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There is a small grove of trees near my bedroom window. The trees are young and have grown in a circle around the rose on a small hillock on which delicious pink trilliums grow in late spring. I found this mound recently during my annual spring cleaning. It is very sweet; a little elevated hill, really tiny, with five saplings growing proudly around their tufts of trills that dance in the breeze.
My little hill reminds me of my childhood friends (who are numerous). In particular, it reminds me of my best friends (who are few in number). I really only had two serious best friends when I was a kid. Sometimes I had a “best friend” for a short time and replaced that friend with another “best friend” for another short time.
All of my friends were important to me and I imagine them as little islands in a clear blue lake that I swim and play with for a while, then swim to the next. I graduated from Friend to Friend and Island Hopping until I grew up and met my life partner who is now my best friend and husband. I don’t really have a best friend anymore. I have a nice circle of dear friends who are just as important to me as a best friend, but I don’t call them that. Sometimes I call them “friendly sisters”. They are so close. And it is important.
The word best friend is important. It means a kind of permanence that will resonate over the years with a kind of solidity that is waterproof. The memory of a best friend lasts even if the friendship does not last. It is special.
Anne … the Green Gable House had a best friend (whom she called a close friend) in Diana. I met my best friend Anne, the House of Green Gables when I was 14 years old. She was sitting a few rows behind me in our Grade 9 English class. Her seat was near the large windows that I spent my time staring and dreaming about. I still see her there with her carrot and strawberry hair and her petite figure. Marianne was tall (compared to me) and slim and had bright, sparkling eyes, a heartwarming smile, and an open-mindedness that I found inviting.
We weren’t both ready for this high school thing. We weren’t ready to be cheerleaders, student council leaders, basketball team players and hot girls who knew how to get invited by boys. We didn’t care.
Marianne invited me to her home after school. We slammed our lockers shut and bounced out of our old brick schoolhouse on a chilly fall morning and made our way to the Main Street of our small town with a stop at the Fine Cake Shop for some inexpensive baked goods for satisfy our endless 14-year-old hunger. This bakery was famous for several things: date turnovers, figure-eight donuts, exquisite mille-feuilles and tiny petits fours. The petits fours were available in pink, yellow, purple and turquoise and included a good amount of whipped cream as a frosting under a tasty layer of sticky frosting. They were appetizing and had a little candy flower decoration on top. Marianne and I bought two each and put these petits fours one at a time in our mouths – whole! We started laughing hysterically with our mouths full of cake and frosting.
The laughter never stopped. We laughed at elegant 14 year old candlelit dinners (and plenty of food brawls that we cleaned up so no one would ever know), we laughed while playing hide and seek in the dark, sitting on the rooftops , on buses, during our first ever visit to the Toronto Eaton Center, during sleepovers, during yoga, dance and theater classes, and during French classes (when we really weren’t supposed to. , but that we couldn’t stop). We laughed as we made endless pear trees and baked Pillsbury instant chocolate chip cookies and ate navel oranges.
We were fools. Hardcore silly. We have sucked all the childhood juices from our young lives until there was no more childhood to suck. And then we were ready to move on.
And we did.
Marianne went in one direction. I went to another. In our late twenties, we gathered for a delicious lunch and a catch-up after meeting Marianne (who looked so slender, elegant and grown-up) in Toronto. We became friends on Facebook and caught a glimpse of small fragments of each other’s lives without ever speaking to each other.
I saw her adorable sheepdog / poodle, Hudson. She saw my rambunctious Airedale, Scout.
I recently felt a nostalgic desire to call Marianne and that’s what I did. Out of the blue. We chatted and talked about the good old days and checked in on our offspring and parents, but she didn’t tell me her biggest news as we had so much more to say.
A few days later, she posted a story on Facebook that she said sounded sad, but really wasn’t. Marianne lives with stage four metastasized breast cancer and is in the palliative stage of her care. She felt completely normal as long as her pain was being managed properly and although it was a bit stiff and sore at times, she was planning a “punch” trip out west with her son over the summer. She was positive and gentle and full of this beautiful energy that I captured in our grade 9 English class. She celebrates life. And wants us to do the same.
I called Marianne after reading her post and we chatted like two school kids even though it’s 46 years later and our conversation was often about things that are hard to talk about. She told me her story. The two words that kept floating in my consciousness and on the surface of my brain as we chatted were: BESTFRIEN D.
Marianne will be a best friend forever.
I am so grateful for her inspiring philosophy of life. It reminds me of when we were two silly girls who leaped and leaped into the unknown of our new lives with pure surrender, joy, hope and love.
When I look out of my bedroom window, I can see the small mound with young trees growing on it in a circle of greenery. Green is awfully beautiful right now. I think of these trees as if they were my childhood friends and I see Marianne, strong and tall and blooming with love and grace.
And I am grateful.
Michele Karch-Ackerman lives in Buckthorn, Ontario.
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