THE FRIEND YOU NEVER FORGET
We first met when we were four years old and we lived near each other most of the time through high school. Just two weeks older than I, she was a slender brunette with a heart-shaped face and big brown eyes, shy and soft-spoken.
Her family seemed to lead a charmed life. Her parents, Walter and Dorothy, were much younger than mine. They were quite modern—and even slept in twin beds! Walter had his own shop where he made beautiful handcrafted furniture. My father, who was manager of the Athens Table Factory, admired Walter’s craftmanship and had him make us a handsome walnut corner china cabinet which I still have.
Their house always felt more elegant than ours—they even had wall to wall carpeting. And a television set! My father, convinced it would ruin my good grades, vetoed television at our house. But on Mondays, I would go home with Barbara after school, eat supper with them and watch the I Love Lucy hit show. Barbara also had a little sister—Libby, a beauty with platinum blond curls and big brown eyes—and we adored her. They also had “fancy” house dog—a cocker spaniel (our dogs were mutts and were required to stay outside most of the time). Most amazing of all to me, every year her family left the day after Christmas to drive to Florida for a whole week. What a dream!
We went to the oldest, poorest elementary school in Athens—North City School and then on to McMinn County High School. We were the last ones to get on the school bus during high school and always had to stand packed in the aisle. The football players all rode our bus and fights were the norm. We held our own. There were piano lessons and recitals at our music teacher’s home. There were weekend overnights at each other’s home. After school we sometimes went to the downtown drugstore on the square for pineapple sundaes or to a movie at the Strand Theater.
Barbara was more social than I in high school and went to the school dances with a date. The Baptist-dominated city leaders relaxed a ban on school dances midway through our high school years. But my church held firm in condemning the evils of dancing and I didn’t go.
After graduation, we went our separate paths to college—visiting when we came home to see our parents. When I married a year after college, I asked Barbara to be a bridesmaid. She still seemed like my first best friend. She was in the throes of a breakup with a hometown boy and at the last minute, said she couldn’t make it to the rehearsal. But the next day she showed up at the church in her apricot bridesmaid dress and joined my college friends in my wedding party.
We had infrequent contact after that. She moved to Atlanta, worked in a medical laboratory and married a doctor. They had three children and he practiced medicine in Gainesville. After my divorce, I went there for a job interview and we got together. She took me to dinner at their country club and talked about their good life and her volunteer work. Again, her life looked perfect.
When we were children, she told me about her mother’s uncle who was dying of Huntington’s Disease. This hereditary illness is incurable and over years, the nerve cells in the brain break down causing increasing disability. Woody Guthrie died of this disease, and so did Barbara’s mother Dorothy and eventually, Barbara.
She was my first best friend—and unforgettable.