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  • Writer's pictureGiacomino Nicolazzo

Friends in Deed...


October 2020

I start today's blog with the end in mind. It isn’t’s today!

Lorraine Olmstead had it all! A husband who owned an investment firm and had been wildly successful in the stock market. A son, Jacob, who had followed in his father’s footsteps after graduating from Wharton Business School. He was an investment banker and worked in his father’s Washington DC office.

She had a beautiful and lavish home in the Georgetown and another in Beaver Creek Colorado where the extended family would always gather for Christmas and New Years.

She had the best cars, the most fashionable name it. And more money than she could ever spend...even in two life times.

Carlene Samuels was another woman who also lived in Washington DC, but nowhere near Lorraine Olmstead’s neighborhood. Their lives could not have been more different.

Carlene lived with her husband Mark and son David on Sumner Road in the projects called Barry Farm. Her husband was a good man, but he drank a bit too much and from time to time got into trouble as a result. He had a problem keeping a job so Carlene had to work two jobs at times, just to make ends meet.

She worked for an Alexandria janitorial company, cleaning offices at night and other people’s homes during the day. She anguished over her son coming home from school to an empty house or to a father who’d been drinking. David had been acting first getting into trouble at school but lately he’d been involved with the police. Carlene felt powerless to change the path her only child was on. She knew all too well where it led.

Lorraine Olmstead and Carlene Samuels, under any kind of normal circumstances, would have spent their entire lives never meeting or knowing anything about each other’s lives. But as we all learn at one time or another, life has the most unexpected surprises in store for us. For Lorraine and Carlene, life was about to change...dramatically.

A few minutes before 4:00 in the afternoon of 13 January 1982, Conrad Olmstead was sitting in the first class section of Flight 90 with his son beside him. They were leaving Washington National Airport for a three hour flight to Fort Lauderdale where Conrad had a second office.

It was snowing and the temperature hung just below the freezing mark. Airport crews worked rapidly to de-ice the plane so it could get off the runway and out ahead of a strong storm that was coming in from the north.

At about the same time, Mark Samuels was driving his 1975 Chevy Vega station wagon on Interstate 395 about a mile or so from the 14th Street Bridge that crossed the Potomac River just east of the Pentagon. He was on his way to pick up Carlene from her first shift job and take her to her second job. His son David was sitting in the front seat beside him.

The heater was not working in the old car and while Mark was complaining about not being able to see through the frost on the windshield, David was talking about his favorite football team, the San Francisco 49’ers, and their chances of beating the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI in about two weeks.

Neither the father and son sitting in first class seats or the father and son sitting in a tired old Chevy knew that in a few moments all hell was about to break loose in Washington DC...

Flight 90 was cleared for take-off and was rushing down the runway. But the pilots were having difficulty getting airborne. A few of the passengers became alarmed and believed they would run out of runway before getting off the ground. Incredibly, the pilots were able to lift the nose of the plane in the nick of time. But that was where their luck ran out.

The plane was only able to climb a few hundred feet into the snow-filled sky before the alarms began to sound in the cockpit. Just as the pilots were trying to explain their predicament to the air traffic controllers back at the airport, the plane literally fell out of the sky and crashed into the bridge...hitting six cars and a truck.

The impact tore away 97 feet of the bridge's rail and 41 feet of the bridge's wall. The plane then plunged into the freezing water of the Potomac, falling between two of the three spans of the bridge on the interstate.

Flight 90 broke into pieces, scattering everywhere. The largest piece left was the tail section. It was all that remained and jutted out above the icy waters of the river.

Sitting in first-class, there is no doubt that Conrad Olmstead and his son Jacob were killed instantly. The car in which Mark Samuels and his son David were traveling was crushed and had burst into flames in the southbound lane on the bridge. They too died but perhaps not as quickly. More than likely they burned to death.

News crew and TV cameras were instantly on the scene and for the rest of the day, and into the next, America was glued to its TV sets, watching incredulously as the tragedy unfolded.

There were several heroes that emerged that day but for seventy of the seventy four passengers and four of the crew members, life was over. Four people driving in cars were killed as well. It was a sad and ugly day in the Nation’s capitol.

Now my story today is not about the memorable and sad tragedy that I‘ve just recounted for you. No. It is so much more than that. My story is about an incredible and miraculous encounter between two women that would take place six years later.

Lorraine Olmstead’s entire world collapsed on 13 January 1982. All that money and her material possessions no longer had any value. She would have traded it all just for one more minute with her beloved husband and the son she adored. She grieved night and day without end.

Carlene Samuels had no such luxury. She had little other choice but to go on with her life. There was no life insurance check to tide her over or help her get on her feet. There was just the small and now empty apartment in the projects. As I said, her life and Lorraine Olmstead’s life were as different as night and day.

Lorraine could not deal with her loss. It was overwhelming for her. So she had begun seeing a therapist in the city.

