Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Friends and Treasure-Hunting

Why did I like Barbara?

As a little kid, I never analyzed it – I just loved her. She was a skinny brown-eyed kid with olive skin who lived in an old house on my street with her parents, younger brother, and grandmother. She and her sibling looked nothing alike. Buddy was freckled-faced silly kid, always joking and laughing. He was a favorite with the whole neighborhood. Barbara seldom laughed heartily, her expression serious most of the time.

I soon found out this girl was loyal as all get-out. I wanted to be her best friend, but she apologetically turned me down; “I’ve already promised Peggy she could be my best friend.” I immediately felt offended by this Peggy. Can’t you have two? No, she said, there’s only one best friend.

We had the most wonderful tea parties at her home. Her mom – a most accommodating woman – enjoyed them as much as we did, though she never presumed to join us. Standing across the room, Miss Elsie beamed as we pretended. Grandma, who was an older version of her daughter, hovered close by.

A boocoo of kids infested our street. Fourteen of us lived within a short city block. We rode bikes, arranged play houses, played hop-scotch (a piece of smooth green glass was my good luck piece), walked to town together, strung china berries into innumerable necklaces, and dared each other to jump from tree limbs.

But back to Barbara. I recognized, even at seven years old, that she had more character than I. I couldn’t have expressed it in those terms; I would likely have explained that she was “gooder than me.” Barbara was unfailing kind, a commodity in short supply among the pack of kids in our neighborhood. Once when exiting the school grounds I, knowing she’d made a pact with Peggy to walk home with her, began urging that she go with me instead. Truth was, I wasn’t longing to be with her - I only wanted to see if she would break her word to that Peggy girl for me. Barbara must have sensed my insincerity, because, with brown eyes flashing, she pulled abruptly away from my grasp, saying, “I promised Peggy first that I would walk with her – and you know that!!” Chastened by her rebuke I slunk off quietly. The crazy thing was, I liked her even more after that little scenario. (I still wasn’t fond of Peggy.) I’ve since thought of Barbara when I read Proverbs 20:11, “Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right.”

I moved away for several years, then relocated back there in high school years. Barbara looked much the same, just a bigger tiny. Still a solemn person, neatly dressed every day, scholarly. We didn’t gravitate toward each other as when we were younger. Our fellowship groups wouldn’t have jibed – hers took school very seriously, everyone straight as an arrow. My was … well, it wasn’t like hers. Not bad, just less focused on academics. Sometimes in homeroom, or history class I’d catch her gazing at me with an unfathomable look in those chocolate eyes. Made me uncomfortable, but I’d smile at her, she’d smile back and we’d go our separate ways.

I sat in my living room in the 70s reading my hometown paper. Turning the page, I saw my old friend’s obituary. She’d died at 30-something; a wife and mother who lived in Missouri with her family. I felt such sadness, and even bereft, as if I had neglected to mine all the precious jewels from her life that would have blessed me immeasurably.

Just maybe I could have blessed her a little too.

That other girl, Peggy? Would you believe it? We’ve mined each other’s lives for years, from high school even to this day. I found out why Barbara was so high on her: Peggy’s life is full of treasures too!