When we started to plan this trip, the first thing I did was map out all the people on our route around the country we could visit. There were family, friends we saw pretty often, friends we hadn’t seen in quite a while, friends we’d really lost touch with, and then there were what we might call secondary friends – people we knew mainly through other friends. A number of whom said, if you make it to our neck of the woods, we’d love to see you. The Africanos in Illinois were the first we visited in this category, and the Hofheimers in Virginia Beach were the next.
i first met Jo Ann and Buzzy Hofheimer 35 years ago. Jo Ann is the oldest sister of my friend Karen Zeno (now in Seattle), and Buzzy is some level of cousin to Mike Zeno, Karen’s husband. (This was our first introduction to the interconnectedness of southern families.) We met at Karen and Mike’s wedding in Norfolk, and compared to us recent college grads, they seemed markedly grown-up – married, with kids and real jobs. They had both been raised in the Norfolk area, and settled down there, where Buzzy worked in title insurance and real estate, and Jo Ann owned a bookstore, while raising two charming children, Kate and Robert. Over the years I would see them at Zeno family occasions – births, bar and bat mitzvahs, etc., and it was always fun hanging out with them, although it was always for short periods of time. (At one point in the early 90s, their son Robert stopped in to Eugene on a cross-country drive, and I had the pleasure of taking him on an Animal House tour of the UO, fulfilling one of his lifelong dreams.)
When you live in the northeast or the northwest, you actually don’t get to know many southerners; you know people who have left the south, and you know some people who have moved to the south, but you seldom come across people who were born and stayed there. So in some way Jo Ann and Buzzy provided me with my model for what southerners were like. This was obviously a somewhat skewed view, as compared to most southerners they are coastal and liberal, but the differences from the northerners I knew were evident – a deep gregariousness and immediate friendliness, talking at a less-than-frenetic pace, and a manner that is always welcoming and gracious. So as we started to head deeper into the south, it was wonderful to begin the acculturation process with them.
They are both retired now, and have sold their house in town to live full time on the beach in Virginia Beach, a few blocks from where Buzzy’s family’s house was when he was growing up. They beautifully remodeled an older house on the dunes, which is simple and comfortable, and includes a feature most of us would love – a stair hall with bookcases two stories tall (with books perfectly arranged, as befits a former bookstore owner). When we arrived Jo Ann shooed us out onto the beach so we could catch the light before dusk, and then we returned for a fabulous dinner of local fish.
The next day Greta and I accompanied Jo Ann on her four-mile morning walk in First Landing State Park, leading to the estuary of the Lynnhaven River. We thought we were in pretty good shape from all the touring we’d been doing around cities, but she had us both sprinting to keep up with her. Then we visited the Brock Environmental Center (which I’ve previously posted) – Jo Ann is a docent there, where their daughter Kate is the Vice President for Development for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. After an afternoon in Norfolk we rejoined them for dinner at a local seafood restaurant, where I began my renewed involvement with eating oysters (which has continued across the south, but which Greta will not be blogging about).
The sites in Norfolk were interesting, but we mostly enjoyed having the opportunity to sit around and talk (and eat and drink) with Jo Ann and Buzzy – just the four of us, not in the general hubbub of a big family party. That has been the fun thing about secondary friends – people you’ve always really liked, but with whom you’ve never been able to spend enough time to really get to know them. After a couple of days of conversation and hospitality, I think we can remove the “secondary” from the classification, and we hope we get to see them more often.