Friends can surprise you

Birthday week continues…

When I started with my last company, I came from years of working in the public world of large national (or international) companies.  Moving to a privately owned regional business was a switch, especially as the company had a defined and unique culture.

The changeover left me feeling isolated and I was “saved” by two women who befriended me.  One was an older woman who had been with the company for decades, she was the goodwill ambassador.  The other was a woman who had been hired just four days prior to me and she ended up becoming my best and closest friend ever.

Just two years my junior, but with two teenage children, she matched my “nose to the grindstone” work ethic (yeah, I used to work hard).  She was unfailingly honest, unflinchingly forthright and incredibly generous in spirit and support.  She was and is a special lady.

Being a recovering perfectionist, I have always had a lingering difficulty in accepting people actually liking me.  When you spend so much time seeing your faults, you tend to lose track of your virtues.  My friend helped me see past this problem, if by nothing else than being my friend.  After all, how could someone so wonderful spend so much time with me if I didn’t have something working in my favor?

As the years progressed, we would celebrate a variety of milestones in each other’s lives, along with sharing some difficult times as well.  I got to spend many times with her family (her husband is an exceptional practical joker and, though I thought myself sharp, often catches me in one of his uncanny plots) and though they all moved to Las Vegas some years ago, I still visit them each Christmas.

One day, I was caught by surprise by an unexpected event:  somehow I had gotten older!  Considering I brush my teeth every day, I don’t know how this slipped past me, but sure enough, I was turning 40.  There was a time when I couldn’t even imagine 40, let alone be that old.  I mean, c’mon, that’s my Dad’s age!  Yes, it did occur to me that shocking day that my Dad must have then been (gasp) even older!

My friend, as she liked to do, invited me over to have a birthday lunch with her family.  Hey, I love parties and birthdays, so I didn’t have to be asked twice!  I told my family that I would be with my friend that day but we could do something some other time on the weekend.  As usual with my family, no one showed any particular motivation to plan anything.

As I pulled up to her house that day, I was wondering if I had the time wrong, since neither her car nor her husband’s truck was in the driveway.  Oh well, I thought, I’ll just sit in the car and listen to the radio.  Just as I was pulling up the driveway, I saw a woman’s head through the window.  I recognized this person as someone I worked with and a friend of my friend.  Aha!  My friend had a few other people invited.  I admonished myself to make sure I acted surprised when I entered.

I needn’t have worried.  When I did get in and weathered the booming “Surprises” and “Happy Birthdays” shouted out, I was surprised indeed!  My friend had somehow managed to gain the contact information and (more amazingly) attendance of the aforementioned family along with many, many co-workers.  I was shocked and embarrassed at the riches of people willing to be there.  As I said, I get surprised sometimes by how many people like me (despite my annoying character flaws).

Of course, the party was a blast and it was as much a celebration of my friend and her heroic efforts to get all the people together and do such a fabulous hosting job.  In fact, I got more compliments about her being my friend than I did birthday wishes (I told you she was special!).

For the first few years after she left for Vegas, I used to sneak off to visit her around my birthday.  Those were some terrific times, too.  One visit, her husband and I drove all the way to the Grand Canyon (and back).  Another time, he and I and her youngest son (born during the time I knew them) did a fun Colorado River tour.

Still, as I spend this week thinking back across my many birthdays, that day was one of the best I’ve ever had, surrounded by family and friends and laughter.

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