Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happy Birthday to My First "Best Friend"

Growing up in the 60's and 70's, the photo booth was to young folks what the digital camera (or cell phone camera) is to kids today: instant gratification. We could mug, put up "bunny ears" behind each other's heads, giggle hysterically, or just smile our "cheese" smiles, and we had our photos in hand within minutes of when they'd been snapped. These photo booth pictures are iconic images of our youth for those of us of a certain age. I can't imagine there's anyone from my generation who doesn't have at least a few of these strips of black and white pictures, arranged in vertical columns of four, lying around somewhere--be it in a trunk in the attic, in a shoebox, or in a scrapbook. Sometimes, we would cut the strips so that we could share them with friends, just as kids share photos with each other on Facebook nowadays.

The three photo booth pictures above are of me and my first true "best friend," all taken before we were in high school. We met as students at a Catholic grade school when we were both 10, and that was 43 years ago! Wow, that doesn't seem possible! My family had had a bit of a nomadic lifestyle up until that point, with homes in New Jersey, Delaware, and New York. We moved to the town in Upstate New York that became our permanent home when I was just about to start 5th grade, and that is when I met this dear friend. From the beginning, we just clicked. And today is my friend's birthday, so I wanted to dedicate today's post to her.

There's nothing like those friends you make during your school days; there is that bond forged with people who "knew you when" that can never quite be duplicated with friends you make as an adult. In the 1988 movie "Everybody's All-American," Dennis Quaid (whom I've always liked as an actor) plays a college football superstar who moves on to play in the NFL. At one point in the movie, when he's been a pro for awhile, he's feeling jaded and wondering who his real friends are; and he comments to his cousin, "You think you're gonna go through your whole life making close friends, like [the ones you make when you're a kid]. You don't. It's just somethin' that happens to you when you're young." I thought that was a touching speech when I first saw the movie, and I think in many ways, it's true. How can I ever become as close to a woman I meet today as I was to this old friend of mine, the girl with whom I stayed up talking late into the night on countless sleepovers at each other's houses?

My friend and I have so many shared experiences, some rather hilarious. For instance, in junior high, we bought our first--ahem!--supportive undergarments together. (I, for one, was too mortified to tell my mother I thought I needed one, so I decided to sneak off and buy it for myself with my babysitting money!) We had no idea what sizes we could possibly need, but we tried on some lacy underthings until we found what worked for us. The kind, helpful, wise saleslady handed us some shopping bags through the dressing room curtain and said that if we'd like to wear our new ones home, we could put our old ones in the bags. "Thank you very much," we said, and we proceeded to puff up the bags to look like they had something in them. Then we made our purchases and strolled proudly out of the store, carrying empty bags and wearing the proof of our budding womanhood. Isn't that a great story? I mean, you can't make this stuff up! And there will never be another female friend with whom I can share both the hilarity of that particular shopping expedition and the poignancy of crossing that line from little girl to young woman.

After college, marriage, and babies, my friend and I found it practically impossible to get together. For some of those years, we lived far apart. For the past 20 years or so, we've been separated by a mere four-hour drive; but with the hustle and bustle of family life, most of the time we might as well be halfway across the country from one another. I was raising my five boys and she was raising two daughters and a son. And she was faced with a situation that every mother dreads: her son was diagnosed with leukemia when he was about nine and waged a long, tough battle against it. He is healthy now--thanks be to God!--and he's a thriving sophomore at an Ivy League college. For all she went through and the grace with which she did so, I admire my friend tremendously and consider her a hero. She is a fiercely loving mother, just as she was always a fiercely loving friend.

The great thing about old friends who've known you forever is that when you do finally manage to get together, it doesn't matter how many years have passed. You feel like you're picking up right where you left off.

So, here's to old friends! And Happy Birthday to my very oldest friend, my first "best friend."

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