When I think of the people who I count as my closest friends, not a one made an impression on me when we first met that could foretell the comfort, joy, laughter, tears and pain that we would come to share over the years. Looking back, my first encounters have been unremarkable. Just another face at school, at a party in the fraternity office or on the job. But time, shared experiences and the discovery of commonalities forge the foundation of life-long friendships and love.
Such was the case when I first met one of my best friends and sister, Wendy Pflaum. I can’t recall the exact moment when we met, but it was during our Spring semester of freshman year 30 years ago when we pledged Alpha Phi Omega (APO), a coed service fraternity. We were both attracted to APO because at the time it was inclusive. Anyone who rushed could pledge, and if you completed your pledging requirements, you were pretty much in. Pledging consisted mainly of completing volunteer service hours. Volunteerism was and continues to be a core tenet of the fraternity, which was founded on the principles of the Boys Scouts of America.
I may not remember my first encounter with Wendy, but I remember the impression I had of her during our pledge semester. Decked out in preppy attire (button down oxfords, polos, crew neck sweaters with pearls come to mind), she gave off an air of an entitled prep school princess. I also recall that she was perpetually happy, even though she often referenced the divorce her parents were going through. I think it may have been a good six months to a year by the time we truly got to know each other during dinners out at Bennigan’s, Chi-Chi’s and Ratsie’s. As our college years progressed, we partied together and went on girls’ trips with our other female “brothers”. (All members of APO are brothers, regardless of gender.)
During this time, we started to discover some commonalities between us. While Wendy was the product of private schools, she came from a dual-income household where neither parent held college degrees and considered the blue-collar enclave Jersey City her hometown. She graduated from an all-girls Catholic high school while I dodged going to one after completing my Catholic education in the eighth grade by attending the local STEM magnet high school. Wendy was an only child and I had been one for the first 13 years of my life, until my sister Samantha arrived. Somehow, we also discovered a love of food and cooking, not always reflected by our dining selections at that time.
Over the course of our 30-year friendship we continued to have similar experiences. Sometimes our lives ran parallel. We each married young within a year of each other, and had only children—boys no less, born months within each other—until I went on to have a little girl, nearly 14 years later. We have progressed in our respective careers and have been dissatisfied with our careers at various points in our lives. Sometimes our experiences have been staggered, with one living through a life changing event only to have the other experience a similar event sometime after, fortunate to have a friend’s example on how to persevere through the unimaginable.
In 2010, Wendy lost her husband to a brain tumor that was first diagnosed in October 2001. Through Mark’s illness, death and her years as tragically independent (her words, not mine) Wendy’s grit and resilience emerged, propelling her to solider on raising their son Michael and building a new life. Working past her grief Wendy has found a new life that includes a new love and the courage to fulfill a dream, Pasta a Casa, an online resource dedicated the art of pasta making and making that art accessible to home cooks.
Through Pasta a Casa, Wendy offers online pasta making courses, recipes, resources and insight through a blog. Go on her site and you’re learn the history of fettucine alfredo or her recipe for chicken noodle soup with fresh egg noodles. Like me, she’s a foodie who understands the cultural significance of a shared meal or the joint cooking process to bind people together. We also desire the chance to pursue our passions that our younger selves may have been too intimidated to reach for.
“I have been wanting to start a side business for a long time and I had many ideas. Making pasta is one of my favorite things to do,” said Wendy. ” Whenever I tell people that I make homemade pasta, people seem so impressed, yet it’s so easy to do. It made me realize that I should teach others how to do it too.”
It’s been fun watching Wendy get this venture off the ground, especially when I think of how far she’s come in the last eight years. She may not be changing the world through pasta making, but she is changing her world by sharing her passion, and in the process, continues to inspire me and our friends with her courage to forge ahead with her dreams.
This has been a shameless plug for my good friend’s new venture, Pasta a Casa, an online home pasta making course and website. The blog author has been reimbursed over the years by the proprietor of Pasta a Casa with friendship, sisterly love, laughter, tears, comfort, a shoulder to cry on, bawdy jokes, the occasional roof over my head, bed to sleep in, baby-sitting services, cat-sitting services, good and bad advice, hand-me ups and hand-me downs, gifts, food, drink, wine and hangover remedies. None of these are recognized as hard currency in any nation on earth but has somehow enriched me just the same.