Gene Alston’s thoughts on friends in the September 2019 RPG Digest set me to thinking about my own view on the subject. I asked myself if it’s possible to call a person ‘friend’ if we met only once, and that was more than 60 years ago. I believe so, but you decide for yourself.
Like most people in their senior years, my thoughts wandered through a long list of names and faces, a few, or sometimes many, memories, attached to each. However, one face and name stood out in the sea of memories.
September 17th marked the five-year anniversary commemorating the death of a person I consider my BFF, my best friend forever, Emma McKenzie Lassley, who literally changed my life with one sentence.
As I write this, I swallow remembered pain. It’s 1941 again and I’m four years old, skinny, straight brown hair, keeping my face averted to avoid taunts. I was cross-eyed. The doctor told my parents that I had to wait until I was six to have corrective surgery.
In the meantime, I learned to hide my tears when other little girls pointed their fingers and whispered, and when little boys hit me in the head then ran away yelling, “There, that ought to make your eye straight.” I wished it would, so they would stop hitting me.
The day finally came for my surgery. It didn’t matter that I would miss six weeks of school. It didn’t matter that I had to lie flat on my back, my eyes bandaged, for nine days with a sand bag on each side of my head so I wouldn’t jar the stitches loose. It didn’t matter that I would have to wear glasses. Nothing mattered because never again would anybody call me names and I would soon have friends who let me join their games.
My contentment didn’t last long. Soon I was called “Four Eyes” and the kids wouldn’t play with me because they might break my glasses. As I grew older, I started hearing things like, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” And they didn’t. They vied for the attention of my younger sister with her big blue eyes that didn’t need glasses, but avoided me.
During these years, I developed friendships with pen pals all over the United States, and it was one of these who, when I was 16, altered my attitude toward those hated frames perched on my nose.
I don’t recall where I found Emma’s name and address in Ontario, California, but I bless the day.
In introducing myself, I gave a description that included the statement, “I have the misfortune of wearing glasses.” Her reply was prompt and unforgettable. It’s etched in my brain for all eternity. “My glasses are my most prized possession because without them I can’t see.”
Such wisdom from one 16-year-old to another. Would I have appreciated them at a younger age? Probably not. I can’t count the number of times I’ve called forth her healing words in times of distress, such as when people have told me I would be prettier without glasses. How hurtful people’s careless words can be without them realizing it.
I didn’t change overnight. I remained a loner. The taunts continued, but I found it easier to ignore them as I repeated my mantra, ‘My glasses are my most prized possession because without them I can’t see.’
Through the years, I lost touch with most of my pen pals as life took us in different directions. However, letters to and from Emma continued to wing their way across the country on a regular basis. If you aren’t a letter writer, if you don’t have distant friends whom you haven’t seen in many years, you probably wonder if real friendship through mail is possible. I can tell you that it is. We congratulated each other on successes and commiserated over failures. We grieved together when family members went astray; we mourned together when our parents and siblings died. I cried with her when her husband died. We encouraged each other when we felt no one else cared about the mundane details of our lives.
Our letters stopped only when her daughter told me Emma had gone home to heaven. That afternoon, I lived again the few days I visited her in 1961; I heard again her musical voice when she called me in 1970 because she had misplaced my new address. I again watched her two children grow from babyhood through childhood, through adolescence into adulthood. My pain eased during those hours of chuckles and tears as I sat with my photo albums that contain a lifetime of memories.
Our friendship began as pen pals, but I remember Emma McKenzie Lassley best as my dearest of friends. I wouldn’t trade our friendship, physically distant though it was, for anything in this world. Someday, we’ll meet where words don’t hurt, so there’s no need for healing words. We won’t need our most prized possessions either.