My College Friend

by Tiana Leonard

Betsy Games and I have exchanged Christmas cards for almost 50 years. We both married members of the Harvard Crimson Editorial board and my husband was an usher at their wedding, which he subsequently satirized in his first novel, The Naked Martini. When our children were small, we exchanged bridge nights and visits to each other’s summer cottages. A snapshot of Betsy and me with our two tow-headed sons, sitting on the beach at Cape Cod is on my refrigerator. My daughter Amy’s first memory is of watching the lunar landing in the Brick House study with her brother Andrew, and Alison and Timmy Games.

John and Ed became close friends our junior year in college. They didn’t come from New England and they hadn’t gone to fancy prep schools. They became part of a contingent that made fun of the “effete east.”  The Crimson president that year came from Idaho and name Ed “Assistant to the President”. It was a completely imaginary position, created in homage to Sherman Adams, the New Hampshire Governor whose management of President Eisenhower had ended ignominiously in the vicuna coat scandal. Ed was short, somewhat rotund, with expressive eyes and a beatific smile. He would puff ostentatiously on his pipe and pontificate in an absurd, deadpan fashion. His highly developed sense of humor may have provided a protective armor during a chaotic childhood.

Edmund Burke Games, Jr., was born on the Parris Island Marine Base in South Carolina. During the Second World War, he lived in New Orleans with his mother while his Marine father fought in the South Pacific. During the four-year separation, his mother fell in love with a man who didn’t like children. They married after the war and Ed’s father gained custody. It was a classic military childhood. Ed told me once that he never finished a school year in the same school he had started in September. I loved Ed’s brand of irony.  His off-‘shand comments kept me in stitches and his twice a year visits when we lived in New York were always eagerly anticipated. The three of us would drink martinis and he would regale us with his absurd take on events in the business world.

Ed was the only person we knew in business. Most of our friends went into the arts, foreign service, journalism or graduate school. We had never doubted that Ed would become an academic. He had been elected to Phi Beta Kappa before starting a doctoral program in government. So we were completely thunderstruck when Ed called to tell us he was quitting graduate school, going to work as an investment analyst and buying a house in Dedham. This was behavior that was so completely outside our accepted norms that it took us a while to believe it. It was the 60’s. Nobody we knew had bought a house or had any idea of buying one. Where was Dedham? What was an investment analyst? This just didn’t seem to be the ironic, don’t take anything seriously Ed that we knew. But he knew himself better than we did. When he died in March, he had had only had one job –with the same firm that hired him in 1963. He had had only one wife, whom he had met on a blind date his first semester in college. And although he had bought a second house, it was on the same street from the first.  He’s the only one of our friends who lived such a consistent life.

John’s and my life turned out quite differently. We lived in five different states, had many different jobs and the promises we had made in college did not survive career changes and the sexual revolution. It took time and some mistakes for us to find our soul mates. When we divorced, Ed and John remained friends and I didn’t see Betsy again till my 50th Harvard reunion. By then, a strange quirk of fate had brought our families back together.

In 1998, my Christmas letter mentioned that we had bought Amy a new suit for her Georgetown interview.  She was finishing her dissertation in the Cal-Berkeley History Department and going on the job market. In response, I was astonished to get a chatty email from Betsy telling me that Alison also had a PhD in history and had just become an Associate Professor at Georgetown. She said that Ed’s cousin was a real estate agent and had just found Alison a house near the University. When Amy was hired, Alison sent her a long email describing department culture and listing the faculty members that hung out at bars on Tuesday and Friday nights. Since Amy has a long history of socializing in pubs and bars, this was welcome news. The cousin found Amy a perfect little house and Alison and Amy, who were both still single, became close friends. Alison mounted a campaign to obtain Amy’s tenure and Amy supported Alison during emotional upheavals. Alison was only prevented from coming to Amy’s father’s memorial service in New York by a blizzard that cancelled Amtrak.

Ten years after Amy and Alison had reconnected, Ed and Betsy saved our Fiftieth Harvard reunion experience from disaster. On the first day, my second husband (an Ohio State grad) and I were looking aimlessly around a very crowded, noisy lunchroom and wondering why in the world we had thought this was a good idea when Betsy excitedly called out my name and invited us to sit with Ed and his roommates. She had recognized me from the photos in our Christmas letters.

I found Betsy essentially unchanged. Her face had a few wrinkles and her hair was white but she was still open and bubbly and her hairdo was still arranged in the same short, wavy style. We really enjoyed the reunion. Ed’s roommates, unlike many reunion attendees, were healthy, interesting people with professional wives. Betsy’s generous act, in looking out for us, transformed our experience. I was immensely grateful.

So when we received the news of Ed’s sudden death from a massive heart attack while on vacation in Florida, we considered whether we should attend the memorial service. First we hesitated. I had opera tickets for both weekend afternoons and Amy was unable to get cheap airline tickets. But when I read the obituary, I couldn’t resist.  Here’s a sample:

“Tired of losing, Mr. Games helped create a fall golf tourney called the Rebotco Flog. Playing 14 holes backward with five clubs, and generous handicap allocations for throws and string, Mr. Games finally won a tournament, achieving a zero on one hole, memorably made possible by throwing the golf ball in a car, driving the car to the green, throwing the ball from the car onto the green, and then using the string to achieve a perfect score. Winners of the Rebotco Flog found their names emblazoned on a yellow door in the men’s basement bathroom. “

This was the Ed I remembered. After hearing that the menu would be restricted to food Ed liked – champagne, lobster rolls, crab cakes, shrimp, and oysters, we decided we couldn’t miss the Memorial Service.

All the speakers agreed that Ed had been both a very funny man and a very successful investment analyst. His children spoke movingly about receiving music tapes in the mail, building cowboy forts, and going to Red Sox games. His college roommate, Mike Wolf, said that Ed’s death had left a large hole in his life. He told of bonding with Ed as a junior in high school, when they had met at a Leadership Institute and agreed to room together if they both got into Harvard. I knew from meeting Mike at the reunion that he had tried being a physics professor and then a subsistence farmer and had married twice, the second time to a woman half his age. Most surprisingly of all, he was Jewish, and there didn’t appear to be another Jew or any Asians or persons of color in the room. It was probably the most concentrated collection of WASPS that I have encountered outside of Peterborough, New Hampshire.

So Ed remains a mysterious contradiction. He lived a perfectly conventional life with perfectly conventional people, but maintained an iconoclastic sense of humor and was fiercely loyal to determinedly unconventional friends.  If he ever had any second thoughts about the life he had chosen, I don’t think he ever let anyone know.

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One thought on “My College Friend

  1. nancy says:

    Your story was even more entertaining the second time around. (first time was listening to it, second reading it) Loved it!

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