On 12 May of 1988, a Thursday afternoon, she was drinking a cup of coffee at a sidewalk café before one of her appointments. It was clear, warm and sunny day and as the sun shined down on her table, she’d become lost in her thoughts.

She was startled out of her daydream by the sound of a beeping horn and squealing brakes. Opening her eyes, she saw a woman lying in the street in front of a taxi cab. A crowd had gathered around her. For some strange reason, Lorraine was drawn to the woman lying on her side in the middle of the street. She stood quickly and without as much as a second thought, rushed to her side.

The woman in the street was Carlene Samuels. She too had been daydreaming when she stepped from the curb, about to cross the street, oblivious to the oncoming cars. She just didn’t see the cab coming until she heard the horn and the tires screeching on the pavement.

Although she wasn’t seriously hurt, she was bruised rather badly and had a few serious brush burns. It was Lorraine who helped her to her feet, taking her to a nearby bus stop bench to sit and wait for the ambulance and paramedics to arrive.

Carlene didn’t want to go to the hospital so the paramedics treated her right there on the bench and then left. Lorraine stayed with her, again for reasons she could not begin to understand at the time. The two women began to talk and incredibly, their shared tragedy soon emerged.

“My son and husband were both killed that day,” Carlene began, talking about 13 January 1982. “The plane fell from the sky and crushed my dreams. Why God chose to take them both I will never know. In the blink of an eye I was alone...I had no one left. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I’d stopped smiling. There was no more laughter!”

“Oh my God!” Lorraine said in utter amazement and horror. “My son and husband were on that plane! My world collapsed that very day as well. It has been more than six years now but life remains meaningless to me. What did you do? How did you get through it?”

“I suffered just as you did,” Carlene answered. “I almost did not make it. I became obsessed with ending my life. I realized that I could live without my husband, but I just did not want to go on without my son David.

But then one night a small kitten followed me home when I got off the bus. I felt such sadness and pity for the poor thing. It was cold outside and I could tell she was hungry, so I brought her in.

I warmed up a small bowl of milk and opened a can of tuna. That poor thing was nearly starved. She ate it all and licked the bowl and plate clean. When she finished eating, she rubbed up against my legs and then jumped into my lap. We have been together ever since.”

“So a cat did all this for you?” Lorraine asked. “That was all it took?”

“Oh heavens no,” Carlene answered. “The cat was just the outward sign that God sent to me. I realized that watching that cat eat made me happy. I smiled for the first time in four years! I thought to myself, "If watching that little kitten eat could warm my heart and make me smile, maybe doing something kind and selfless for people could make me just as happy."

There was a woman in my building who was a shut-in. She lived alone...a widow like me. Emphysema kept her from going outside. So I decided to bake her some cookies and visit with her one day.

Amazingly, the same thing happened. She was thrilled and oh so happy for the company and the cookies, but my own happiness was off the charts! I decided that very day that I would try to do something nice for someone every day...something to bring a smile to their face or make them feel good or safe or not so alone.

But there is only so much I can do. I don’t make much money and most of my time is spent cleaning other people’s homes and offices. I dream of the day to come when I might be able to do more.

It makes me happy to see them happy! I don’t know of anyone who sleeps better than I do now. I have found the key to my own happiness! It is in making others happy. Had it not been for that little kitten, I would surely still be lost.”

“I want to help you!” Lorraine said. “I have the money...more than I know what to do with. Will you let me help?”

“Are you serious? You really want to help?” Carlene asked in amazement. “I...I...I don’t know what to say!”

“Just say yes!” Lorraine answered. “I don’t for one moment think I was not supposed to be sitting here today. I believe with all my heart I was supposed to meet you and you were supposed to change my life and heal me, just as that kitten saved you. Please Carlene...please allow me to be a part of this.”

And so it was to be! That very day Friends In Deed was started. And to this very day, together Lorraine and Carlene do good deeds for underprivileged people or people in need or crisis, young and old, all over the greater Washington DC area.

What a great story, don’t you think? There is another part I want to share with you. Lorraine Olmstead, a woman who never had or wanted a pet in her entire life, now has two cats, Himalayans by the name of St. Francis and St. Augustine, who share her beautiful home in Georgetown!

Kindness is universal. Sometimes being kind allows others to see the goodness in humanity through us. We must always be kinder than necessary.

The beauty of life does not depend on how happy we are, but on how happy others are on account of us!

The old adage still rings true...

Happiness is not a destination, it is a journey. It does not come tomorrow, it is right here with us now. It is not WHAT we have, it is WHO we are!

And here is another thing I have discovered. If you are in a position where you can reach people, do what I am doing. Use your platform to stand up for something. Reach out to people.

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1 Comment

Viviane Paolini
Viviane Paolini
Oct 01, 2020

Everything happens in Divine Timing. Beautiful story. I don't write like you Giacomino, but I do my best to help in any way I can. I am a happy person and bring also laughter, the best medicine. Thank you.

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