Sustenance is defined as “the maintaining of someone or something in life or existence.” It can also mean food and drink regarded as a source of strength and nourishment.
For me, sustenance encompasses both of these definitions when it comes to describing my friends. Throughout my life I have maintained friendships that represent the changes, as well as the sameness of my existence.
I know this fact to be true: Not only are my friends steadfast and certain in uncertain times, they nourish my heart, my soul, and my mind.
I’ve had friends for all the seasons of my life: Rosa Lane friends, Christ Episcopal Kindergarten friends, Northeast Hills friends, Camp Huawni friends, cheerleader friends, student council friends, and the many other friends I made throughout my school years in Nacogdoches.
I met many amazing people when I was at A&M, and my friend Jan is at the top of the list. As education majors, we not only shared classes together, but also many special memories. Without her, my time at A&M certainly wouldn’t have been as much fun. We have remained friends for all these years, and are now venturing into grandmotherhood together. She is always an encourager, and a listening ear.
I’ve been a part of many great “group” friends, from each campus where I worked, and many of these friendships spilled over into after school hours. There are the Chevelles, a fabulous group of like-minded ladies, who will always be in my heart. We don’t meet as a group anymore, but individually, I remain in touch with them all, and cherish the laughter and bond that we share. Chevelle friends are timeless…
And there’s the ETBs—East Texas Besties(Johna, Jamie, Sheila and Melissa)—a group named during our weekend at a Kenny Chesney concert in Dallas. We definitely enjoyed the trip around the sun, and even found some soul sistas who actually had the exact same quotes on their custom made tumblers that we used on our custom made t-shirts. In the words of Kenny, “We’re a little messed up, but we’re all alright.”
One of my best friends in the universe, someone I don’t see often enough, is Jeannie, my roommate from A&M. She is one of the most hilarious, clever, consistent, intelligent, beautiful people I know. And after all these years, we can pick up right where we left off.
I met Jeannie in the laundry room of our dorm my freshman year. We discovered we shared a mutual friend, and from there, I was welcomed into her tribe of friends from Silsbee, Texas. I liked her at first sight, but when she told me she was named after Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird, I knew we were the pinky-swearing, forever kind of friends.
When we roomed together, Jeannie was always quick with epic one-liners. The fall of our sophomore year, Jackie Sherrill debuted as A&M’s coach. Excitement was in the air. In fact, her parents had already put a bumper-sticker on their car that said, “Aggie Believer in Cotton Bowl Fever.” In those days, the Cotton Bowl was the Holy Grail for members of the Southwest Conference—the destination which lauded a team’s accomplishment of being conference champs.
Well, things didn’t work out the way we hoped in that first game against Boston College. You see, there was this little guy named Doug Flutie, who before this game was relatively unknown. Sadly, we were the ones who put him on the map, as he later won the Heisman trophy.
That night when we were trying to fall asleep and make this disappointment a distant memory, Jeannie said,
“Welllllll doggies! I’m going to have to have a long talk with that boy! (using a phrase borrowed from Jed Clampett and referring to Coach Sherrill).
I busted out laughing, and even snorted! Her dry wit was the perfect ending to a less than perfect day.
Sometimes we were serious, like the afternoon we sat on the floor, and drank our Cambridge shake (a powder mix you made into a shake that was part of the Cambridge diet, and was guaranteed to help you lose 5-10 quick pounds, or so they advertised). We talked about life, and our hopes and dreams. We shared the things that sweet friends share, and in that conversation, I am almost certain I grew up a little.
My dreams from that Fall day weren’t wholly accomplished, and that’s a good thing. Had they come true, I would currently be riding on a Steamboat up and down the Mississippi River like Mark Twain, writing novels, and seeing the world (the South). Obviously, I was taking an American literature course at the time, and had gotten lost in the idea of living such a seemingly carefree existence.
I still think riding on a steamboat would be interesting, but maybe the expression of this desire was simply a metaphor for writing about the experiences that shaped my life. After publishing three books, I can’t help but attribute this verbalization to Jeannie, as we sat on the dormitory floor, as the first step in making my dream come true.
As unpredictable as life sometimes seems, I know this much to be true. All it takes is a simple song, an Aggie football game, or remembering one of Jeannie’s famous one-liners, and I’m right back in the dorm, or the Dixie Chicken, with someone who has touched my life, and made me better for knowing her.
One year for my birthday, my mom took me and a couple of friends to Fort Worth to see Ruta Lee at the Casa Manana Theatre. I can’t remember the name of the play, but I do remember meeting Ms. Lee after the show and getting her autograph. As she signed my playbill she said, “Nacogdoches grows the prettiest girls.” When she said that, my friends and I blushed and giggled. We thought we were extra fancy since a “celebrity” thought we were pretty.
But now, as adults, we’re different. We understand that pretty isn’t just what you see on the outside. It’s who you are and how you treat people.
Ruta Lee was spot on with her comment. Some of the most beautiful people I’ve known are from my hometown. They are kind, caring, courageous, driven, intelligent, funny, dedicated, and resilient.
