When I was a little girl, I always felt like I didn’t have any friends. I was raised in a neighborhood of all boys. Play revolved around playing cowboys and Indians and other games that involved me being the only girl. I must say since I was the only one with cowboy boots and a holster set, I often played a lead role. I would pretend to be Roy Rogers or The Lone Ranger. Most of the boys were younger and smaller than I was so they didn’t argue with me. They followed my lead.
I loved elementary school. Finally, I had a chance to interact with girls my age. School was fun for me. I enjoyed the challenge of the work and the successes that came with working hard. Still, when the school day was over, I didn’t have much interaction with the kids my age.
As time went on, I felt like I didn’t fit in with the cool kids. I was also painfully shy and always thought I should just be quiet. Another wonderful problem I had was that I had two older sisters and I always knew they would be my friends. My middle sister would include me when her friends came over. We had fun playing house with our dolls, pretending to be grownups and we also spent hours playing with our movie star paper dolls. If I remember right, I got to be Marilyn Monroe because I had blonde hair and my sister was Jane Russell since she was a brunette. It was great fun to pretend we were famous and had beautiful clothes.
When I was about nine years old, my oldest sister became very ill. It took several years to give her illness a name. Finally, after endless tests and false diagnoses, they called her sickness Multiple sclerosis. Her health deteriorated rapidly until she was bedridden. We had her bed in our dining room. When she needed nursing help, I helped with her. I really wasn’t comfortable inviting friends over to our house when she was ill. This situation probably made me grow up a bit faster than most. I didn’t flirt or act silly to the point where I don’t think I was much fun to be around.
I did have two close girlfriends during my grade school days. Bari was an only child. Her parents owned a furniture store downtown and I was often included to keep her company. Her parents worked long hours. Bari and I would have dinner together at Chile John’s and go to a movie or just hang out together. They lived in a house on Lake Shore Drive. I often stayed overnight with Bari.
Bari was very bright and creative. She always had great ideas about what to do to occupy our time. Her grandparents lived in Milwaukee and every couple of months she and I would take the train from Beaver Dam to see them. I would go to Temple with Bari and her Grandparents. They were delightful people and welcomed me into their home. Sadly, when Bari reached High School age, she chose to attend Wayland Academy instead of the public High School. Even though we were still in the same town, our paths seldom crossed.
Nancy was my second friend. She lived in a big house on Scott Street. Her Dad was a veterinarian. Her mom was very involved with our Girl Scout Troop and helped us to experience numerous great activities. Nancy was very talented. She played the piano and guitar. She taught me to play guitar and together we learned all our Girl Scout songs and many other popular tunes of the day.
Nancy and I went to Camp Blackhawk in the summers for several years. Her sister Patsy was the waterfront instructor at the camp and taught me to swim. This turned out to be a lifetime gift to me and an interest that has followed through to this day. The third-year we went camping, we qualified to take a canoe trip down the Wolf River. Three days and 2 nights spent canoeing, cooking over a campfire and sleeping in 2-person Alpine Tents. It was a truly memorable experience. My luck struck again. After seventh grade, Nancy’s father took a position in the pharmaceutical business and the family moved to the East Coast. I was sad and disappointed. I went back to being a loner again.
High School was a lonely time for me. My oldest sister became sicker as time went on and passed away my Junior year in School. Mom and Dad went back to life as normal for them. My middle sister had married and was having children and I was on my own. I had several casual friends from High School but no one that I have really had the chance to continue a strong relationship with.
As a young adult, I had the opportunity to move around the country several times. When I was living in Houston, Texas I had a bit of a catharsis. I realized that if I didn’t come out of my shell, I would die of loneliness. It was about this time that I read a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The quote was “If you want a friend, you have to be a friend.”
This thought had never occurred to me. I was waiting to be approached. In fact, I needed to be proactive and approachable. Things improved for me with this new knowledge. I began speaking to people in elevators. I began to take an interest in people and to ask them about themselves, their families, and their work. Then I would be quiet and listen. It was amazing to me how I became good at small talk and people would remember me and seek me out.
So now I’m no longer a child and no one would ever accuse me of being shy. With my frequent moves and finding new jobs, I was often starting over with jobs and with meeting people. This has probably contributed to my lack of strong, deep friendships.
I have also realized that I haven’t really made time for friends. I seldom entertain. When I do its usually family. I have been blessed with a close-knit family. After my sister passed away, we all bonded even closer. I have found that I require downtime and even time alone. My husband and I are very close and we truly enjoy time together.
I still consider my sister to be my best girlfriend and I hope that never changes. My circle of friends will always be small but extremely valuable. In writing this post, memories came back to me of happy times and a desire to reach out and create more.
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I had no idea your sister was sick for that long. I thought she lost her battle quickly. It must have been very difficult for the entire family. I seem to recall that she was in nursing school when she got sick and that was at the back of my mind when I was in nursing school. I didn’t want to get MS too! I remember visiting your family when her bed was in the dining room.
Good advice about friendship! I, too, have moved around a lot and don’t have any close friends so know how you feel! We are slowly building friendships in Maine but now have few friends in Kansas as we moved from our big house to a townhouse in a big city. My husband and I find we are constantly driving back to our small town for quilting group and Rotary.
Thanks for sharing!