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Friend for 40 Years

Do you remember when and where you met your really good friend? The one who laughs with you during good times and cries during bad times.

September, 1977. Husband and I had moved back to Cookeville, back to his hometown and my college town after living in Nashville for seven years. I didn’t want to go to the Newscomers Meeting that night. Cookeville wasn’t really new, but my college friends weren’t here. We had two toddlers so I spent my days changing diapers and wiping up spilled milk.

Husband knew many Cookeville people. I didn’t. “You should go,” he said. “It’ll be a night out and you’ll meet people.” I did need a night out. But with strangers?

I heard laughter and chatter as I walked through the church hallway. In a large room, about thirty women had gathered in small clusters. Not one familiar face. I found a seat on the back row.

The Newcomers chairman said loudly, “Welcome to Newcomers! We’ll start as we always do. Everyone will stand and introduce yourself. If it’s your first meeting, tell us when and why you moved here? Tell all about yourself, your hobbies, and if you have a family, about them.” Oh, no. I didn’t know I’d have to stand and talk.

A gray-headed woman said she’d researched Cookeville and decided to retire here. Obviously, she’d practiced her introduction. What would I say? Words jumbled in my brain. Another lady, with a welcoming smile, stood.

“I’m Rita Craighead. We moved here about two months ago. Cookeville is my husband’s, Bob’s, hometown.” That got my attention – just like us. In a confident, soothing voice she said, “We moved here with no job and no place to live.” Really? So had we.

“We lived with Bob’s mother for a while and have just moved into a house,” Rita said. “We have one daughter, Andrea, who is ten.” There’s a difference.

“Anything else?” Ms. Chairman asked.

“Well, I like to play cards and read and cook and my husband encouraged me to come tonight to make new friends.” Same as me, I thought.

Quickly others stood and rattled off their names. As I stood, every woman turned backwards in her chair and looked at me. “I’m Susan Ray. And everything Rita said, that’s me. Except Allen and I have two young children, ages 2 ½ and 1.”

Rita and I hugged for the first time at the end of the meeting. Our families became friends. We shared meals, sometimes pizza right out of the box; sometimes beef tenderloin on finest china. Andrea, their daughter, babysat our children. For more than 30 years, I often stopped by Rita’s house for a cup of coffee and visited at her kitchen table. After Bob’s death in 2009, Rita moved to Murfreesboro to be close to her daughter and her brother. I was sad.

Last week, during Rita’s funeral service the minister said to keep memories of Rita in our minds and hearts and souls. I’m so very thankful for Rita’s friendship and for that first hug and many, many more.

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One Response

  1. Such a nice tribute ❤️

    Kat Rust Bobkatsr@gmail.com

    >

    Like

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