My long-awaited reunion with my best friend from grade school was the highlight of my trip to Florida this year. Life and careers and distance kept us apart for all that time, but to hug Patty was coming full circle.
Patty and I met on the first day of kindergarten and became best friends. Our parents were going to send us both to the small parochial school in town so we maintained our close friendship all through school. Together, we did life through spelling bees, sleepovers, grade school dances, piano lessons, dance lessons, 60's music (the best ever), 6th grade boyfriends and the horrific day in 3rd grade when JFK was shot.
We spent lots of time at each other's houses playing....she had the most awesome Barbie set-up under their basement stairs complete with a Barbie and Ken house and car where we spent hours. My Barbie and her large case of clothing was always in transit between houses. She remembers thinking our basement as the coolest thing ever. Until she told me why, I had never realized that Mom and Dad had, indeed, designed a perfect 2000 sq ft space for kids and teens downstairs. As a kid, I had taken it for granted.
She spent summers with her mom at their lake cabin and her dad would often bring me out on weekends. We played "house" in her bunkhouse and spent time on the beach.
As we got older, we had crushes on lake boys and would take her boat and cruise around the lake.
One day, the girl next door said she couldn't go swimming with us and we pressed her into telling us why. That was the day Patty and I learned all about menstruation, which sounded really gross. When the 4th grade girls had "the talk" with their moms, Patty and I had a pact to act dumb so our moms wouldn't be upset that someone else had told us.
Oh, yes, we shared many secrets. Isn't that a hallmark of a bestie?
Patty considered Mom and Dad her second parents. She was a later-life bonus baby with 4 siblings much older than herself so I think she enjoyed being part of the chaos at our house. When Dad was dying, she wrote a letter to my parents telling them how much they meant to her growing up. It meant the world to them, because they always had loved Patty. Dad never did stop telling the story of scaring her to death when he jokingly told her that if she didn't eat her creamed peas, he would give them to her in an IV. Patty well remembers it. He loved to tease.
Patty and I were best friends but we were friends with others. Colleen and Mary Kay were another set of best friends that we did things with together and individually. But we always gravitated back to each other. In the 8th grade, our school closed its high school, which meant for 9th grade, we would be going to the huge public high school. The only thing that made that less daunting was knowing Patty and I would navigate it together. Going from a class of maybe 25 to a class of 350 made me tremble. I was so shy by nature. I needed her for this big transition.
Weeks later, my universe shattered. Patty was moving to a city 90 miles east. I will never forget sobbing in my mom's arms the day she told me. It paralyzed me.
We tried to stay in touch as much as possible. In those days it was mainly by a monthly phone call and written letters. Lots of letters in the beginning. We both made other friends in our new high schools and our connection got stretched out. We saw each other a few times during college years, but didn't really re-connect again until I moved to Minneapolis (where she was living) for a 3-month graduate internship. She was newly married (yes, I was her maid of honor) and we started seeing each other regularly again.
I got a faculty position at the University of Northern KY and moved there. And eventually landed back in Duluth which was only 3 hours away from her, but our careers, life, kids and commitments got in the way. I had no idea that my wedding would be the last time we would see each other for 33 years.
At the cafe, I pounded her with questions about everything in those intervening years. Tributaries of our memories came rushing forth. She has experienced so many losses but Patty exudes a joy about her that is infectious. I couldn't get enough of her. She was always my leader and I always looked up to her for wisdom. Our lives have taken very different trajectories, but that didn't matter at all.
|My beautiful lifelong friend Patty|
Our reunion was indeed the high point of my week in the sunny south. After being with Patty for 15 minutes, I knew that if we had continued to live in the same city, we never would have lost our connection. For at its foundation, it is deeper than the roots on a North Dakota oak tree.
On that day in 8th grade, when my heart cracked open at her leaving me, a hole was created in me that I didn't even know I still had. In Florida 2 weeks ago, she returned that piece of my heart to me. For me, Patty was and always will be home.