On the first day of P.E. class in seventh grade, I met Lisa who was to become my best friend through the school years that followed.
Seventh grade was a big deal. Country kids from five elementary schools — where most of us were in classes of around 30 — congregated into a junior high that was attached to a high school. We had gone from simple grade schools with six or seven rooms, one principal and an assistant to a place with five offices packed with administration.
Now, we had lockers. Before we had stored our books under our desks and stayed in one room from morning until school was out. We were required, in a sudden grown-up way, to find our classes, flowing down a hallway filled with other students.
Our elementary class had been tightly knit. Over six years, we shared see-saws, played softball on the field behind the school and often sat on the steps leading into the 1937-stoutly built brick building while we nibbled on Lance crackers or an afternoon ice cream bar.
Yet, when we stepped up to the big leagues, we scattered. My best friend since first grade — a friendship formed when I became enthralled with her yellow and green dress that resembled a Sprite bottle — became someone I passed fleetingly in the hall and called out a “hello.”
The day I stepped off the school bus at the front entrance of the new school as other scared kids walked, heads down, to their new destiny, was one of the biggest days of my life. I swallowed hard and started down the journey of life to adulthood.
I came from one of the two most country schools. There was a light shadow cast on us kids who lived on farms and, in a few cases, trailers. The ones from the more citified schools lived in neighborhoods or new-fangled subdivisions filled with eye-pleasing split-level houses.
One of the most horrifying days of my life occurred when the school bus pulled to a stop in front of our house. Daddy, facing a lack of pasture grass due to a drought, had fenced in our front yard and filled it with Hereford cattle. There, scattered throughout our yard, were a dozen cattle doing what cows do mostly — eat and relief themselves.
To add to my embarrassment, my sweet, simple-minded aunt, wearing white Keds and bobby socks, was chasing my toddler niece around the cow patties, spitting out tobacco juice.
I dropped my head and slumped around the front of the bus, near tears. I realized that it was a major setback in my being accepted as anything other than a farm girl.
Lisa helped to shine up my image. She came from a subdivision and lived in a tri-level, more impressive than a split level. Her father was a respected teacher in a technical school. Though she was slicker than me, we shared common values. Her mother, like mine, took joy in being a homemaker. Suppers were home cooked and, importantly, both of our families were deeply involved in our little Baptist churches. Hers, of course, was bigger than mine.
Lisa continues to be a close friend in heart though she lives hundreds of miles away. In an instant, we can pick up the phone and reconnect like the young girls who spent the night at each other’s houses and learned to knit in Mrs. Trotter’s Home Ec class.
Last year, Lisa and her husband, Dan, came for a leisurely lunch. When we were still young, our fathers had died three days apart. Mama had joined the Lord and Lisa’s mother had decided to leave the tri-level for a condo.
“I brought you something,” she said, smiling. She handed me one of her mother’s crystal cake plates trimmed in gold. It was a meaningful gift.
Every day I see it and remember the power of lifelong friends and humble childhoods.
[Ronda Rich is a best-selling Southern author. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]