A True Friend

“True friends are always together in spirit.”

(Anne Shirley)

Thirty one years ago, I met a true friend. They are hard to come by, but once you have one, your life is never the same.

I was taking my three preschoolers to the first day of Mother’s Day Out in our new little town of Midlothian, Texas. We had bought a big old farmhouse there, with plans to renovate and live there forever. My plan was to paint, sew, garden, and basically become Earth Mother on those two days a week that the kids went to Mother’s Day Out. I tell you this to explain the outfit that I was wearing when I met Ms. Brenda  Dirty jeans, crummy, paint-splattered tennis shoes, a bandana around my hair (which was also paint-spattered, truth be known). I was just planning to drop the little tykes off and get back to my lavender guest room painting and stenciling (the room I called the Bride’s Room since that’s where I kept my wedding dress on a mannequin….a little spooky, but pretty).

As I pulled the bright yellow Volvo Wagon into the church parking lot (I remember this in slow motion, with music playing in the background – maybe the theme song from Beaches), out stepped Ms. Brenda, from her perfectly spotless woody station wagon, dressed in crisp khaki shorts and a starched white blouse, hair perfectly coiffed. Out tumbled (in a very organized way) her three perfectly starched and ironed three stair-step children. Perfect. Absolutely perfect! “I want to be her friend,” I said to myself (then looked down at my paint-splattered self and thought, “Fat chance!”).

Three years later, I would have that chance. I had gone back to work that next year, teaching school, then becoming the principal of the primary school there in that town. I went to the School Board that next year, and received permission to open a child care facility for school district employees (it looks simple when I write that single sentence, but believe me, there were many sleepless nights and busy days that went along with that project – only the second in the State of Texas). Anyhow, that’s where I finally met Ms. Brenda. She was the first to apply for a job as a teacher at that center, and fortunately for me, she got the job. That first year, she taught my precious baby Jack, continuing to keep him on their dairy farm during the summer when I had to work. She saved my life – and made Jack’s childhood so much richer.

I could go on and on (but, I won’t). For all of the years I worked as principal (ten, to be exact…though it seemed like a hundred!) she was there to support, cheer, counsel. I could not have made it without her. In the eighth year of my tenure, the school secretary, and heart of the school, Ms. Peggie, died suddenly over Christmas break. Our faculty was thrown into chaos and mired in sadness over this event. Peggie was still young and vibrant, and we were shocked at her loss. Ms. Brenda stepped into the role of school secretary and helped us all to heal. Never trying to take Ms. Peggie’s place, but creating a safe place for teachers, parents and kids (and me!) there at the school.

She knew me like no other. I had not told her that I planned to quit my job as principal, because I wasn’t sure I would have the courage to do so. I needed to be home. That last year, I had missed every single one of my kids’ ballgames and I was teetering on exhaustion. I made the 5 minute drive to the Administration building to tender my resignation with the Superintendent, and when I walked back into the school, Ms. Brenda knew…and started crying. We were that connected.

That next year, my family moved to Las Vegas, then on to Los Angeles, but Ms. Brenda remained my dear friend and biggest supporter. We continued to see each other when I would come into town, and share our lives via telephone and (new back then) email.

We had lots of fun stories throughout the years. She came to visit me in California (where we toasted ourselves on the beach of Malibu) and we visited for hours in the surf at Crystal Beach once I moved back.

Last month, I got a call from Ms. Brenda, telling me that she had decided to retire from her work at the school to stay home with her husband, who has been ill. She asked me to come to the retirement party, since I had “started it all!” Of course, I wouldn’t have missed it.

I thought for several days about what I could bring as a retirement gift. There was so much I wanted to tell her. So much that she had meant to me. It would be impossible to express all of that in a single gift.

