Remember Us Young

By Linda O'Connell

Remember Us Young

Sheila and I have often said that it is a miracle we survived that brutal Alaska winter so many years ago. She and I were teenaged, newlywed wives when we joined our soldier husbands stationed at the top of the world. We linked elbows and hearts in summer as we walked through fields of fireweed, the forty-ninth state’s pink wildflowers. We wandered narrow forest paths and weaved our way down winding gravel roads, gazed at the aurora borealis, looked into our futures, and saw ourselves in each other. She and I cocooned in winter darkness and delivered our first babies when the midnight sun shone around the clock. We confided secrets, shared contraband chocolate cake and laughter. I was drawn to her lilting laughter, self-confidence and wonderful sense of humor.

Military dependants like us, who did not have an auto insurance windshield sticker, were restricted to once-a-month shopping on base. Weekly, Sheila drove us to the main gate, sans sticker, joked with the military policemen on guard duty and talked them into issuing a temporary day pass so that we could shop at the Post Exchange. She had a Boston brogue, a way with words and especially with people. Sheila never met a stranger.

Although we eventually had to part, we stayed connected through the years via airmail letters and telephone calls. We shared our fears and tears, parenting and martial issues. A quarter century later we finally reunited, embraced, and emotionally confronted the awful truth and shock of her medical diagnosis – a malignant brain tumor. Doctors stated that usually someone with her type of cancer doesn’t survive five years. She was determined to beat the odds. Her letters ceased, but mine didn’t. I wrote her weekly.

Three years passed before I received a letter stating that she was in complete remission.

Grandmothers now, we agreed to celebrate our milestone birthdays together in my town. I paced the airport waiting for my dearest friend. However, I soon learned that her short-term memory, which had been very poor since her diagnosis, was completely absent. We spotted one another. I ran to her, our mouths agape.

“Ah, my friend, my dear-dear friend, I love you. I really love you. Ah, my old friend, I’ve missed you oh so much.” She repeated herself all the way to the baggage carousel. I so wished she could have reclaimed her once vibrant thoughts as easily as we collected her luggage.

I took her to Steak ’N Shake for dinner. During a thunderstorm we sat in a booth, sipped malts and talked about our storied pasts. Thunder knocked Sheila’s thoughts down one by one, and she’d start all over again. Lightning bolts spotlighted us two old gals tripping over our young girls’ dreams. Sheila and I made a memory that night, but it gushed away from her like the rain beneath our feet as we shuffled to my car. I tugged her hood up. We headed home, and I helped her get ready for bed.

She said, “Do you know how much you mean to me? You’re my best friend. You’re so nice. Have I thanked you for your kindness or told you how much I love you?”

I tucked her in, choked back a tear and whispered, “My friend, my oldest, best and dearest friend, yes, and I love you too.”

As she drifted off, I was comforted by the fact that her long-term memory is still intact. I knew she would not remember our dinner, the tourist attractions or having met my grandchildren. Her memories will be of us forever young – two teenaged girls traipsing through the seasons in Alaska: walking through fields of spring wildflowers; romping with our dogs after midnight in the bright summer sun; watching autumn leaves whip across the gravel road when the North wind howled; star gazing at constellations which appeared so bright and close they seemed an arm’s length away.

She may not remember our most recent visit, but she will remember the wild animals, winter darkness and temperatures of fifty below zero. In those early years of our friendship we exhaled crystallized puffy clouds containing the hopes, dreams and aspirations of expectant mothers everywhere. We each left Alaska with our first born children and memories to last a lifetime.

As I watched my dearest, oldest friend board a plane bound for home, I made a promise to her and myself. As long as there are Forever postage stamps, I will forever send her a letter a week, and I shall reminisce with her not about today’s issues, but I will write to her about old times.

Although we continue to grow old, in our hearts and in my friend’s mind, we’ll be forever young.

About this writer

  • Linda O’ConnellLinda O’Connell is a seasoned preschool teacher and award-winning freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Her prose and poetry have appeared in books, magazines and anthologies. As Linda waltzed through the decades, she discovered her age of elegance was in her forties, but she isn’t complaining. Life has been an adventure. Linda resides in the Midwest but her heart and soul hang out at the beach.

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26 Responses to “Remember Us Young”

  1. Tracey Simpson says:

    What a wondeful, heart-warming & vivid story. Felt as if I were right there with you. What a Blessing to share in a life-long friendship that spans across time & states. You are a GREAT writer!!!

  2. Steve Langhorst says:

    Thanks Linda,
    this is a wonderful story about what really matters.

  3. Sylvia says:

    Linda, what a touching story. And what a wonderful friend you are. A terrific story, even more terrific because it is true.

  4. Linda–A wonderful story about the power of friendship–especially women friends.

    I’m so glad you’re penning a story about the new-old and improved/restored Sheila. That will be another heartwarming tale.

  5. bobbybarbara says:

    Well, this brought a tear to my eye, as I read about your wonderful friendship. My friend is suffering through some major heath issues, and today is her birthday. The power and support we women give each other, through friendship, is key to our future. I love that you had that visit. We must never take our friendships for granted. They are to precious!

  6. bobbybarbara says:

    How lovely! Thanks for reminding us how important our friendships with our “sisters” are! Loved this!

  7. Linda, I remember you sharing this story when you were editing it. So poignant. So heartfelt. So beautiful.

  8. Daisy says:

    Such a sweet and touching story about friendship, Linda. What a treasure old friends are.

  9. Susan says:

    Oh, this was a lovely story, Linda. It brought tears to my eyes. I’m so glad your friend pulled through such horror alive. Even though her life is forever altered, at least she is still on earth for awhile. Thanks for sharing. Susan

  10. Pat says:

    Lovely story, Linda. The power of friendship creates an inbreakable connection.

  11. Liz B says:

    What a wonderful tribute to a best friend! I’m so happy for you both to have this time together, and how gracious of you to be exactly what she needs right now. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful story.

  12. thisisme says:

    Oh Linda, this was such a touching story about you and your dear friend. How wonderful that you kept on sending her a letter every week. It must have made you weep really, seeing her like that. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with the two of you staying forever young! Lovely writing.

  13. Alice says:

    Great story of a forever friendship. How wonderful of you not to give up on her. I’m sure she treasures your letters that help her revisit a wonderful time in her life.

  14. Gerry Mandel says:

    You’ve left me suspended between “My God, can she write!” and “I’ve got to call all my friends and tell them I love them.” This is more than a memoir, Linda. It is poetry of the highest order, that reaches deep into the heart and reminds us of the value of friendship, and the preciousness of life itself.

  15. Very touchingly told, Linda. She’s blessed to have you as a friend. :-)

  16. Marcel Toussaint says:

    Linda, a grand touching story of real time with a close friend… I am glad I did read it…

    Memories are forever….

  17. Val says:

    You’re so lucky to have each other, without losing touch all these years.

  18. This grabbed my heart in so many ways. Beautifully told, Linda.

  19. What a touching story, as are all your stories. But I especially love that you wrote to your friend every week… what a gift.

  20. river says:

    A beautiful story about a beautiful friendship.
    May it last as long as you both live and beyond.

  21. Rose Ann says:

    A wonderful story– beautifully told!

  22. Linda O'Connell says:

    Thank you one and all for your supportive comments.

  23. You are a good friend, Linda, and a great story teller.

  24. Tammy says:

    Your story brought tears to my eyes even as your lyrical prose made me smile. This is lovely in so many ways!

  25. Simply beautiful…Forever captured!

    Thank You for sharing a portion of your wealth Linda~

    Storm

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