When you stand in this spot in the front yard of my childhood home, and look directly across the street, and then just to the right, you will see the house that Mom would always nod to, and proudly and defiantly refer to the woman who lived there as “her best friend.” While she has a great sense of humor, is infinitely witty, and is as sharp as a tack, she was always extremely loyal and a person that my Mom staunchly depended upon.
When I go back home, I always know where to find her; at one of the glorious global craft shops that dot Main Street. No matter how long my absences are between visits, picking up a conversation with her as easy as feeling a fall wind blow across your face; it just happens that easily; she knows what you’re about to say, before you’ve said it, and the conversation just flows as easily as the wind.
But it is not for all of those qualities that my mom ranked this woman high on her list of friends; there was a particular event that earned this woman’s place in my Mom’s heart. After the thank yous and the tears were shed after the event, the story was probably hardly ever brought up again between the two of them; the event had already done its work of sealing their friendship.
But my Mom told me about it; and I heard her tell other people. One day, it occurred to me, that our friend might not know how often my Mom repeated this story, and the impact she made on her life.
I have learned from her emails that she comes here to read. So, for her, and for my Mom, I will here bestow upon her the one gift that all of us will wish for on our own deathbed — the ability to tell our friends how much they truly meant to us, and why.To say those things we always meant to say, but didn’t.
At the back of our property there stood an old red barn, with a hay loft full of old straw. One sunny day, around 3 in the afternoon, flames shot out through the windows in the top of the barn. I’m not sure who called the fire department (probably our neighbor), as my Mom was at work. When the firemen arrived, the hothouse of straw-and dried-wood-inferno was already tumbling to the ground. The barn could not be saved. At this point, all the firemen could do was to control the flame and keep it from spreading to our house.
As would happen in any small town, fire alarms, black smoke, flames, ladders and big red trucks caused excitement. Soon, a crowd of spectators formed up and down our street while people gathered to talk and watch. There was no need to barricade the street; the townspeople created their own with their presence. Two hours passed, with the firemen still working, and the crowd thick as the smoke.
It was around this hour, 5 p.m., in which my Mom took her daily turn around the corner, and drove down our street to make her way home. My neighbor, of course, knew this. There were no cell phones, and the smoke, the fire trucks and the spectators would have been the first, and only way, my Mom would have learned of the fire on this day.
Just before 5, our neighbor went through the crowd of spectators, and found me, and my brother. She took us by the shoulders, and marched us to the front of the crowed, directly on the path where my Mom would instantly see us when she turned the corner and see the flames and crowd. My neighbor knew that the first thought my Mom would have, upon seeing the devastation was, “Where’s Susie and Alan!?” Before panic would have its chance to settle in, my neighbor wanted to reassure my Mom, “everything was really, OK” — with flesh-and-blood proof.
It is for that primary reason, along with the others stated above, that my Mom referred to this neighbor as, “her best friend.”