Unlike family, friends are voluntary, found along the path of life, identified though commonalities one might not even know one has. Some friendship are rooted to a time of life or a job or some other transient period, known from the first as temporary. Other friendships crash and burn or simply wear out. Then there are those that are family, minus the genetics.
Mary Lou was such a friend to me. We met at our jobs at a newspaper and found ourselves scheduling errands at the same time simply to continue our seemingly endless conversation. She had two boys she was raising; I had two girls. We ate breakfast biscuits together, shopped sales together, finally taking days at the beach together, burning our noses and drinking in the sun and sand.
My friend would shake both her hands, stopping mid-sentence, declaring "Oh, oh, quantum leap!" and take our conversation in a new direction, only to return later to the thread with a bemused, "Now where were we?"
She doodled marvelous drawings, creating custom holiday greetings I wish now I had kept. She understood me without explanation and loved me through some of my darkest days. When she and her husband retired and moved to another state to live in the mountains, I saw her off. I pulled up to the curb at her house and as her son and husband loaded a truck, she ran out to me with an old copper kettle she kept on her stove to moisten the winter air. "Here," she said. "For you." We hugged and promised to visit.
Within weeks she was dead. She had fallen down the steps of her new home.
Today I saw another friend off to yet another state. We met more than 10 years ago in a small town in South Carolina at a pottery class. Recognizing in each other that indefinable character that somehow creates friendship, we were delighted to discover we had grown up within a few miles of each other, both the daughters of eastern European widowed mothers. To our amazement we discovered we had been taken to some of the same performances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in Manhattan. We shared memories of experiences lived separately but remembered together.
As my friend embarked on her adventure I wished her well and told her to travel carefully. We will share lunches via Facetime and maintain our friendship, but I will miss her because I know that friendship is indeed rare and irreplaceable. We met by chance and became the sisters neither of us had.