When I was much younger, I believed that being popular and having dozens of friends was one of the keys to happiness. I remember that in high school it was usually the cheerleaders and girlfriends of the football players that seemed to hold center stage and always commanded attention from the rest of us.
As I grew older, I remember my mother telling me that when I died, if I could count my true friends on one hand, I would be lucky. She was pointing out that there are friends, and then there are real friends. I didn't understand how true those words were at the time, but now I do. She was trying to make me see a distinction between people we meet and socialize with (at perhaps a book club, or at yoga classes, at PTA meetings or at the office) from lifelong friends that are there for you every time you need them and visa-versa.
I didn't meet one of my best girlfriends, Andrea, until I was in my twenties. We were both newly married, young mothers at the time, living in the same suburban neighborhood and trying to find our way in the mysterious world of adulthood. We shared stories of our day to day struggles with raising our children, dealing with our husbands and yearning to achieve professional success. We depended on each other, not as baby sitters for each other's kids (although we did some of that), but as sounding boards and unjudgmental listeners. We relied on each other's advice and confided almost everything to each other. I couldn't imagine a day without talking to her. The thing I remember most about her is the laughter we shared, whether it was taking belly dancing classes to surprise our husbands or playing pranks on our unsuspecting friends.
I had what I called “my regular" with her every morning at 8:30 am. It was always just after our kids left for school. (They all walked to the neighborhood elementary school at the time). We would pour ourselves a cup of coffee and chat over the phone, settling the world's problems but mostly listening to each other's complaints and successes. We were so attuned to each other that sometimes we'd only had to give initials or a short phrase, and then we'd burst into laughter because we knew exactly what the other would be about to say. We didn't have to pretend that our children were angels or our husbands were perfect. It was actually sharing their faults and foibles that bonded us together, and not in an unkind way.
We gave dinner parties for our neighbors and thought we were wonderful hostesses when we served wine from a box. Eventually we graduated to Mateus and Solve Bolla. We learned how to make casseroles and bake Bundt cakes from a box. Whatever we did, we laughed our way through it, often with disastrous results. One year on her wedding anniversary, Andrea's sweet husband proudly presented her with a self-deodorizing kitchen garbage pail. They had recently remodeled their kitchen and he was so proud of this gift. She had hoped for something more personal and was devastated by his insensitivity. To this day I can still picture her throwing it into her backyard in a fit of anger. On her fortieth birthday, as a joke, I bought her another one and wrapped it up with a big red bow. We laughed for hours about it and her poor husband had no idea what was so funny. He had long forgotten about his unromantic gift from years before, but we never did.
I am so fortunate that over the years I have had great friends and actually at one time had the handful of five that my mother mentioned. Unfortunately, three have died, but not a day goes by that I don't remember them and smile. Sometimes I still ache for the love and laughter we shared, but what a gift those girlfriends were. I will always be grateful.
Life goes on, and now in these uncertain times, friends become extremely important. Because of life circumstances, we may not have our best friends with us now, but to have someone to call, to talk to, to laugh and cry with is one of life's greatest pleasures. Neighbors and colleagues become new friends and enrich our lives. We may not have known them for a lifetime. They will never know about our heartaches over our children or our marriages or our jobs, but they will bring us chicken soup when we have the flu, drive us to a doctor's appointment and bring in our newspapers when we are out of town. They will be there to help us celebrate holidays and birthdays when our families can't. They will be a substitute for, but never replace, our original best (five finger) friends.
To: Andrea, Sandee and Suzanne...may you rest in peace. I have loved you with all my heart and thank you for the good times we shared.
Until my next inspiration...ciao.