Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Strange Friend

It's strange how we separate our friends into categories. Friend is a loosely-used term, I think. One day they appear, seemingly out of the blue, stick around for a while, then poof ... they're gone.

But like I said, friends fall into many slots. Those we email - occasionally. Friends we write to once in a while, sending a card or thank-you note. We lunch with friends who are great for a couple hours of stimulating conversation. Then with a well-meaning kiss and a wave good-bye ... you don't see or hear from them again until the next lunch date. And that's perfectly - okay.

First friends, boy friends, childhood friends. It's true, friends can leave us as quick as they appear. Then pow - we run right into them in the produce section, or the Walmart parking lot. Or the dreaded class reunion. Old friends who instead of sending us their own snap shot, send portrait pictures of their kids in Christmas cards. A younger version of themself, hoping to trip your memory of when you were all just ... kids.

Sisters can be friends. Or not. And some friends can be more like sisters than real ones. Best friends, it is said, mate for life. They can be tossed over-board and still swim back to you. Half drowned and naked, she's still a friend. Not a drop of love has been lost between you. You cherish that kind of friend. It takes a lifetime, I believe, to make a friendship like that. It's not until a person goes through most of your weakest and worst moments with you, along side of you, that you can call them a best friend. Best friends have the unique ability to see you for who you really are, and still love you to pieces in spite of yourself.

Your spouse can be a best friend. Or at least recognizes the need for his best friend/spouse to have yet another best friend. Sounds complicated, but really, that's a priceless virtue in friends: the ability to share the friendship, and not get all jacked out of shape about it.

Every girl, however, should have a best girl friend. One who knows how to be there, and be quiet. Scream in your face, then know when to back off. A best friend who knows which buttons to push and which not to touch. One who is selfless, has been there all or most of your life. One who will hold your hand while you're dying, while making sure there are no hairs to be pulled on your chin before you're laid open in your casket. That kind of friend.

Friends, for the most part, are human. But there are other friends. A dog or a cherished animal of any species can be a friend. How many stories have been written about the animal friends in our life? Lassie, Free Willy, Marley and Me ... wow. Often, our animal friends, are our best friends.

Well, to be honest, I set out writing this blog thinking about a different kind of friend. The strangest friend anyone could have. An inanimate object with no feelings. A thing. Something that most would look at and think nothing about. The perfect noun ... uh, or rather, friend. A lifelong friend.

Linus had one. Most babies carry one until it's tattered and torn. Some children rub one against their face while sucking their thumb. Even college-age kids will sneak one into their dorm, hidden between the shirts and pants in their suitcase.

My security blanket, has been my lifelong friend. Here's why: Back in 1971, my then mother-in-law-to-be (who was in her late 40s at the time) crocheted. A lot. She made one afghan after another with a real ivory crochet hook. She was good at it, and I told her so. Young I was, only 17, when she promised to make me an afghan for a wedding present. She made more than an afghan. She made thirty-plus years of memories.

This huge, hand-crocheted afghan is plain blue with ivory, yellow, and variegated-blue stripes on each end. Ugly as sin. But this blankey of mine has gone with me everywhere. It has slip-covered many a hideous-looking chair or couch since the 70s. It's toasty warm and can be doubled, still covering every part of me. It has wrapped its warmth around my children when they were sick. Covered them as babies, first-graders, eighth-graders, and when they had their wisdom teeth pulled. It covered my son the day he came home on leave from boot camp and slept for 24 hours straight. It rocked and lulled my daughter to sleep after a broken heart. It has soothed me during my darkest hours. This old blankey has seen the three of us through some hard, hard times.

It has absorbed a ton of tears. Believe me.

It waited for me, patiently, as I lost my mind and then found it again. Folded, it has rested on my beds, sofas, and now hangs in a place of honor in my hold farmhouse. A place where we can still grab "covey" as my husband calls it, and snuggle. I've done a whole lot of "snuggling" under that old friend. It has warmed my cold legs while I sat at the computer writing story after story. It never complained, never yelled at me, never told me to quit. It just covered me.

"Old Blue," as I call it, has appeared in many family snap shots. No matter my decor at the time, this afghan looks better with time. There's not a hole to be found, after well over thirty years. It's been through hundreds of washings, laid in a heap on the floor for days, covered doll babies, puppies, kittens, and resisted the heat of an old attic once while packed away for a period of time.

Wrapping it around me is like a time machine. I can see where we've been, how far we've traveled, and how we have ever so gracefully - aged together. I realize now, I've never gone anywhere, without it. It's been my most loyal friend. It's been on most car trips, enjoying the back seat. Old Blue has covered the ground for a picnic or two, has laid on a few beaches, and rode in an airplane. It's quite the traveller. And for all it's wanderings, it has welcomed me home day after tired-day.

There's something about that old afghan that draws me to it. I either want it buried with me or cremated with me. Ha! Now, that's a friend.

My now ex-mother-in-law, who by the way I still love, is in a nursing home. Tucked away in her 80s, she no longer flips a crochet hook around her fingers. But not long ago, I asked her if she remembered that old afghan she made me. She looked at me strange with a twinkle in her eye and said, "You know, I prayed over that thing as I made it. I prayed it would cover the wrinkles in your life."

"It did," I said. "It really did."

Old Blue is my most trusted friend. A strange one, indeed.

Blessings to you and yours.

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