My beautiful sista-friend of more than 45 years: Our story began when I was about 11 and you were 13. Our friendship blossomed each summer under a big tree that used to stand in your front yard. There were chairs and a bench there, too. I can’t be sure of the type of tree that it was, but that doesn’t matter. I remember that it was big, green, strong and it provided anyone beneath it with shade and rest. It was a tree that witnessed the chattering and dreams of young girls and the flirtatious playfulness of the boys who stopped by to visit – and we gathered there – summer after summer – as day turned into night. Friends in a meeting place…an oasis.
Over the years, and even still now, I came to think of that tree in your yard as “Georgia Lee’s Tree”…That’s what it felt like to me. It was there that I first met you all those years ago and it was there that you welcomed me back, year after year – A New York City Bronx girl who’d never felt the bare earth beneath her feet, or sat carelessly under the stars on a hot summer night and listened to the crickets sing as the smell of jasmine or honeysuckle would ride in on a warm breeze – and music – there was always music. It would quietly play from someone’s car parked nearby or from a boom box. It was the first place I ran to when I hit Fernandina – “I’m going to see Georgia Lee,” I’d say as I headed out the door. I’d come to your house and was always welcomed by Ms. Verdie, Mr. Thomas and your sisters. I was always treated as part of your family.
I honestly don’t remember all the conversations that we had over the years. I imagine it was the things that young girls and teens talk about – some memories have faded now. But what I do remember…what will never fade is the memory of your big, beautiful smile that greeted me every time I saw you and I remember the excitement I’d feel at knowing that I’d be hanging out with you…ALL.SUMMER.LONG. I remember begging my parents at the end of the summer to please let me stay and go to school in Fernandina – but that never happened. Every summer, I had to pack up and leave and head back to New York. But that didn’t prevent us from staying in touch! Long before there were cell phones, texts, emails, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and InstaGram, you and I actually hand wrote each other and mailed it off. Getting a letter from you during the school season was like sending Florida sunshine to the Bronx! Before I knew it, school was out…summer vacation had come and off to Fernandina I went.
One summer in particular is etched into my mind. It was the summer of the Swing – a popular dance in Fernandina at that time and I had no idea how I was going to go to the beach – on the Patio – and not swing. That was unacceptable, and you told me so! It was you, along with the help of some other friends whom you recruited to teach me how to Swing. We temporarily left the shelter of your tree and assembled at Ms. Geneva’s house across the street and she patiently allowed us to take over her carport, put on some music and by the end of the night, I knew how to Swing. That following Sunday on the beach, I was dancing… ALL. DAY. LONG. To this day, I STILL know how to Swing!
And then the years passed, I don’t even remember when your tree went away…that doesn’t matter either because as we grew into middle-aged women, we probably wouldn’t have sat under it that much anyway because we would have complained about hot flashes, heat intolerance and mosquitoes – the things that never bothered us as young girls. But so it was, with your tree gone, our friendship remained and endured throughout the years – through the birth of yours sons and my daughters and the death and divorce of our husbands and all the other “life” stuff in between. You were an early riser like I am. I knew I could call you at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning and you’d be wide awake. We’d talk, laugh and catch up on each other’s lives. In my life, you have always been a part of a very small circle of friends for me – but now, my circle just got smaller. Your unshakable faith in God was truly inspirational and it made my own faith stronger. You were a remarkable poet and I’m grateful that you shared so much of your soul stirring poetry with me. I believe that the writer in you trusted the writer in me. You were my first real friend from childhood into womanhood…my first Florida friend…you were simply…my friend and I will miss you very, very much.
I have heard that there are many mansions in our Father’s house. I think it is safe to say that God also has more than a few gardens there, too. When my turn comes and our Creator calls me home, I sure hope that you’ll be there to greet me…underneath a tree in His garden.
I love you, my friend…Rest easy.
Georgia: Thank you for always being one of the first to comment and support my blog and my writings – I was always grateful for your honest feedback and comments.