The first time I saw her was on the playground. It was my first day in second grade in a new school. I was miserable, hating life and having to be there in a tacky dress and ugly shoes.
She was the prettiest girl I ever saw. Part of me wanted to hate her, too. But somehow I decided I wanted to be her friend. It wouldn’t happen overnight.
Her name was Martha. We were never in the same classes, but everybody in a small school knows everybody’s name.
One day in fifth grade, I missed my bus to go home. As I stood on the curb, wondering how long it would take me to walk four miles in the rain, I heard a voice say, “C’mon, my mama will give you a ride.”
I climbed in the back of their car, looked up to see her mother beaming at me in the rear view mirror, and I realized where Martha got her good looks.
I asked her to drop me off, not at my house, but nearby. I didn’t want them to see where I lived.
“Thank you, ma’am,” I said, climbing out of the car. Then I looked at Martha and heard myself blabber, “Sometime, maybe I’ll come to your house.”
Martha and her mother both said, “That would be so nice!”
In years to come, I would often find myself at Martha’s house. Sledding in winter. Barbecuing in summer. Sleep-overs on the floor in her basement. Or just talking with her mom and dad.
They were the kind of people who make you feel welcome and wanted. I liked talking with them, feeling happy and smart.
Somehow Martha ended up in the same college where I was offered a scholarship. We roomed in separate dorms, but most mornings, on her way to breakfast, she’d stick her head in my room to wake me up and yell, “You know how cold it is on Grandfather Mountain?”
It nearly ended our friendship. The fact that it didn’t says a lot about how much I liked her.
After college, we went our separate ways, but always stayed in touch. She flew to California, to be a bridesmaid in my wedding. Years later, I stood on a beach and watched her marry Byron, my favorite Texan.
We never had a lot of time together. But true friendship doesn’t need a lot of time. It picks up where you left off, with the same feelings, the same laughter, the same light in the eyes, as if you were never apart.
When my husband died of cancer, Martha and Byron flew out for the service and wrapped me and my children in their arms and their love.
Years later, as Byron’s health began to fail, they left Texas to be closer to Martha’s family in South Carolina.
One evening, not long before he died, Byron told me about a funeral he attended for a friend.
“People talked a lot about the things he did,” Byron said. “I just wanted to hear somebody say he made them happy.”
Byron was a great friend. He did his best to help whenever help was needed. But mostly, he just made people happy.
Martha is like that, too. Maybe it’s what drew them together. They made each other happy.
Last week, I called Martha to say “hey,” and bless her heart, she was sick as a dog. I wanted to help her. But we live 3,000 miles apart, so she said, thanks, no, there was nothing I could do. I kept checking on her, but she didn’t feel much like talking.
Finally, she called today and sounded like herself, laughing and full of life. She knew my sister and brother had both been ailing lately, and she wanted, as always, to help.
I said thanks, but no, they were on the mend and there was nothing she needed to do.
So we did what friends do if they can’t help each other. We just talked. It made us happy.
What do you think? Tonight, when Martha’s sleeping, maybe I ought to call her up and yell, “You know how cold it is on Grandfather Mountain?”
I knew you’d say that.
(Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley, Calif. 93924 or at: www.sharonrandall.com.)