The arrival of a Southern summer introduces a kind of languid introspection. Magnolia blossoms open and rest against their long, green leaves. I pass by them on the way to the mailbox, look out from my kitchen window to spy another about to open.
For 22 years, they have been the most steadfast of friends.
Stay in any one place long enough and you will learn to treasure reliability in nature or in community. Grow old enough and you will learn to enjoy predictability.
Of all the places I could have lived, Cabarrus County was not predictable. Nor were the friends I have made here.
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I most certainly could not have imagined that two would be ministers. Nor could I have foreseen that those ministers would be among my strongest supporters when I decided to study for ordination as a rabbi.
Over so many years, Pastor Steve Ayers of McGill Baptist Church and Pastor Nathan King of Trinity United have shared my doubts and my worries, my joys and hopes. Never have we three needed a translator to speak about God; never have we had the slightest problem understanding that we were all cut from the same cloth, if from different colors.
I would not have imagined that one of my dearest friends would be a crusty old neighbor who, when I moved in, complained because I spoke with my toddler, Erik, in German.
“He’s an American boy,” Bill Laughlin told me. “He needs to speak like an American.”
“Don’t worry, Bill,” I would say, “he’ll get the hang of it.”
“Right quick, I hope,” he shot back.
In later years, Erik used to walk over to chat with Bill. They spoke “American.”
Christine Sponsler was my steady correspondent for years. Christine and I met a time or two for lunch, but mostly our relationship happened by snail mail. We were pen pals who lived just miles from one another. She’d send a card, responding to this or that column, or just to send me greetings. I’d send a card back.
Hers were reliably, predictably gracious and educated. Christine was a lady. A Southern lady.
Karen, my son’s music teacher, became my friend. It is Karen who saves stray turtles and cats (we have one of the latter). It is Karen who gave me the recipe for chocolate mousse that is my go-to potluck contribution at communal events. It is Karen’s laughter I miss if I go too long without speaking with her. For I can predict it – no matter what troubles we confide, we will also laugh.
Cabarrus County has been home for me for so long that I can only remember previous homes as if they were a kind of dream. Here are the people, the places, the familiar changes of the seasons, and they are now embedded in the fabric of my life, in the process of becoming older.
From Nathan and Steve I have learned to trust and let go. Once, when Steve told me of a grief he was facing, I asked him how he was managing. “Psalm 118,” he said. “‘This is the day the Lord made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.’”
From Bill I learned what aging could do to a man; he became, over so many years, softer, gentler, and kinder. He modeled aging gracefully for me.
From Christine I learned the value of the old South’s emphasis on grace and gentility and from Karen I learned to remember to laugh.
This column has appeared for nearly 22 years in this forum. Some friends I met because I wrote. Some friends I wrote about after we’d met.
None of them predictable. All of them reliable.
Barbara Thiede is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Barbara? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.