Do You Remember Who Was Your First True Friend?

Friendships are those magical relationships we choose to have simply because we enjoy someone’s company. In a way, I envy my children’s friendships.  

My daughter had just turned seven years old when we moved to the USA, and my son was three. Before they had their own homes, they had only lived in one town where we still live. Once graduated, they started working and settled in cities close by—my daughter an hour away and my son 50 minutes. 

They have both lived such “local” lives that they have had the enormous privilege of forming and maintaining friendships over decades. Despite different high schools, colleges, and now working, they still spend time with people who knew them as very young children. And, as much as anyone can predict the future, I see them and their friends remaining around here.

How I wish I could pop over and have coffee with my childhood friends. 

My daughter was dropped into the US school system two weeks after we arrived here. However, Hurricane Floyd had whipped through our area, and the school she was zoned for was closed. On her first day, Monday, November 15, 1999, bundled in our new coats, we walked to the closed school, shivering in the freezing cold. No welcoming class or smiling teacher to shepherd her in. Here, in our town, all the little children were grouped on the sidewalk before being guided onto yellow buses and taken across town to a church that had spare classrooms. 

I have a photo of her standing in line, a look of stunned shock on her face. Directly in front of her is a sweetly smiling little girl. Within weeks they were best friends and remained so despite boyfriends, different high schools, and different colleges. My daughter was Maid of Honor at her friend’s wedding in 2017. 

I have a photo of my son on his first day of school, waiting to enter his Kindergarten class. In the picture are several other boys; two of them are still his closest friends. They were there by his side through four years of cancer treatment, and to this day, they still travel and plan so they can spend time together. 

I always remind my adult children how fortunate they and their friends are to have had the stable lives that allow these friendships to grow and last. And, I hope, continue to flourish through marriages, children, family demands, and professional lives.

Can you recall the girl or boy, not related to you, who became your first real friend?

For me, and I suppose for many of us, she was a girl I met when I started primary school. Although our mothers became firm friends later, she was not someone I became buddies with just because our mums were friends. No, we created this friendship all on our own.

We lived in the same town, a few streets apart, and although we shared the same first name, we were as different as chalk and cheese. She was dark-haired, dark-eyed, quite quiet. She loathed outdoor activity and didn’t particularly care for school. She is arty, dreamy, and deeply creative.

But at 17, The University of Cape Town beckoned, and I left Johannesburg. In those days, communication was letters or phone calls, not something many students were doing outside of parental requirements. Although we tried to get together when I was back in Johannesburg, she was working, soon became a young mother, and our paths diverged. Our shared experiences were years behind us, and eventually, it was just Christmas cards.

I wonder how many people reading this could pick up the phone right now and talk to the first friend they ever made?

The University of Cape Town.

Naturally, I made new friends at university, and after graduation, I chose to stay in Cape Town. Given the political and economic climate in South Africa in the mid-80s, many departed overseas. Those who remained in the country often headed back to their home cities and contact fizzled out—no cellphones or texting for us.

Life continued, and again, new friends were made and treasured. Work friends, friends through hobbies and interests, friends in new neighborhoods, and friends through babies and children. Then, after twenty years in Cape Town, we emigrated, I left those lovely people behind. I knew once our shared lives ended, I needed to accept that they, too, would probably enter the realm of Christmas card friends. 

Just as their lives went on without me, my life started here without them. Life in the USA was like being dropped into the spin cycle of a washing machine. Thankfully, being drawn into the school system led me to make new friends. I found the constant cycle of activities my daughter was part of—Daisy Scouts, dance class, cheerleading, etc.—helped me see other mothers on a regular basis. We arrived early for pick-up so we could chat while we waited, sat on hard bleachers in freezing cold, and waited outside countless halls and rooms. 

Like many people, I found certain friendships gave way to new friendships. Children’s shared activity came to an end, and so did the social interaction between the parents. But then new people came along made through adult activities, not generated from children’s lives. As years passed, the friendship circle continued to expand and contract as it does in the flow of life. 

But in those early years, how I longed to spend time with friends who had known me for decades. No need to explain South African idiosyncrasies. No need to mind my word choice (it’s not petrol, it’s gas) or sit blankly while they talked about TV shows from the ’80s. Now, I count myself fortunate to have friends from my town, clubs,  volunteering, etc., all wonderful in their own way—and most of the time, I do keep up with the conversation!

As the years passed, contact with friends spread across the world, slowly ebbed, and then Covid happened! Suddenly, I was reconnecting with friends scattered across the globe. I look back on a lifetime of making new friends, and I am thankful that now we have the means to reach out and connect with childhood friends. Something great that came out of these hard times. We all had one new shared experience—the pandemic—and that gave us the means to reopen lines of communication. 

It may not be quite the same as sitting having a cup of coffee with them, but it is a lot better than remaining Christmas card friends.

How has the pandemic affected your friendships? 

Reunion with old Cape Town friends. 

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