Oldest and Dearest
By Diane DeVaughn Stokes
Let me tell you about my oldest and dearest friend. It’s a friendship that was destined to be part of God’s plan. I’m sure of it. And here is the story.
It was 1952, and my nineteen-year-old mom was taking me for a walk in my baby carriage when she met another neighborhood mom, Dolly Schott, who was also pushing the carriage of her daughter, Randy. At the time we were both three months old. Randy is one month older than me, which I still remind her of to this day. But this serendipitous meeting of our moms produced a beautiful lifelong friendship.
Sadly, after nine months, my father took off as fast as he could, leaving my mom and me high and dry, forcing our move out of the neighborhood and back to live with my maternal grandparents ten miles away.
Fast forward five years when I was bussed into my old neighborhood to attend first grade at St. Charles Borremeo Grammar School. There I met a skinny, vivacious blonde who I hit it off with immediately. From playing Chinese jump rope to red rover, we were inseparable, always on the same team. When I told my mom about my new friend Randy, she asked me her last name. Instantly my mom said, “She is not your new friend, but your old friend!” This was the very same Randy who was side by side with me in our carriages as our moms strolled the streets of Newark, New Jersey.
We became the best of friends throughout our entire eight years at St. Charles. Many of my “firsts” happened with Randy. The first time I ever spent the night away from my mom was very traumatic, but Dolly assured me that if I came to Randy’s pajama party and got homesick, she would instantly take me home. I cried, threw up and called my mom three times to make sure SHE was okay, but thanks to the warmth of the Schott family, I made it through the night.
I remember Randy’s first boyfriend, Georgie, as well as my own. And I remember the first “B” on my report card because I was talking too much to Randy in class. I wish those nuns could see me now. I get paid to talk! Touché!
Sister Jean, our fourth and fifth grade teacher nicknamed Randy, “Rubber-Neck Randy” because she was constantly turning around in her wooden desk talking to the girl sitting right behind her…me!
When my mom and my new dad got married, it was Randy who encouraged me to not dislike him and give him a chance. At eight years old, it was tough sharing my mom with someone else. Randy reminded me that having a father could lead to having a little sister someday, like the two of hers that we both adored. And four years later, after we both prayed and lit candles at church that it would happen, my beautiful baby sister Donna was born.
Over the years, I was always in attendance at Randy’s dance recitals, and she was always there when I sang solos in church. We have never been jealous of each other, only totally supportive. I fondly recall her grandparents, her dog “Rags,” her love of salad dressing versus mayo, the socks she wore in her hair at bedtime instead of curlers and her skimpy appetite which caused me to devour her lunch as well as my own, the beginning of my weight problem. And every time I hear the song, “Downtown” by Petula Clark, it reminds me of us singing at the top of our lungs and acting out the entire song at a friend’s birthday party.
Randy and I were definitely the class clowns. Just looking at each other would crack each other up and send us to the cloakroom for detention. But that paid off for us in the eighth grade when we were selected to go to New York City to help Father Cassidy purchase items for our school talent show, picking out hats, vests and props for our final act at St. Charles prior to graduation. I still have the cane Randy and I used in our soft shoe routine to the song “Chicago, Chicago that Toddling Town,” and I still remember the dance steps!
As we said goodbye to St. Charles, I was unaware that my new dad was soon to be transferred to Philadelphia. Moving away from Randy and my grandparents was heartbreaking, but within a year, Randy and her family moved to Mountainside, New Jersey. Just as I was getting used to the two hour drive to visit her, my dad was transferred again to what I thought was the end of the world – Florence, South Carolina.
Randy was not a letter writer. I knew she loved me, but letters from me to her always went unanswered. Writing was not her thing. I understood that. And needless to say, our high school and college years found us preoccupied with parties, boys and our studies, in that order, with little time left to visit each other six hundred miles away. But even though for eight years we hardly saw each other, she came down south to be in my wedding. Unfortunately, a few years later, I did not have the money to fly back to be in hers, but she understood.
Then in the late seventies, I got this wild idea about having a little reunion with Sister Jean and few of the girls we were friendly with at St. Charles. Dolly hosted it for us and it was terrific reminiscing about the good ole days.
After that, it was ten years before we saw each other again. I phoned Randy upon the birth of her two children, but life got busy for both of us, and time slipped away. But one day, my husband Chuck surprised me with a trip to New York City where he arranged for Randy to pick us up at the airport and have dinner together before hitting the Big Apple. It was awesome. And just last year, we hit the city again with our spouses, for another great reunion, promising to do it more often.
Just as Randy never writes letters or sends Christmas cards, she also does not e-mail, use her cell phone or text. But when I need her she is always there. When my dad died, she flew in to be with me. When her mom died, I flew in to be with her. On my fiftieth birthday, she flew in to surprise me. And most recently, when Randy’s daughter got married, I was thrilled to be cheering in the aisles.
This friendship is a huge blessing. There’s a bond that is as strong as an oak. No matter how long we go without talking to each other, we can pick up the conversation where we last left it. Our lives are totally different. Our worlds are miles apart. But there is a love we have for each other that started in the cradle and will certainly take us to the grave.
About this writer
- Diane DeVaughn Stokes is a TV Host and Producer working on new statewide culinary TV show, and a spokesperson for many commercials throughout the Carolinas. She and her husband own Stages Video Productions in Myrtle Beach and share a passion for theater and travel.