From Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul

The Golden Girls

There is no security quite as comfortable and undemanding as the kind you feel among old friends.

Peter Bodo

Rose and I met when we were in our mid-twenties. I had invited her daughter to my daughter’s third birthday party, and Rose came along. We scrutinized each other and assessed the obvious differences. She was a smoker; I wasn’t. I dressed conservatively; she didn’t. She wore a long, black flowing wig whenever she tired of her short frosted hair; I wore the same “flip” hairstyle for years. But we became best friends.

Despite our differences, we wore a path from my house to hers (sometimes in our fuzzy robes), borrowing sugar, guzzling coffee, sharing baked goods and details of our lives. For twelve years, we went to yard sales, fast-food restaurants, playgrounds and school events together.

Rose and I stayed best friends during tough times, as well. Both of us had turbulent marriages. One summer, both marriages finally fell apart. Coincidentally, Rose’s sister Millie ended her marriage about the same time, and so did Rose’s childhood friend, Judy.

The four of us became known as The Golden Girls. We discovered a neighborhood club with an outdoor patio, and we spent that summer sipping soda and dancing together to old-time rock and roll.

After that summer, we calmed down a bit. As we created new lives for ourselves, we saw less of each other. Eventually, Rose and I attended each other’s weddings, and we visited together at family gatherings and holiday celebrations. Each time, it was as if we’d never been apart.

At my daughter’s baby shower, I noticed that Rose’s one-of-a-kind laugh seemed hoarse. She told me she’d had a persistent cough for weeks. Soon, diagnostic tests indicated a mass in her lung. Exploratory surgery revealed a large inoperable malignancy. I visited Rose in the intensive care unit afterward.

“I love you,” I told my friend, realizing it was the first time I had said the words aloud.

“I love you, too,” she said groggily, sealing our bond.

After Rose recovered from surgery, I took her for radiation treatment. We held hands in the waiting room. When our eyes met, they brimmed with tears. On the drive home, we talked about this life and the afterlife. And we talked about a story we’d both read many, many years before, about two friends, one of whom was terminally ill.

“You’ll remember that story, won’t you?” Rose asked.

“I will,” I promised.

The Golden Girls reunited. Millie, Judy and I spent countless hours with Rose. We took her shopping and dining. We humored her when her medication gave her hallucinations. When she became incapacitated, we visited her at home in shifts. I fluffed her pillows, brought her doughnuts, massaged her feet and colored in coloring books with her.

Rose spent the last week of her life in the hospital, heavily sedated, surrounded by loved ones. At fifty-one, her breathing ceased and our mourning began.

A year followed, and I thought of Rose often. One cold November morning, as I left for work, I saw something pink protruding from a drift of decaying leaves. I cleared the debris and gasped in disbelief at a flower bud. During the summer I had planted a tiny, three-inch potted azalea, hoping it would grow into a bush. It hadn’t grown at all and had never flowered. But here on this frosty Missouri morning, with the rest of the garden killed by a hard frost, the azalea bloomed.

I thought about Rose all day, and that afternoon, I called her daughter.

“Denise, can you come by after work?” I asked. “I have a surprise from your mom.”

When I got home, I checked the azalea again. The tiny pink bud had opened completely and blossomed to the size of a carnation.

That evening, Denise came to my door. She looked just like Rose.

“You’re not going to believe this,” I said. I told Denise about the conversation Rose and I had had after her radiation therapy.

“Twenty years ago, your mom and I read a story about two best friends. One was terminally ill. She vowed to make a flower bloom in winter to prove there was an afterlife. Your mom and I discussed that story and made a pact that day.”

I led Denise to the backyard and showed her my azalea, blooming in winter. Denise and I laughed, embraced, stared in disbelief and cried tears of joy.

“This couldn’t have come at a better time,” Denise said, wiping her eyes. “It’s been almost a year since Mom passed away. You’ve taken away so much of my sadness. Thank you.”

During the next week I watched in amazement as three more flowers bloomed fully. I called Millie and Judy and told them about the plant I nicknamed The Golden Girls, with one blossom for each of us. We rejoiced at the message from our friend. Incredibly, the plant thrived for two weeks, surviving snow, wind and chill. Then, the flowers gradually withered and died, completing the cycle of life. But they left behind a vivid memory and a message for all us Golden Girls that true friendship never dies.

Linda O’Connell

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