To My Dear Friend Sally on her Birthday: March 23
Her hair was soft with reddish tints, gently curled in a ’60s style, probably a little bouffant-y if my memory of that day serves me right. It was more than fifty years ago, and I could be wrong–I’ve seen her in so many different styles since. But I know I’m not wrong about how I felt about Sally when she approached me as we both emerged from a “Tests and Measurements” or some such Education class in Johnston Hall. I remember being flattered as she complemented me on a comment I had made in class. I always thought I sounded stupid when I answered some question the prof had asked, and her comment made me feel validated that day. We continued talking about our senior year next Fall. “I’m looking for a roommate for next September. Would you be interested?” Again, I was flattered that this very cool and classy classmate would consider rooming with me. I had been thinking about an apartment near campus since my first student teaching assignment in Fall was only a few miles from the U, but unlike Sally, I have always been more of an “I’ll think of that tomorrow” kind of person.
I can’t remember how or when Sally and I went together to look for apartments. It’s because being with Sally is easy. There’s no drama, no ego wrestling – just centered-ness and calm. Part of it is Sally’s voice. It’s not sharp but instead, full of harmonic tones. Stress or worry is barely ever detected in Sally’s demeanor, but when it is there, it manifests simply as a sigh breathed on inhalation rather than exhalation. I really don’t know how she does that.
I think Sally’s early life on the farm made her tough and calm. Kids probably see a lot growing up around cows and combines. They look at emergencies as things that can be handled, not events that will overwhelm them. That’s how I always view Sally. I realize that Sally, during our senior year, experienced an equal amount of stress teaching middle school as I did with my student teaching experience. But during all of that year when I was frantic and tense, Sally just seemed to take everything in stride; she has always and will always walk through the challenges of life, not skipping a beat–the word “trooper” comes to mind when I think of Sally.
On the nights when we were rooming together, I remember lying in my bed talking to Sally in her bed across the room. We talked about the guys we met at the bar, about dating, our childhoods, our parents, our professors, our past, our dreams. It was the first time in my emerging adulthood that I, having grown up as an only child, felt like I had a sister.
Rooming with Sally, I learned that although she is not a frivolous person, she has a frilly aspect to her style if by frilly you mean as soft and feminine. I remember scarves adorning stylish blazers. There might have been a square silk scarf over some lamp in our apartment in true Blanche DuBois-style. I seem to remember something like that. We would most likely have picked up the lamp at the second-hand store near campus. We had wine bottles with multi-colored candles dripping down the sides in the middle of our cute dinette table – a classic Sally touch. And there were bright red little ceramic cherries! I remember the cherries most of all. Sally had put them a little a white wicker basket and put the basket on the nightstand between our twin sized beds in the bedroom.
Sally and I rarely went out in our senior year. There was too much work to complete for task-master professors. But when we did, we went to the bars around campus. The boys attracted to Sally were good guys–the kind you’d be proud to take home to your parents.
I don’t think Sally and I got in even one small argument in that apartment that senior year. I can’t remember living with one other person throughout my life, male or female, who was so easy to be with.
After college, we never again lived in the same city, but we would talk often even when we had to pay for long distance calls. I’d go up to visit Sally when she was teaching in Oshkosh, and she’d come down to Milwaukee every once and a while for a weekend. The weekend she came down to meet the friend of my fiancé is imprinted in my mind. We must have laughed like four 10-year-olds on the toboggan we rode down the notorious toboggan slide at Whitnall Park in Milwaukee. I gave my fiancé a knowing wink as we walked up the hill, feeling we were watching a love story unfolding before our very eyes as Sally and Gregg walked up the hill in front of us. The next day, as I remember, the two of them went to see the movie “Love Story” – and it’s been Gregg and Sally, Sally and Gregg, ever since.
Through the years, each of us has had struggles and heartache, but it has been Sally who has listened to me– comforted me–It is Sally who is the rock. Sally is a giver–the kind of person that a person like me has to consciously remember to ask about her feelings. But Sally’s giving is not from a forced place. It’s from a place of balance–a natural characteristic, as natural as it is for bamboo to bend with the wind or buttercup to give up its yellowness to the world.
I have never seen Sally teach in the classroom, but through the years, I’ve known of the hours upon disciplined hours she has spent correcting students’ essays and stories and her thrill at finding materials that motivate a 12th-grade non-reader to read or inspire her accelerated classes. When we discuss literature or politics, I am humbled at how well-read Sally is. Like Sally’s lifestyle, her opinions have strong and deep roots.
I have loved being in every home Sally has ever had. When we were young, there was the hobby-farm house that was charming inside and outside. It came complete with red strawberries plants and wild raspberries to pick and a field of hay to gather into fragrant bundles.
Later on, Sally’s two-story house in Wausau was elegant. I couldn’t understand through the years how Sally could teach full time, take care of her two young children, volunteer, and have a house that was so immaculately clean and comfortable and radiated warmth and love.
A few years ago, my husband Mike and I visited Sally and Gregg in their latest home. We stayed in a guest room of grace and beauty – white French doors opening to a carpeted room with a queen-sized bed adorned with a fluffy and bountiful comforter. It wasn’t a spare room thrown together for visitors, it was a guest room created with thoughtfulness. There was an adjoining bath filled with the scent of elegant soaps – all in all, the kind of guest room you wish were your own bedroom back home.
Sally and I now live thousands of miles away and don’t see each other often. But we don’t have to. Sally is so imprinted on my soul that neither time nor distance has any power to erode the love and admiration I will always have for my dear friend.