Sometimes best friends pop up where you least expect it. Maybe it’s the kid next door or someone you know from school or church. Other times it might be a brother or a sister.
When I was a kid, my best friend was 32 years older than me.
I called her “Mom.”
I have written about her many times during my career, but it’s worth a refresher for anyone paying attention.
Born 77 years ago today in a small suburb of Los Angeles, my mother split her time between California and Oklahoma before finding her way to Washington, D.C. in 1959 after she was recruited to work as a clerk for J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It was in D.C. where she met my father – a young soldier stationed at the White House. My dad notoriously dated one or two of my mother’s roommates before settling on the dark-haired beauty.
They were married in a small ceremony and soon celebrated the birth of my oldest sister. It was the three of them against the world.
I was born late in my parents’ marriage. Thirteen years separated my oldest sister and me.
My closest sibling, a brother, was a full six years older.
Prior to my arrival, my father had served a decade in the U.S. Army (including a tour in Vietnam) and he and my mother had spent some time apart while he learned how to put down the bottle.
My dad would jokingly call my conception a “mistake.” My mother prefers to call it a “divine accident.” Either way, I was born a year or so after they reunited.
I don’t know for sure, but I tend to believe my mom ended up pregnant partly because she wanted a restart on her marriage – and as a parent.
By the time I came along, they had just built – and moved into – a low-income house in northeastern Oklahoma
With my older brother and sisters already in school, my mom and I spent plenty of time together.
Money was always tight so most of the time, our fun was limited to what make-believe adventures we could get ourself into around the house.
My mom was an excellent pretend race car driver and because she loved Star Wars as much as I did, she never minded being the bad guy.
When we weren’t winning the Indianapolis 500 or dueling with light sabers made out of empty wrapping paper spools, we were glued to her piano.
She would play and I would “sing,” although I always had a tough time hitting the high C when we sang Anne Murray or Kenny Rogers.
When we really wanted to treat ourselves, I would dig in winter coat pockets and between the cushions for enough spare change to cover the cost of a French Dip from Arby’s. (We both could eat on four dollars back in those days).
We laughed together and every now and again, we would cry together.
We leaned on each other for comfort and we learned to confide in one another all of our hopes and dreams.
And I’m proud to report that 40 years later, we’re still pals.
Most people don’t get to have the same best friend for a lifetime, but I’m blessed to be in that number.
Happy birthday, Mom. Here’s to many more.
David Gustafson is the not-so-mild-mannered editor/publisher of The Hattiesburg Post.
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