Forever Friends

2013-8-24-Blaine-VisitThere are people who enter your life, and totally unaware of the effect they are having, define or redefine your notions of friendship forever.

I was fortunate to meet my first forever friend when I was only in second grade. We had just moved to Blaine, Washington and I started school as the “new girl” in Mrs. Still’s second grade class. I don’t remember how we became friends, or what the chain of circumstances were that bonded us, but in my earliest memories of that time, Debbie was my best friend.

She had red hair and freckles, and was one of the smartest kids in school but a little on the shy side. She possessed those innate qualities of kindness, intelligence, humor and goodness that set the bar for every close friend to come. I have no idea if she knew it or not, but I treasured the way she brought me into her home and family, and hers was the first tragedy I ever shared with anyone.

Her father passed away suddenly, and I remember how upset everyone was for her. It was the first time that death had touched most of us, and I was probably one of the few that looked past that pain to the challenges of single motherhood her mom would now be handling. My mother was one of the few single moms in my class, and I knew how hard it was.

Debbie and her brother and sister and mom formed a tightly knit group and supported each other through everything. I never got to know her mom very well, but I always admired her and appreciated her kindness to me.

One of my fondest memories is of hanging out with Debbie at her family drive in. It was called “Chuck’s” and it was the source of the best burgers and fries around. Really! They still speak longingly of it in Blaine, even though it closed years ago. After school we would go to the drive in and I would help Debbie with anything I was allowed to do, or we would do homework, or just munch on fries together.

In junior high, somehow we got started on anonymous notes to each other and our small circle of friends. Each person would pick an alias and then leave notes for the others in  their lockers, desks, backpacks, whatever. When anyone began to suspect who they were, they just changed names and started again. It was a blast, and such a bright spot in the otherwise harrowing landscape of junior high!

Time went on and I moved away to Tulsa to pursue my singing career midway through 9th grade. Debbie and I kept in touch through letters for a long time, but finally it petered out when we were in our mid to late twenties. I went up for a brief visit in the early 80’s, and got to see her and a couple of other old friends and it was wonderful. I knew she had married, and she knew I had married, but we lived so far away from each  other. we just lost contact.

Then came Facebook. Debbie didn’t get on it but other friends did, including her sister, and soon I was connecting with a whole group of childhood friends through the Internet. I got to see what they looked like now, share in their family adventures, see pictures I had never seen before from elementary school, and caught up with a group of people who will always be associated with “home” for me. Isn’t that strange? I have lived many times longer in Austin than I did in Blaine, but in my mind, that is always my home town.

Last week I went back for a day’s visit and got together with Debbie, her sister (who helped put it all together) and two more friends from those childhood years. We had lunch together, reminisced, and then went on a little trip to Birch Bay where I had lived for a while.

The biggest surprise? Debbie had kept all of those junior high notes and just happened to be looking through them shortly before I contacted her. Coincidence? I think not!  I will have to go up again some time soon and see them myself.

The second biggest surprise…there really are “best friends forever” and you will never forget the feel of their hug, the sound of their voice, or the way that you just seem to continue that conversation you left off thirty years ago.

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