She leans over me, carefully painting a crimson stain across my 4-year-old mouth. Her face is mere inches from mine, and although I cannot see her own mouth, I know she is smiling: the corner of her eye is crinkled and a river of small wrinkles cascades down her cheek. Her hand tilts my chin up a little higher, and I purse my lips tightly together so she can complete my request.
“There you go,” she says, placing the lid back on the lipstick. “Now, go kiss ol’ Jim-Bo on the cheek. Right here.” With her slightly crooked finger, she lightly taps my left cheekbone, a gentle reminder of where I should deliver the peck.
I hop off the counter and peek around the edge of the bathroom door. From where I stand, I can see him reading the newspaper as he sits in his favorite chair, his glasses perched precariously on the edge of his nose.
I quietly make my way across the living room, trying to not make a sound, and I am stealthy enough that he doesn’t look up from the paper. When I finally arrive at the side of his chair, I rise onto my tiptoes and gently place my rosebud lips against his skin. I step back and watch the delicate imprint of my heart-shaped mark fold into itself as the edges of his own lips spread wide. Though the bright red remainders of my tiny little kiss slide deep into the canyons and crevices of his old, wrinkled cheek, I know they are still there.
He pulls me into a big hug and the giggles I’ve held inside start bubbling over. My joy is contagious: he begins to laugh, too, and as I look back toward the bathroom, I see her standing against the door, her arms wrapped around herself almost as if in a hug, shaking with happy laughter.
Their names are Marie and Jim, and although we are not bound by blood, I love them as if we were.
* * *
Marie works with my father, and for some unknown reason, even though she is 30-some years his senior, they forged a fast friendship. Although Marie and her husband Jim have a child and grandchildren, they are not close—neither in their hearts or their proximity—so the two of them take my parents—and ultimately my brother and me—under their wing and allow us to fill that empty space.
One day, when my brother’s unexpected tonsillectomy requires both my parents to be at the hospital, they ask Marie and Jim if they might be able to watch me. This seemingly simple question is more of a proclamation of trust, one that they acknowledge and happily accept: I am only a few days old, but without hesitation, they say yes.
Marie loves laughing and giving hugs, and she has an effervescent personality that is happy and contagious: Marie gives me the nickname “Bubbles” since I laugh so much when I am with them. She loves cardinals and sweet treats and teaching my brother and me how to type on their typewriter. She creates and sews outfits for my Barbies and dolls, and she makes them big enough so my little hands don’t have a hard time dressing them. Jim (or Jim-Bo as I call him) is a kind, gentle, and tender man, a man who is the perfect complement to Marie and the perfect grandfather-like figure to us.
They stock their freezer with creamy ice cream sandwiches and ice-cold glasses that are just waiting to be filled with the sweet and spicy frothy root beer they keep in fridge especially for us. They ask for us to come visit and spend time with them, and every year when our birthdays roll around, they take us out to eat.
Although I refuse to let my parents leave me with a babysitter, I let Marie and Jim watch me. We are so close that I simply consider them part of my family instead of some silly babysitters. I feel safe with them and grow to love them in ways I don’t think are humanly possible.
* * *
When I am four, my father gets transferred, and we have to move out of state. We go back to see Marie and Jim occasionally, but the gaps between our visits start getting longer and longer. We receive the news that Jim has passed away, and then, a few years later, we find out that Marie has done the same.
I remember being shocked that I would never get to see these two beloved people–the ones who were some of my first friends—ever again. But in spite of my disbelief, I also remember being grateful that I had been blessed to have had them in my life in the first place. I existed in their physical universe for only the first four years of my life—years that I was so young one would think I wouldn’t remember them—but the memories I have of our time together have been some of my most lasting.
* * *
Though they are gone from this earth, I see traces of Marie and Jim everywhere:
I remember them with every typewriter I see, with every glass of root beer I drink, with every ice cream sandwich I eat.
I see Marie and Jim in the new souls that Zoey and I have stumbled upon, the ones who have come to love us and call us their own, the ones who are keeping us happy and safe, the ones whom we’ve become bound to by something so thick it might as well be blood:
They are in the smile of the woman who watches Zoey after school, the one who always leans over to kiss the crown of Zoey’s flaxen head as Zoey says goodbye… They are in the voice of my friends, the ones who call and simply say, I’m here for you if you need me… They are in the laughter we share and the love we forge and the connected lines between us and the people who show up in our lives that often appear as strangers.
I hear Marie and Jim in Zoey’s laughter and see them in her imagination, on the days when she plays dress up and puts on a deep red shade of my lipstick. I see them in Zoey’s pretend performances and feel them in the kiss she plants on my cheek after her imaginary curtain falls. And I often see them when I look at Zoey’s sweet face—a face so similar to my own 5-year-old one, one that often lights up in joy the way I lit up with joy when I was around Marie and Jim. I know that if they ever would have had the chance to meet Zoey, they would have loved her just as fiercely as they had once loved me.
I see Marie in every cardinal that floats across my path—their deep, ruby feathers carrying the same flash of red that once matched a little girl’s lips, the lips that were always ready to bestow a tiny, tender kiss. The occasional presence of these regal birds always make me believe that Marie is still here, watching over me and taking care of me the way she did all those years ago.
* * *
For my sixth birthday, Marie sent me a gift. It was not a toy or a book or a gift that one would find typical to give to a little girl. It was an intricate gold straight pin, its top adorned with a tiny gold laced and pink stone flower. And tucked away inside its box was a small square of paper, one that carried a handful of words written in Marie’s delicate, cursive writing:
You were a good friend to me, and much loved by two lonely people.
A typical six year old might have been disappointed with this antique bauble, given to them as a gift in celebration of their birth, but I adored this beautiful, fragile present. It has been with me for 30 years now, traveling with me from state to state. Though it is nestled safe inside a dresser drawer, I see it almost daily, and its tangible presence in my life reminds me of the incredible relationship and friendship I shared with those two lovely, lonely souls.
Though I only lived in their atmosphere for a short while, the impression they left upon me has been an everlasting gift, one that I cherish and give thanks for to this very day. Their lasting legacy is a reminder that life is made better when we open our hearts and arms to those special people we stumble upon in life—the ones who welcome us into their own lives and fall in love with what we have to offer, expecting nothing in return, the ones who change our lives for the better simply by being themselves.
Some of these people are in our lives for minutes, while others stay for days and sometimes even years. But no matter the length of time they stay, their memories remain with us forever.
Pay attention to these people—these special, remarkable friends—who appear inside your days. Accept them in your heart and wrap them in your love. They are here —every single day—peeking around your everyday corners, waiting to show up at just the right time, ready to change your life forever. Though their arrival may be unexpected, their presence and existence is necessary and important, and the gifts they bestow upon you will—without a doubt—be exquisite and everlasting.
Think of the special friendships that have left a lasting impression upon you. Did they appear in your life unexpectedly? What sets them apart from others? What makes your friendship with them so unique?
Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.