77: New Friends, Faraway Friends, Forever Friends

77: New Friends, Faraway Friends, Forever Friends

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

New Friends, Faraway Friends, Forever Friends

Hold a true friend with both your hands.

~Nigerian Proverb

The tour guide stood at the front of our bus, microphone in hand. “You can visit the fantastic aquarium,” she said, “or you can shop along Baltimore’s harbor.”

My choice was lunch and shopping, but I wasn’t quite sure what my new friend would choose. Mavis looked at me and announced in her musical voice, “A fish is just a fish, but shopping…!” I nodded my head in agreement, and we both laughed. Dozens of women on the convention spouse tour left the bus and headed in various directions.

We had a wonderful afternoon eating crab bisque on a restaurant’s outdoor deck, the special scent of the sea and sight of the boats bobbing in the harbor making it a memorable meal. We had a perfect view of one of the tall ships, sails furled. Both of us ate with relish and talked about our children, who were close in age, then browsed the quaint little shops. Mavis bought a small teddy bear for a grandchild soon to be born but was at a loss when it came time to pay. She held out a handful of American coins. “Nancy, find the ones I need to pay.” We giggled like schoolgirls as I picked out the correct amount.

As the tour bus sped back to our nation’s capital, I reflected on the past days. My husband, Ken, and I had gone to the huge cocktail party on the opening night of this weeklong bank convention. There had to be 300 or more people in the large ballroom. We didn’t know a soul, so we slowly walked across the room, holding our drinks. Another couple was doing the same from the opposite side. He was tall and slim, and she was short, blond, and a bit on the round side. We met in the center, smiled at one another and introduced ourselves.

We could not have been more opposite. My husband headed a small trust department in a bank in a mid-sized college community in Kansas. Mike headed the trust department of a very large British bank in Johannesburg, South Africa. Despite the thousands of miles between our homes and different cultures, we hit it off immediately. Ken and I had been invited to a party later that evening given by an investment company. Ken asked our new acquaintances to accompany us. “Is it alright to crash a party in America?” Mike asked. Ken assured him it was okay if they were with us. I rolled my eyes at my husband but seconded the invitation.

The pattern was set for the remainder of the week. Mike and Ken attended meetings all day while Mavis and I headed for the spouse tours. The four of us had dinner together each evening at various restaurants near our hotel. We traded information about our towns, our families, and our backgrounds. We ate and laughed and soaked in the atmosphere of Washington, D.C. The bond between us became stronger with each day. It pleased me that the men got along as well as Mavis and I did.

Finally, the last day arrived. As we’d done each morning, Mavis and I met in the hotel coffee shop for breakfast. Ken and Mike had eaten earlier before their final meeting. For the first time, I was not enjoying myself with my new friend. Only because I knew I would never see this witty, warm woman again.

I felt as if I’d known her for twenty years, not a mere week. I pushed my scrambled eggs round and round on my plate, my appetite suddenly gone.

“We must write one another, Nancy,” Mavis said as she poured each of us a second cup of coffee. We exchanged addresses and lingered as long as possible. When we could delay no longer, the two of us walked to the elevator and I pushed the button a bit harder than necessary.

I told Mavis how very much I’d enjoyed the week, but my voice quavered as I did so.

She put her arms around me and we gave one another the warmest of hugs. Sometimes, a hug can convey so much more than words. This dear woman stepped back and in her British accent said, “I know we will see each other again.”

As I looked into her blue eyes, part of me believed her while another piece of me thought, “Fat chance of that!” The lump in my throat was so big that all I could do was nod, give her another quick hug, and flee inside the elevator. The tears flowed as I walked down the hall to our room. How awful, I thought, to have such a wonderful new friend only to lose her at the end of a week.

It turned out that Mavis was right and I was wrong. We sent letters across the ocean, then faxed messages, and finally started chatting via e-mail. Now, we even Skype one another.

In the twenty-four years since we met, Mike and Mavis have visited our home three times. On each of those visits, we have taken them to parts of the States they haven’t seen before. We have gone to South Africa to visit them twice, where they squired us from one end of their beautiful country to the other. We have met in England, Ireland, and Germany to travel together, spending three weeks each time in one another’s company. I am always sad for our time together to end.

We have been warmly welcomed by Mike and Mavis’s children whenever we have visited their homes in South Africa and England. Our children have graciously hosted our dear friends when they have visited here in our country. Over the years, the circle of friendship grew to include our extended families.

We clicked that first night in Washington, D.C. and our friendship strengthened more and more through the years. We have shared our hopes and concerns for our children. We have heralded the arrival of each other’s grandchildren, one by one. We have laughed together, we have held deep discussions about our individual countries. We’ve chuckled over the senior moments we all seem to have now, and we have savored this unusual friendship. We are two couples from different parts of the world who found they had a great deal in common. Once we were new friends, then faraway friends and finally, forever friends.

~Nancy Julien Kopp

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