“Good friends are uplifting,” reads the square, 4 x 4-inch Hallmark plaque my pal-since-childhood Kari gave me for Christmas 1979. (She’d thoughtfully taped a simple, dated comment to its back.) Although the pink base has faded to a subtle blush, the decoupaged photo is water-stained and I haven’t displayed it for years, I’ve never had the heart to put the plaque in the pile of cast-offs destined for a local thrift shop.
Its message is true–faithful friends are uplifting, and I have been blessed with more than my fair share of them in my lifetime. I have friends who love making parties out of any occasion, friends who never forget a birthday or anniversary, friends who know just when to call or write, friends who’ve moved away but never fall out of touch, friends both old and young, male and female, friends who prod me to exercise, friends who feed me, friends who laugh with (and at!) me, friends who offer style, decorating and organizational advice, friends who help with my children, friends who make music with me and friends who share books.
And then there’s Julie. Many friends seem like angels at one time or another, but this past year, Julie has been there more times than I can count. Also, through happenstance, she has endured some “special” moments with me that have created a bond stickier than Super Glue.
In many ways we are not at all alike. Julie is petite and attractive; punctual, but not very musical; equally able to scoop a horse stall, drive a tractor, plant a garden or navigate a mall; and she is a planner, an early riser and a lover of all things lemon. (Make mine chocolate, and I’m mostly the opposite of the above.)
But being different from each other means Julie has rescued me on more than one occasion–reminding me of an upcoming event, shrewdly analyzing a schedule, bringing action plans to great ideas I’ve dreamed up but haven’t yet executed.
Early last September, I had one of those “great ideas:” let our husbands drive our two football-playing sons to Adrian for a noon game, while we’d carpool to Sioux Falls for our two fleet-footed daughters’ cross country meet, then reconvene in Adrian on the return to catch the last half-hour of the pigskin shuffle.
We chatted non-stop on the hour’s drive to Sioux Falls as I cruised along in my 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan that had seen better days. Meet over, we piled in and headed east on I-90, conversation still flowing. Several miles down the road–thump, thump, thump. What was that noise emanating from beneath my vehicle? THUMP, THUMP, THUMP. Practical as ever, Julie suggested I pull over to see if we could spot the problem.
Each of us circled the van, kicked the tires, examined the underbelly for dangling parts–nothing detected.
“Let’s keep going, and if it doesn’t stop, I’ll exit at Luverne,” I suggested.
Riding shotgun, Julie agreed, and we proceeded down the interstate, albeit more slowly.
Replaying events of the next moment in my mind, I believe I saw the right front tire shoot into the ditch before we felt the vehicle’s frame crash to the hot pavement with a jolt and a screeeeeeeccch like that of a suddenly halting train.
Did you know brakes don’t work without a tire to which they can be applied? Somehow, I managed to steer the van toward the shoulder, scraping along at decreasing speed for nearly a half mile. Having finally ground to a stop, Julie and I looked at each other in stunned silence before breaking into nervous laughter.
Several frantic phone calls, one hard-of-hearing tow truck driver, one quickly-spreading grass fire (ignited by the white-hot tire), three fire trucks and one state trooper later, we were safely scooped up by another helpful friend, Tammy, who had left the cross country meet at a more leisurely pace. (Pining for more details? I’ll elaborate further on this whole event at a future date.)
“Loose lug nuts,” read the service tech’s post mortem, but my faith in the van was gone for good. Though Julie and I never saw that football game, my faith in her friendship–and her unshakable sense of humor–was only strengthened.
As we stood on hot, wind-swept I-90 that day, watching firefighters battle the blaze surrounding the errant tire and troopers hold back vehicles, Julie quipped, “We still know how to stop traffic.”
And one year later, she still dares to ride with me. Tires may let you down, but true friends? Not a chance.