I finally came up with the idea! I would “craft” vignettes of some of the most important elements of our friendship throughout the years. But, I needed a way to present them. I went to several antique shops around town, looking for a box or shelf, or something, and just didn’t come up with anything that worked. Finally, I came upon the perfect idea! I would use mason jars. Brenda was a homemaker extraordinaire (and I figured she could use the jars even if she didn’t want to keep the goodies!). So, I found a cute cardboard suitcase at Hobby Lobby, got a dozen blue Mason Jars at Target, and got to work. I think it turned out so cute. She appreciated the effort, and the suitcase told the tale of our friendship to those in attendance at the party. It was a good time.

Gardenias

This is a photo of the Gardenias. A “select” group of fabulous gals who have been friends for 30 years. We were all there to support our Ms. Brenda (she is the gorgeous one -all gorgeous, of course- third from the left).

Brooch

Years ago (25 to be exact) Ms. Brenda gave me this brooch. When you open it up, inside there was the other half of the heart (see half heart in center of FRI – END) which she kept. The little saying inside went like this, “To my dearest friend. I give to you a heart to let you know you’re loved. A flower to sustain our friendship. An an angel to protect you always.”

I have worn that brooch on many important occasions, keeping my friend close to my heart.

So, here is the finished product:

Suitcase all set up 2

Pretty cute, if I do say so myself!

Here are some of the jars and their contents:

Hot tub

This is a depiction of our gang in the hot tub at our house in California, when they all came out to visit. We spent many hours gossiping and having a hoot (maybe a few margaritas, as well). I made the “tub” in a pottery class a few months before the party and took a page from my mother’s book and doodled the Gardenias on card stock. I actually filled the bowl with clear marbles, which looked like bubbly water (but I didn’t take a picture of that…but it was cute…trust me).

Angels, hearts, flowers  Jar lid

To my dearest friend.

I give to you a heart to let you know you are loved.

A flower to sustain our friendship.

And an angel to protect you always.

I had a stash of heart-shaped buttons, which I added to the jar. Then, I made a paper rose and added some tiny scrapbook paper flowers. For the angels, I shopped the antique stores and had a great time finding three tiny, antique angels).

White Gardenias

We call our little group of friends “The Gardenias” (based on the friendship of Steel Magnolias). So, I thought I had to have a jar of gardenias. I made them from an on-line tutorial, placing 7 tiny ones in the jar (there are 7 of us), and one big one glued to the top.

Jack the fetch it boy

One of our favorite friendship memories was a day (yes, a FULL DAY) that Brenda and I spent standing in the surf at Crystal Beach, Texas. My boy Jack came down to check on us every so often, supplying us with diet coke. We talked it out and solved the problems of the world that luscious day.

Bacon

During the trip to Los Angeles, Brenda came a few days before the rest of the Gardenias. To set the scene, when I picked her up at the airport (in my white Sebring convertible) I had a tape (yes, it was that long ago) of California Dreamin’ playing in the tape player. The air was crisp and cool, even though it was June and 100 degrees in Texas. We took the scenic route back to our house in the canyons of Chatsworth, and she was besotted with California. The next day, we loaded up the car and headed across Topanga Canyon to Malibu where we dined on the best fried fish and chips ever – at the Malibu Fish Company. We then crossed the street and laid out our beach towels on the sandy beach and promptly conked out. “Should I go back up to the car and get the sunscreen?” I asked Brenda, thorough a grease-imposed stupor. “No. It’s so nice and cool, we’ll be fine,” she responded. And, we fell back asleep. BAD CHOICE.

We woke up, fried to a crisp. That beautiful, cool California breeze had lulled us into a false sense of sun-security!

We gathered (gingerly) our goodies and headed back to Chatsworth – burnt to a crisp, but giddy with excitement about being together.

That night, Mack had planned to take us on a convertible drive down Sunset Boulevard – just like in the movies.  Thankfully, I had left one pitiful beach towel in the car, because that’s the only thing that kept us from freezing to death.

These days, I don’t see Ms. Brenda as much as I’d like. We are both busy with family and life, but when we get together…it’s as if we had never been apart. That might be the real definition of friend.

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