94: Waltzing Matilda

94: Waltzing Matilda

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Waltzing Matilda

Friends can be said to “fall in like” with as profound a thud as romantic partners fall in love.

~Letty Cottin Pogrebin

“What’s this?” I asked, as my next-door neighbor handed me five days of accumulated mail.

A puzzled look crossed his face. “Your mail?”

The white lumpy mailer among the envelopes intrigued me. Had I ordered something and forgotten it? Like a little kid at Christmas I tore into it as soon as he left. Then I began to laugh. Not a tiny giggle, but a great big belly laugh that echoed off the walls of my empty house.

A fuzzy brown bear emerged from the mailer, sporting personalized accessories. I named her Matilda the moment I saw the pink net tutu encircling her tummy. But instead of dancing shoes, she wore black and yellow “bumble bee” shoes that mimicked the tennies on my own feet. Seashell jewelry decorated her ears and wrist. And a zebra-striped bra topped her heart of gold. Suddenly I understood just how intimately my new friend, Dawn, knew me. After only two face-to-face meetings, she understood my love for the sand, the sea, and even the absurd.

Matilda watched over me as I struggled to write, edit, and rework short inspirational stories for submission. She watched over me as I prayed, cried, and slept. Sitting on my dresser, she acted as a visible reminder of a friend who encouraged me from her home 200 miles away.

I thought back to our initial meeting. Neither of us expected to make a new friend that day. Dawn joined several of us at a round table at the writing conference in Salem, Oregon. We introduced ourselves with the usual information, but when Dawn’s turn came she blurted out, “I’m from the Seattle area and I came because I needed to run away from home.” She filled in a few details. How her husband was out of town on business. How her roof had sprouted a leak. And how her out-of-work son had just moved in, along with his pregnant wife, toddler, and hairy dog. Having a married out-of-work son of my own, I sympathized with her.

As we all adjourned to separate workshops, she thrust her business card into my hand. “Sorry. I don’t usually spill my guts to strangers.”

At the end of the daylong conference we met again and hugged like the friends we were destined to become. As I held Dawn close, I prayed into her ear. “God, protect Dawn as she travels home. Give her the strength and wisdom to deal with what’s on the other end.”

When my husband and I returned to our home in Newberg, Oregon, I pulled out her business card and shot her a quick e-mail. As she shared her deep feelings I responded openly with my own. Her wisdom, humor, and writing skills captivated me, as well as her honest walk with the Lord. Thus our friendship began, built on a foundation of prayer, compassion, and our love of writing. Checking in with each other by e-mail at the beginning and end of our days became as routine as taking a shower or brushing our teeth.

A few months later we met halfway for lunch. Dawn brought fresh cut flowers from her garden. I gave her homemade red currant jam and purple grape juice, harvested from the fruit in my yard. On another occasion we met for coffee. Time stood still as we shared the luxury of a face-to-face meeting, complete with hugs and laughter.

Although she warned me that she didn’t understand poetry, I sent her glimpses of my private world of poetry, something that I seldom shared with people. Little by little, like a timid swimmer testing the water’s temperature, I sent her poems reflecting my ups, my downs, my questions, my musings. I sent them all. She understood my inner world!

Dawn challenged me in my writing. While she liked my poetry, she believed I could write in other genres too. She rejoiced when I received letters of acceptance. She encouraged me to move on when a rejection came instead. By editing each other’s work, we sharpened our skills, all the while creating a refuge of friendship few people have the opportunity to experience.

But Dawn challenged me as a person, too. While I preferred the comfort of my cocoon, straying out of our small town only to see my grandkids, or to journey the hour and a half to the Oregon Coast, she traveled with an ease I envied. Being the wife of a former Air Force pilot, Dawn was not intimidated by the intricacies of hotels, airlines, strange cities, or different cultures. She enlarged my vision of the world and I traveled vicariously through her as she e-mailed from writing conferences or as she traveled with her husband. But I struggled emotionally through the enforced “fasting period” from our friendship when she visited places that disrupted our daily Internet correspondence. I missed my encourager, my sounding board, my virtual next-door neighbor. Days felt like an eternity.

Recently we celebrated the two-year anniversary of our meeting by attending the same writing workshop in Salem, Oregon. This time Dawn spent the nights before and after at my house instead of in a hotel. It’s funny to think all this came from a decision to sit at the same table at a writing workshop! We thought we went to hone our writing skills. But it turns out we both needed something much deeper.

~Linda Jett

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners