For the next week or so I am traveling not only over distances, but through time. As many of you know, I grew up in southern Africa, in what was then Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe. When I started at Belvedere School in Salisbury (Harare) in early 1972, my family had just moved into our fourth home in the span of two years—homes that were in four different places on two different continents. We had also lived mostly out in the bush and my mother had taught me and my brother at home. So with all the moving, not having gone to school with other kids much, and my painful (okay, neurotic) shyness, it was not an easy time for me. When a cheerful, outgoing, sports-loving classmate named Jillian befriended me I was both astonished and thrilled. Jill and I hung out at each other’s houses for hours on end talking and giggling. She was the first true friend I ever had, and her friendship brought me out of my shell a bit and helped me to find the confidence to make friends with other classmates as well.
My family left Africa at the end of 1973, when I was twelve (you do the math!) and although we kept in touch for a few years after that, I eventually lost track of Jill. Over the years I have often thought about her, wondering how and where she was (many people left Rhodesia during the long years of war which ended in an independent Zimbabwe). I have Googled her countless times (although I had no idea if she had married and changed her last name), looked for her on Facebook, etc. etc. etc. So imagine my joy when I woke up to find this on my blog last month. Long story short (okay, I know, too late!) she found me—and she lives now in British Columbia, a hop and a skip away from Seattle, where my parents live.
I have written about my parents on these pages before. My father was brought up in the Pacific Northwest, and when my parents retired about twenty years ago they left the corn fields of the Midwest and moved out to Seattle despite the fact that two of their three kids had settled in New England (as I always like pointing out to them, they moved as far away from us as they could get without falling in the ocean). And for many of those years they really enjoyed the beauty and outdoor activities the region offers in abundance (I have no idea why I hate being outside; I mean it’s mostly because of the bugs and weather and stuff, but it isn’t genetic for sure). For the past several years now though, my dad has been failing: he has middle-stage dementia and other issues which have rendered him practically helpless. My mother has been taking good care of him (with one notable exception) but it is very difficult for both of them. My sister, who had lived in Europe for almost 20 years, came back to the US last year and ended up in the same place (for now) as my brother and I, and so at the end of last year we asked the Beiges if they would like to move east to be with us. Long story short (again, I know, too late) they said yes. We found a place for them to live and get the care my dad needs, and like the troopers they have always been they are packing up and readying their 80-plus-year-old selves for a cross-country move (with the help of the best moving company in the world, Gentle Giant—which my father has fixed in his mind for some reason as Super Studs).
Around the time that I was making plans to come to Seattle to help them with final packing and supervision of the Super Studs (not that they need it), Jill found me. As the Hindi film that could be made out of this whole long tale might be titled: Kismat! So here I am in Vancouver, catching up with my long-lost first best friend in the world. We are talking non-stop and giggling just as we used to, and it is the most unbelievably heart-and-soul nurturing thing to reconnect with someone you last saw 37 years ago and to realize that she still knows you and you still know her in all the ways that matter.
Tomorrow I leave her (for now!—knowing that we will never lose each other again!) to go to my intrepid parents and take them home with me, to live near all three of their children for the first time in almost 30 years. I know it is hard for them: they are brave as they always have been in meeting life’s challenges, but it isn’t an easy thing to do. They have always nurtured us on our journeys through life and we are looking forward to nurturing them through the rest of theirs. And as hard as that is to think about, I know that I have one more person to call family again too, who will be there for me as I will be for her; who remembers the dreadful bottle-green and white houndstooth-checked school uniform as well as I do; who remembers the play in which I was the front end of a cow killed by a lion; and who remembers my mother as a practical and somewhat intimidating “American” lady, my father as a quiet and gentle man, and me as someone she could always talk with for hours.