Friends are essential–my life lesson

I wish I knew who created this poster for it speaks of a life lesson I learned in 1989. I was 39 years old and during a routine physical, the doctor announced I had two heart murmurs. Those murmurs meant open heart surgery, weeks out of work, and out of the kitchen (the least of my worries as “cook” has always been a four letter word for me).  But I would need help. My then husband Danny and my now and forever son took excellent care of me. They loved me, and I soon discovered so many others did also.

My sister, my best friend, Valerie, flew in from Florida to cook (not a four-letter word for her), grocery shop for Pinwheels for my husband, rescue Gershwin (my rescue cat) from hanging on ferns and being gently run over. Never has a sister shown such love and kindness to an older sister, who according to her, had made her wash dishes and clean house as a six year old.

Ok, I was suppose to be baby sitting her, but my friends were calling, my boyfriend was calling, what was a teenager to do? Find a foot stool so she could reach the sink and wash those dishes before mother came home from work.

(Val is in the red dress at the left. Photo courtesy of Phil Williams)

Now that didn’t happen a lot, and I’m thinking there was some embellishment on her part, but bottom line–my sister was there for me when I needed her, always has been, and is my best friend. Val is a keeper. I didn’t realize how much I loved her until that year when she sacrificed so much to help me. Kisses and hugs dearest sister, dearest friend.

Celia Kay Dean Smith, whose name I can rarely even think of without tears welling in my eyes, another keeper. Celia and I have been friends since 1973 when she substituted for me in my 7th and 8th grade English classes. That was my first year to teach, and I caught every cold, every virus, even German measles, thus Celia stepping in to fill my shoes.

And in 1989, she stepped in again. Since our first meeting, we had learned to really like  Riunete wine(our tastes improved with the years), Planters’ Punch, Cosmopolitans; we had browsed art museums, picked strawberries, cried on each other’s shoulders, laughed until we almost wet our pants, and remained close even though she had moved from Milan, TN to Raleigh, NC to Toronto to Barbados to Danville, CA to Atlanta and back almost home to Jackson, Mississippi.

Celia is the beautiful woman on the left. Last photo I had with her.

She, too, had rescued Gershwin from being Tarzan and swinging from hanging ferns but never from being run over. That heroic act we reserved for Valerie. She also cooked, cleaned, and flew miles across the country from Danville just to help me.

Celia was an artist, a realtor, a World Book saleswoman, a mom, the oldest of five sisters, a Grancee, a brain cancer victim. When she needed help, she didn’t want me to come or that’s what I kept telling myself. At the time, my father was ill, and when she was on her death bed, he was recovering from surgery. No way could I go to her. I will never forget the night I received the text from her husband, “Celia is with Jesus.” 

But she was not with me and never would be again, except in my heart and soul.

In addition to Valerie and Celia, my friends with whom I worked at the North Carolina legislature and the NC Banking Commission overwhelmed me with visits, with meals, with fragrant powders and lotions, and lavished me with kindness, with unadulterated love and compassion. Never had I felt such an outpouring of friendship and companionship. 

A cliche but true–no man is an island. All my friends were like Carole King singing “You’ve got a friend.” I have never forgotten those two months of surgery and recuperation. I finally understood how important friends were and how important it was to be a friend. 

I know that family and true friends are really one and the same.

Me

My family, my sister Valerie, and my friend Celia are rare people. They showed up at just the right time, and stayed by my side through the rough times and through the good times. 

And even though Celia no longer walks this earth, she is in my heart and gently reminds me–“Be a Keeper.” May you find your own Keepers and be one as well.

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