Young Friends, Old Friends
The photograph shows three young girls about to leave for school on the first day of their seventh grade year. Fall of 1959. We were twelve years old. We three all lived on the same street, Albany Avenue in Alexandria, Virginia, for a couple of years. Susie Stringham is in the middle - Susie was the only child of civilian parents and greatly envied for all the stuff her parents showered on her. My envy made me downright bitchy about Susie sometimes.
My best friend, Bette Sturr, is on the right. Bette and I played jacks by the hour, pricked our fingers to mingle our blood so we would always be "blood sisters," and hoped against hope that her older sister and my older brother would marry so we could truly be sisters. Bette and I were inseparable for those years, playing and quarreling and making up together. Bette and I were both Navy juniors - and I would be in three schools that year: Alexandria, Virginia; Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada; and Norfolk, Virginia. When my Dad got orders to Newfoundland, we were devastated to lose each other. We wrote a letters to each other but eventually gave up and made new friends in our new duty stations.
When Facebook appeared in my life so many years later, I searched for old friends, including Bette, but didn't find either her or Susie. There were plenty of Susan Stringhams, but not the right one, and no Bette Sturrs at all.
Fast forward to a month ago, when we received an email from - bless my soul! - Bette Sturr! She was now Bette Nelson. She had found us on Ancestry.com where you can search for people by name. My Beloved has an extensive family tree on Ancestry, which included my father for whom she was searching - and me!
Turns out, she lives less than an hour's drive from our house - what are the chances? We were excited to have a reunion so, after a couple of weeks of juggling calendars and activities, we met at her place, where she gave me the copy of this photograph.
Meeting a friend after 56 years is an extraordinary experience. The first moment, I thought she had changed a good deal (and I'm certain she was stunned at seeing me, too!) but then I began to remember so many little things about her - the shape of her hands as she scooped up a double handful of jacks; the way her wavy hair, now grayed, curled against her neck; the curve of her lips and her manner of speaking; and the twinkle in her eyes. We talked and talked for hours, catching up on the ups and downs of each other's lives.
We have each traveled interesting paths since seventh grade - life has handed us both joys and tragedies. We have each experienced divorce, but ended up happier afterwards. She had a long career as a teacher, and that is exactly consistent with the diligent student I recall from so long ago. I bounced from job to job until I settled into my last and most satisfying one as a career counselor. She has two beautiful daughters and five grandchildren. I had no children but lucked into my three grands thanks to My Beloved and his two daughters. We shared photographs of our grands, hers in frames in her living room, mine on my iPhone. And she gave me the copy of this photograph from so long ago, an amazing artifact of our young friendship.
I wish we had thought to take a picture while we were together, but we can do that next time we meet. And, who knows, maybe we'll eventually find Susie Stringham, too.