Throughout my life, I have been blessed to have good friends. I am not the sort of person to have dozens of friends at once; rather, I have one or two that I choose to spend my time with and on. For the most part, these friends have come from a close association in some interest, group, or geographical proximity. When I was in elementary school, my best friend was my neighbor, both at home and in the classroom. In high school, my friends were my fellow majorettes. In college, they were those who chose the same major as I did, and thus, were in the majority of my classes. And as an adult, almost all of my friends have been colleagues – teachers in the same high school and sometimes even in the same department.
It wasn't until I was in my 30's that I came to see the wisdom in having a friend who isn't just like me and doesn't even necessarily share the same interests. My friend Suzy has expanded my horizons in wonderful ways. We've been friends for over a dozen years now, despite the fact that she moved back to her home city of Birmingham nine years ago.
Suzy is not a teacher. She is in the insurance industry, something which holds no interest for me whatsoever. Thus, our conversations rarely center on work, as those with my teaching buddies almost always do. Aside from the fact that our children were born within months of each other, we have very little in common.
Take, for example, fashion. I am generally clueless. If it's comfortable, I'll wear it. Suzy, on the other hand, is the self-appointed fashion police. She watches incoming co-workers for infringements of mismatched accessories, inappropriate hem lengths, and gaudy jewelry or cosmetics. When I am able to see Suzy in person, which is far too rare these days, I always wait with baited breath to make sure that I'm dressed appropriately for the occasion. If I pass the Suzy inspection, I know it will be a good day.
The biggest difference of all between the two of us has to do with shopping. I absolutely hate it. The Internet has become my friend for that reason; there's nothing quite so wonderful as 1-800-BRING-IT-TO-ME in my view. (Don't try that number; I just made it up to make the point.) But Suzy, now, there's a shopping kind of gal. Notice, I said shopping. She is not a browser or a looker; she comes armed for the attack. When she goes into a store, items will be purchased, and they will be the right item the first time. No exchange trips are ever necessary for her.
In years past, Suzy helped me out by inviting me up to Birmingham before Christmas for a shopping day. It's a four-hour drive there, but well worth it. I would drive up the night before, having tucked my own kids away with friends so that I would be free from their prying eyes. Suzy would be waiting, ready to go out to a nice dinner at Superior Grill (which isn't a grill at all, but a restaurant featuring some exceptionally tasty Mexican food) and outline the strategy for the next day. She would spread all the different coupons she had clipped out on the table surrounding the chips and salsa. Then, they would be arranged in several ways until she had what she felt would be the most time-saving. Eventually, the plan and map were finalized, right down to knowing where we would park and which entrance to the Galleria would be easiest to reach.
After a good night's sleep and a fortifying stop at Joe Mugg's for coffee and muffins, we were off. Suzy knew better than to send me on my merry way; she would go into each store with me, equipped with the appropriate discount information, and pick out an item for one of my relatives. "Here, your niece will love this dress! It's $50, but already on sale for half off. Then, with this coupon, we can take another 25% off if we buy it before noon, so let's get it right now. And we don't have to pay sales tax on one item in this department with this other coupon, so the whole thing will be about $12.50. Here's her size, and this is the color she likes best." Sure enough, Christmas Eve, my niece loved that dress. The most amazing part of all is that Suzy had probably met the child twice, for maybe a total of twenty minutes each time. I, on the other hand, have known her since she was born, have babysat for her, taken her on trips and on hundreds of outings, and still, have yet to pick out a gift she likes.
Since I have a son and she does not, you would think I would be left to my own devices to choose gifts for an (insert age here)-year-old boy. Nope, not a chance. You see, Suzy really listens. She knows I have an elderly grandmother and what surgeries she has undergone in the last five years; she knows I had car trouble two months ago. Without even realizing it, I've told her more about my son's likes and dislikes than I even know I know.
By the end of the shopping excursion, I have gifts for everyone on my list; they are wrapped and ready to be positioned just so under my tree. If I need it, Suzy can provide me with a diagram of which gift should go where. We never had to backtrack because Suzy has planned so well; we never experienced frustration because a store was sold out of anything. We never bought anything that was outrageously expensive on the spur of the moment because that's not allowed under the Laws of Suzy Shopping.
The expedition always ends promptly at 3 p.m. because that is when we retreat to a lovely day spa. We have facials and massages and manicures and pedicures and mulled cider spiced with wine. Our weary legs get rubbed with sea salts by large women from Russia; our backs get pounded by strong men who have black belts in karate. We hobble around in luxurious white robes with little Styrofoam wedges tucked between our toes, making sure we don't mess up our newly painted toenails. It reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and company are put back together by the Emerald City crew, but we have no meeting planned with the Wizard. In fact, I've been with the Wizard – Suzy – all day.
I couldn't go to Birmingham this year; we had a fence-building party on the weekend that shopping was at its prime. That's why there are only four shopping days 'til Christmas and I have gifts yet to buy. Still, I remembered Suzy when she, faithful as always, shipped a gingerbread house to us, all ready to decorate. Years ago, she began a tradition by having her friends and their children over to her house and we enjoyed a huge gingerbread construction gala. She would have baked for days to give each family at least one house of their own, and sometimes two. We brought bags of red and green candies to decorate our little village, while Suzy whipped up one batch after another of royal icing. By the time all was said and done, the entire kitchen would be covered in a fine mist of powdered sugar and the kids would be bouncing off the walls from having sneaked one too many pieces of candy away before they became roof shingles. My older children and I remember those parties with deep fondness, and, even though they are now in their twenties, they still look forward to the arrival of the gingerbread house from Birmingham.
I've never really figured out what Suzy gains from our friendship; there are very few things that I am good at that she can't already do. Most people call me for computer expertise, but she doesn't need that. I'm not going to ask her this question, because she may just wise up and say, "Hmmm… what exactly am I getting out of this deal?" I hope not, because even though time and distance separate us, I still count her as a true friend.
Here's to you, Suz… may you have a very, merry Christmas. Can you pencil me in for December 15th next year? It's been next to impossible to do Christmas without you!