Sharon Randall: Be sure to treasure the sort of friends who’ll last forever

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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.shar­on­ran­

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