Each year, this group of lifelong friends that we call “The Nac Girls,” spends a weekend together. The idea to commit to doing annual girl trip came from my friend, Sheila. For those of you who have read my book Mockingbird Moments, she’s my Chapter 9. (If you haven’t read it, I hope you will. Just let me know and I’ll send you a copy)
This idea of having a friend reunion grew into reality in the spring of 2017 and for the last several years we have spent time together at a beach house, a lake house, and a wonderful home on Lake LBJ outside Austin. We have withstood bad weather, getting our cars stuck in the mud, riding on golf carts through the streets of Port Aransas, creating and painting wooden signs, and stuffing our faces with every flavor of pie made by the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls.
But we couldn’t overcome the coronavirus, which ruined our gathering at a Barndominium in Brenham this past spring. We know we will meet again, and are crossing our fingers that it will be in the spring of 2021.
So what is the secret to our lifelong friendship?
In so many ways, the bond we share is indescribable, but on the most basic level, it’s simple. We were raised by great parents. They guided us, and encouraged us, and taught us the meaning and importance of being a friend. We just took it to another level. And we have made the commitment to remain in touch, even if at times, it’s only through texts.
You see, as lifelong, hometown friends, we know each other in ways that only lifers can understand. We remember the awkwardness, the braces, the breakups, the disappointments, the football games, the dances, the riding around on Friday nights, the sneaking out of houses, and graduation.
But we also have shared marriages, births, and sadly, deaths. We have been friends for over fifty years, and most of that time, we did it without the help of technology and social media.
As individuals, we may have differing ideas and beliefs, but we fiercely respect each other, support each other, and pray for each other.
During these special weekends, we’ve stayed up late reminiscing, and catching up on our lives. We’ve had heart to hearts, and have laughed and cried. We’ve mourned for the loss of parents, rejoiced for the achievements of our kids, and welcomed grandchildren into the world.
Every time we are together and we go out on the town in our matching t-shirts, people stop and ask us about the group. And every time they hear our story, they are amazed that we have been friends for so many years. It brings tears to their eyes when they witness what we share.
It might be hard for others to understand, but for us, it’s simply understood. There is no explanation, or definition. It’s who we are. It’s who we will always be.
We are family. Sisters. Cheerleaders for each other. We dance, and we sing, and we remember, but we also look ahead and hope to leave an imprint on the future. We try to do a good deed and act of kindness for each town we visit. We feel it is our responsibility to do this. During our girls’ weekend, we represent the places from which we come as we unite together, but we mostly represent our hometown.
The place where, by the grace of God, we were raised. The place that grew us. The place that gave us wings.
I’ve toyed with the idea of putting together a “Nac Girls Handbook,” which would be a compilation of reflections, and experiences that each of us would write. The wisdom, and knowledge we share about our upbringing, and the lessons we learned that hold the keys to unlocking our friendships and all it takes to be lifelong friends.
I truly believe it would be a wonderful tribute to our lives together, our parents, and the town where we were planted and bloomed.
But I also realize that there is no such thing as a “handbook” for friendship. Friendships can’t be developed through a simple “how-to” guide. Sure, there are things you need to know and do to make friends, but friendship comes from the heart—from finding like-minded souls who understand each other.
Whenever I reflect back on my life, there is always a soundtrack of songs playing in the background. Songs that represent the time period, or my feelings. Songs that bring a smile to my face, or make me remember times when I felt sad, or lonely or lost.
When it comes to our friendship, though, we’re kind of like Barry Manilow— “we write the songs.” The lyrics are our story, and the music is the laughter, and joy, and tears. The song is personal, and rare, and only makes sense to those who wrote it and sing it.
Our experiences and the depth of our love for each other, render that beautiful song into one that we carry in our hearts. The melody is unforgettable, and though we might forget the words from time to time, we never forget the feeling that the song brings.
As a junior high counselor, I deal with a great deal of girl drama. Many times, I have to call young ladies into my office, and let them talk things out.
The one thought I always try to instill in them is the power and responsibility that comes with being a girl. We bring life into the world. We nurture. We embolden. We teach. We listen. We understand. I always end by saying, “If all girls would support and lift each other up, we could change the world.”
That’s what makes friendships among women so important. We need each other. We need the strength that comes from those who understand us, and have known us in our darkest times, and still want to be around us.
Embrace your friendships. Put in the effort. Work on them. Commit to them. Be intentional.
It’s been said that friends come into your life for a season, a reason, or a lifetime. I value every friend I’ve ever made, whether they are still in my life or not. I’ve learned from each relationship, and I hope that as a friend, I continue to grow and become better.
When it comes to friends, I have been blessed beyond measure.
If you’re lucky enough to still get together with childhood friends, you’ll understand the many unspoken things: The loyalty, love, and laughter. The dedication, the devotion. The memories, and the meaningful moments.
And the most beautiful part of being together with lifetime friends is we still see each other as that little girl from Kindergarten, or Junior High or High School. Our spirits are unchanged, but the wisdom we hold, and the confident and graceful way we carry ourselves reminds us that growing old together is a privilege and honor and blessing.
I know, without a doubt, my friends will forever be a part of me. We share the kind of love that not only sustains us, but also enables each of us, in our own way, to continue changing our corner of the world.
“We’re the Septembers now. The real ones. We are everything to one another. We don’t need to say so; it’s just true. Sometimes it seems like we’re so close we form one single complete person rather than four separate ones. We settle into types- Bridget the athlete, Lena the beauty, Tibby the rebel, and me, Carmen, the…what? The one with the bad temper. But the one who cares the most. The one who cares that we stick together.”