It was an unlikely and unusual way to meet those who would become life long friends. Our three year old daughters were in the same class in preschool. And on the first day of school it was love at first bite. Yep their daughter bit my daughter and the rest is history!
I met the mom Charters not long after at the open house night at the preschool. This was over 30 years ago but I remember every detail. She was by far the most beautiful woman there. Tall, gorgeous brown hair and a classy sophistication about her. She was wearing khaki pants, loafers, and a blue Ralph Lauren blazer with a crest on the front pocket. She introduced herself to me and in her intoxicating Southern accent apologized for her daughter biting my daughter. We were the only two moms there without our husbands. Most dads at the school were doctors, lawyers, accountants. Ours were in the entertainment business. Although I was ten years younger she was so kind to me and treated me like an equal. A favor not offered to me by many others.
Soon I met her husband, Hugh Wilson. By that time he was well known in Hollywood. A prolific writer and director he had also created the successful sitcom WKRP in Cinncinatti. He had a charming southern accent and the most welcoming spirit. They lived not far from us in Brentwood, a sleepy suburb in L.A. They had another daughter who was the same age as my son. We soon became inseparable. We carpooled to school, had regular playdates, traveled together, had birthday parties together and I even gave Charters two baby showers for her other two children (a boy and another girl). It felt like we were more than friends, we were family. When my son proposed to her daughter when they were five years old, with a handmade aluminum foil engagement ring, I felt like we would be permanently inseparable.
We made some great memories during our visit to their log cabin country house in Dahlonega, Georgia. Just the kids and I went (we were always called the Three Muskateers) and Hugh treated my kids like they were his own. He took them all fishing one day. The next day we all went floating down the river in rubber intertubes. We visited a water park nearby on another day to cool down from the hot and sticky southern summer. And every night we ate amazing meals cooked by Charters. She is literally my favorite cook of all-time. I still dream about her Black Bottom Bourbon Chiffon Pie.
Then in 1992 the Wilsons moved to Charlottesville, Virginia. Our group of friends from the kids’ school (coined the Dirty Dozen) threw them a fabulous going away party. Thinking about it now, we were all so jolly and supportive. But deep down it was devastating to lose them. However, we would often go visit them in Charlottesville, even spending one Thanksgiving with them. We floated the idea of buying a farm down the road from theirs. But that didn’t happen. Not long after, sadly, my marriage fell apart. While years went by that we didn’t see them, the Wilsons were always in our hearts. Phone conversations and emails kept us tethered. Somehow we would pick up right where we left off. To my surprise one day I received a phone call from Hugh.
“Hey Karen, this is Hugh. I am coming back to LA to do a movie and I would love for you to be in it.” I was shocked. I had been making a living as an actress (mostly in television commercials) since I was six years old. I never once asked or expected Hugh to hire me in anything. But he must have known that my confidence and my finances were down as I was coming through a bitter divorce. His belief in me boosted my spirits. It was a one day shoot and though I had a very small part with a few lines, it was a blast. Haha the movie title is Blast From the Past. Woman Buyer is what my film credit says. I got to wear a darling “Jackie Kennedy” inspired suit and pill box hat. While I didn’t act along side star Brendan Fraser, I did meet him on set. The irony is, my part got cut from the film. But Hugh, being Hugh, left my name on the credits. Which means I still get small residual checks for my performance. I always thanked him whenever I spoke to him and promised I’d treat him to a nice dinner to repay him.
I remarried and in 2008 moved across the pond. That same year we received an invite to the Wilson’s daughter’s wedding. It was a wonderful affair. Hubby and I flew in from Dublin and my kids met us there. It was a most incredible weekend with spirits so high that even the pouring rain couldn’t dampen.
This past June I was in DC visiting my son and his wife who had just moved there. I reached out to the Wilsons to see if I could come see them as well. I knew from Charters that Hugh had been dealing with various health issues the past few years. So I didn’t want to pressure them if he wasn’t up to it. But I had it in my mind I wanted to make good on my promise of treating him to a nice dinner. Well, lo and behold, Hugh was not only up to it, he was excited. We met at a restaurant in downtown Charlottesville. When he order an Old Fashioned I relaxed knowing that he was in good form.
It was one of the best visits I’ve ever had with them. I savored every moment. Hugh was in an inquisitive mood firing away questions with rapid fire speed. Asking about our new home in London and about my kids whom he adored. It was like he wanted to jam pack as much as he could in our few hours visit. He was in between chemo treatments but looked and sounded great. Still the same warm manner and sharp intelligent wit. Charters, as beautiful as ever, was on my left and I often had to hold back tears thinking about how much I love her and their family. While sitting across the table from their now grown gorgeous 34 year old daughter (a mommy of two herself) it was as if time flashed before my eyes. Who knew that the infamous bite would lead to this?
I was devasted to hear of Hugh’s passing this week. I know Charters and the kids are gutted. I felt helpless when I spoke with them on the phone. Nothing can replace him. But knowing he is now home with Jesus brings peace. I only wish I could be there at the memorial service today. It is a massive regret that I am not able to attend. Thankfully my son will be able to go to represent our family. I know Hugh was a great role model for him. Hugh’s talent and dedication to his craft is only exceeded by his decency as a human and his immense love for his wife Charters, his children and grandchildren. The good Lord broke the mold when He made Hugh. And I feel blessed that I am able to call him my friend.
With LOVE and until we meet again…..