had attended Horseshoe Drive Elementary. In fact, as first graders (In Ms. Annie Mitchell’s class), they’d “christened” the school on its first-ever opening day. Over the past six years they’d shared wonderful memories. As drowsy, after-lunch third-graders, they’d listened to Ms. Thelma Sparks read The Magical Monarch of Mo (the first-penned children’s classic by Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum). They’d been challenged by accelerated learning programs in two years of Mrs. Lococo’s 4 th /5 th Grade “Split Class.” Once a week, the girls had been bussed to Scott M. Brame Junior High for Ms. June Leckrone’s experimental “Enrichment Class.” And only a few months past, they’d trekked to Baton Rouge to tour LSU and the state capitol with other wide-eyed 12-year-olds in Horseshoe Drive’s “graduating” sixth grade class. But over and above all those experiences, Patti and Judy had shared what they were sure would be “a lifelong love” for The Beatles.
Now, on the same day, they were leaving Alexandria – and childhood – behind them. The Singers were headed cross-country to Phoenix, Arizona where Manny and Debbie were part of an exciting new adventure, introducing a product that would become synonymous with the Sixties, a new slurpee drink called (you guessed it!) Icee! The Southerlands were driving 45 miles to Natchitoches, where Maxine would be a Home Economics professor at Northwestern State College and Tom would serve as the college’s new Dean of Education. There was a going-away party for both girls … tearful goodbyes and promises to write.
Then … 57 years of silence. “Before they knew it, a year [was] gone…” and then another and another. The girls lost touch.
But Judy … later Jude Southerland Kessler … never forgot Patti and the profound impact that her smiling, crinkled-eyed friend had made on her life. When Jude became the author of The John Lennon Series, she was asked (over and over again!) on podcasts and interviews, “How did you become a Beatles fan?” And Jude’s answer was always the same, “My best friend in elementary school, Patti Singer, told me about them. In fact, I came to school one morning, and she met me at the bus. She showed me a black-and-white 45-sleeve photo of the boys…and gave me until recess to ‘fall in love with one of them.’ Recess! I had to ‘fall in love’ with someone I’d never met by recess,
which was only two hours away. I was floored!”
This story, which was included in Jude’s fourth volume in The John Lennon Series, became a tale that Jude’s readers knew by heart. In fact, when they found out that Jude and Patti had lost touch, many of them tried to find Patti Holly Singer of Circle Drive, Alexandria, LA. And most failed. One reader e-mailed Jude saying he’d located a Patti Singer in Kentucky, but Jude thanked him and dismissed it; she had heard from their mutual friend, Jacque Caplan, that Patti was a successful TV and movie producer in Los Angeles. So, “the Kentucky Patti” wasn’t seriously investigated.
Then, in January of 2022, Rabbi Judy Caplan Ginsberg invited Jude to speak about Lennon and The Beatles at the Alexandria Rotary Club. In the weeks leading up to her presentation, Jude asked if Judy (or anyone in the Rotary Club) knew Patti Singer and her whereabouts. Rabbi Ginsberg promised to help reunite the two childhood friends, and true to her word, she did. In fact, she found a way for Jude to text Patti … in Kentucky!!! … after all those years.
That’s my story. And yes, there’s a happy ending.
Two weeks ago, Patti and I reconnected on an hour-long phone call that seemed to pick up with our last sentence in 1965. Not a moment had elapsed since our last chat! Nothing had changed! We were still 12 (going on 60 something). We were still friends. And we were still Beatlemaniacs. Half of our phone call caught us up on family, friends, and careers. The other half revolved around John … mixed with a bit of Paul. And when we closed our talk reluctantly, we promised to talk again soon. Since then, myriad texts have been keeping us close. A friendship has been renewed.
I began this blog with a poem from Charles Hanson Towne about friendships and good intentions, about the promise to “make time” for lost friends. Unfortunately, the ending of that poem is … well, tragic. And for many of us, it’s all too familiar. Towne goes on:
As in the days when I rang his bell
And now we are busy, tired men:
Tired with playing a foolish game,
Tired with trying to make a name.
“Tomorrow,” I say, “I will call on Jim,
Just to show that I’m thinking of him.”
But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes,
And the distance between us grows and grows…
I’m so grateful that Hanson’s ending wasn’t ours … that two friends “lost” became two friends “found.” I’m even more grateful that what we found was this: We haven’t really changed. Patti did have a remarkable career in film and television production. She took a two-year tour of the world and experienced things most of us only dream of. Now, she’s surrounded by family in a city that’s artsy and cool … and that hosts a remarkable Beatles festival every year as well! But most importantly, she’s still Patti … the girl who laughs easily and has a zest – an exuberance – for life that just expects people to be able to “fall in love” in a two-hour time span.
If you’re reading this and remembering someone special whom you’ve “lost,” maybe it’s time to reconnect. In his song, “Beautiful Boy,” John Lennon paraphrased a poignant quote that states, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Maybe it’s time to find your Patti, to give it a try. Because after that wonderful phone call two weeks ago, I’m still smiling.