We were young then, with our whole lives before us, starry-eyed blind to all that lay ahead.
I went running up the steps of the church — late, yes, to my own wedding — when I spotted them out of the corner of my eye hurrying along beside me. I’d never seen them before but knew them well. Brushing back a makeshift veil that kept flopping in my face, I said, “You must be Ginnie and Gary. I’m so glad to finally meet you!”
They were college friends of the man I was about to marry. I’d heard enough about them to know, or at least hope, they’d soon be my friends, too.
They were in a rush to get inside for the service. I told them not to worry, it probably wouldn’t start without me.
That was the first of countless big laughs we have shared.
I’m not smart about much, but I’m a genius at spotting friends, even ones I’ve never met. There are things you know with your heart more than with your head. That’s how I knew them.
In the months to follow, I grew to like them so well that I told my husband, if ever we should part, I wanted custody of Ginnie and Gary. He didn’t laugh. Even then, I suspect he saw it as a prophecy.
We lived three hours apart but took turns making the drive several times a year for a weekend at their place or ours.
Personally, I preferred theirs. Actually, we all did. It was cleaner. The food was better, and it was always more fun.
Gradually, we added children, their two and our three.
Occasionally, we’d go camping together in the rain or take a picnic to the beach in the fog or spend a few days freezing in a cabin in the snow. Funny, isn’t it? Bad times feel better with good company.
We watched our children grow up; weathered changes, big and small; shared our hopes and fears and, most of all, our lives.
In the four years my husband battled cancer, Ginnie and Gary kept in touch, walking that fine line of friendship, praying and cheering us on, always knowing somehow if we needed to talk or just to be left alone.
I remember the day they came to tell him goodbye. I’d called to say we were nearing the end and that he wanted to see them. They came as soon as they could. We spent a few hours laughing, crying, recalling all the times that we had shared.
When they left, we stood on the porch waving as they drove out of sight. Then he looked at me and grinned.
“You can have custody, until I see them again,” he said.
In the years after he died, Ginnie and Gary held on to me and my children, inviting us to visit, showing up for weddings, sending notes and cards for Christmas or birthdays or whenever to stay in touch.
Finally, when I remarried, they opened their hearts and their home to welcome my new husband just as warmly as they had once welcomed me.
I tell myself they still like me better than they like the new guy. But really? I’m not sure.
We live about 500 miles apart and don’t get to see each other often, but recently we had dinner together in their vineyard in California, along with some of our children and grandchildren.
We talked and laughed, ate and drank, chased 2-year-old Henry around the yard and celebrated three generations of a longtime friendship that has been, for me, such a gift. I wish you could’ve seen us.
I hope you’re blessed, as I have been, with longtime friends who prop you up and make you laugh, pray for you and hold you close in good times or in bad.
I hope you will tell them — soon, don’t wait — how much you treasure their friendship.
May you always stay close, always retain custody and look forward to the wonderful day, in this world or the next, when you will surely see each other again.
Tony Norman is off today.
Sharon Randall is a columnist for McClatchy-Tribune News Service (www.sharonrandall.com).