35: Girlfriends, Near and Far

35: Girlfriends, Near and Far

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Girlfriends, Near and Far

Friendship is a sheltering tree.

~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The moving van, packed full, chugged away from my dream home in the Arizona desert. I settled back into the front seat of my car, snapped my seat belt tight, and took one last look at the sunrise that painted orange and yellow hues across the sky. I inched my foot closer to the gas pedal, then reluctantly put the car in gear and pulled out of the driveway. The stately saguaro cactus that lined our property stood at attention with outstretched arms that seemed to be begging me not to leave.

My husband Ray drove the van while our daughter Lindsey and I followed behind. I glanced at Lindsey, who was sitting with her nose just inches away from the window. Her small frame wiggled with excitement over this new adventure. She pointed out every sight that appeared on our route. After a few hundred miles she asked, “How much longer, Mommy? Are we there yet?” I leaned over, brushed her cheek with the tip of my fingers and stifled the sadness in my voice. “It’ll be a few hours, sweetheart. I’ll let you know when we’re getting close.”

I turned my attention to the road before me. Thoughts about the people I’d miss tormented me. How could I leave behind extended family, familiar streets and places I’d known all my life? But it was moving away from girlfriends I’d known since high school that weighed heaviest on my heart. These girls were my support team — the ones I called in the middle of the day when the baby had chickenpox or I was exhausted from being up all night and wanted to run away. They were the ones who would go to the store, buy calamine lotion, bring it to the house and then sit with me for hours listening to me cry through a flood of tears. Memory after memory played back in slow motion.

The farther I drove toward unknown territory, the sadder I felt. When I glanced in the rearview mirror, I saw a picture peeking from behind the pile of clothes jammed in the back seat. It was a farewell gift with an inscription about girlfriends. What was I going to do without them? My gaze turned to Lindsey, who was sleeping. I silently prayed that one day she might have a special place in her heart for good friends.

The loaded van creaked heavily as it entered the circular drive of our new home. I inched the car to a stop behind it. I took a deep breath, willed my lips into a smile and stepped out of the car. Lindsey woke and sprinted toward the house. “Daddy, Daddy, look at the big trees. Can we build a tree house?” Stopping to get my bearings, I let my breath go, surveyed my surroundings and said, “Oh my gosh, this place is beautiful.”

A fortress of fifty-foot cottonwood trees graced the driveway. In the distance I saw snowcapped mountains with pine trees that reached toward the blue sky, peppered with billowing white clouds. Grassy fields bordered both sides of our property with horses calmly munching on alfalfa. Their ears twitched back and forth as if they could hear us intruding on their serenity.

Within a few days, our new life started to take shape. With items unpacked and furniture arranged, I sat down to assess my progress. Startled by a knock on the door, I nearly tripped in my hurry to answer it. An older woman stood in front of me with a basket in her hands. She introduced herself as a neighbor who lived behind us. “Wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood. Thought you might need a few staples until you can get to the store,” she said. The corners of her mouth seemed to reach the edges of her eyes. I felt the hair tingle on my arms. We chatted, I thanked her, and back in the house, I fell into a chair and cried.

I enrolled Lindsey in her new school while Ray resumed his duties on the road with the highway patrol. One by one, neighbors came to visit, always with something to share: food, flowers, suggestions, and smiles. Before I knew it, I was volunteering at the school, joining the PTA, and starting classes at the local college. Ladies at the school introduced me to an organization called Beta Sigma Phi. We did charity work and planned fabulous socials with our husbands. The people at the little church we joined opened their arms to us. Bible studies enriched and soothed my heart. Riding my horse became a new experience. Instead of the cactus blooms I used to see, I took in the aroma of sweet pine and the sounds of a babbling brook.

We moved one last time — another transfer for Ray. This time, I embraced the move with enthusiasm. Once again, people met us with open arms in our new neighborhood. We embraced them and they embraced us. Now I had a bigger list of girlfriends to stay in touch with. Past memories can never be stolen from our hearts. New memories don’t replace the old.

Most importantly, I realized that people are people no matter where you live. If you open your heart to a stranger, you are strangers no more. Girls can become girlfriends anywhere. A move is just another location, a small interruption in life. I didn’t lose the “old” girlfriends. I made new ones. With today’s technology I’ll never be out of touch with the girls I left behind.

Today, Lindsey is grown and on her own journey. Ray is retired and filling a larger portion of my life. But… I still have those girlfriends that come to my aid whenever I call on them. They don’t bring calamine lotion. Instead they bring their hugs, smiles, encouragement and their ears. Oh… and tissues!

~Alice Klies

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