Six months ago we moved again. It was one of our most abrupt moves, executed in two and a half weeks from job offer to arrival. A combination of career choice and national economic factors have caused our family to move four times in five years. We were so fortunate that each new home brought with it new dear friends and church communities. Minnesota was one of those special places for our family, and as much as we love our new Iowa home, leaving was hard.
I bought a beautiful wine glass at a thrift shop today. Then in the evening after the children went to bed, I opened a bottle of red that our new pastor brought over as a welcoming gift. I poured a drink for myself into the generous bowl and appreciated the elegance of the liquid in the glass.
I met April indirectly like we do these days. Michael was at a philosophy function she was attending with her husband and through them I managed to get her email address. I probably would have let the relationship develop more organically but I was seven weeks away from delivering my third baby and hundreds of miles away from even the most minor acquaintance. We had just moved to town and I didn’t know what I would do when the time came to go to the hospital. I was desperately seeking friendship.
A week or so later I waddled over to April’s house and we had tea while my boys were in school and three of her four children ran or rolled about. Her baby was only seven weeks old. I couldn’t get over how slim April already was and how together and serene she seemed.
The weeks leading up to my due date we would sometimes chat briefly on the phone. We talked rapidly and had numerous distractions in the background. We were both sorting laundry and preparing dinner while we tried to fit a 20-minute conversation into the five minutes we truly had. After my due date came and went, I told April of my despair and fear about my impending induction, and she was one of the most comforting voices I hear that week. It was then she offered to come over in the middle of the night if my uterus cooperated and decided to have a baby before my induction.
“It’s not a problem! I’ll just bring the baby and I can stay until your boys wake up and then they can just come over here,” she said reassuringly.
I felt deeply appreciative of her willingness to offer concrete help (and not “let me know if you need anything!” help) despite the fact that we would only be neighbors for the year of Michael’s fellowship. She gave generously and wholeheartedly and did so during a time when she had every reason not to.
After Henry was born, she sent over homemade vegetable soup and hallah bread and cookies within three days of my being home. I tore hunks of the bread off and wrapped them in sandwich bags to eat during the middle of night nursing sessions, sending sleep-deprived, inarticulate prayers of thanks in her direction while I stuffed my face.
We checked in with each other every other week or so via phone throughout the dark winter months. She had a health scare. I worked at overcoming my own self-centeredness by praying daily for her healing. We were all so sick – horrible viruses and pneumonia and lingering colds. For months she was a voice over the phone line that I would connect with occasionally from a non-communicable distance.
But then like the eye of the storm, we were all healthy on Epiphany so we gathered our seven children and ourselves for a celebratory tea party on a cold Friday afternoon.
Spring came. About once a week the boys and I would walk up the street to knock on the door to see if April, her girls and baby James were available to play for an hour or so before it was time to head home to make dinner. We would talk about food since we both loved to cook. We would chat about our children; our struggles and frustrations with trying to find the best way to smooth out the rough edges of their most trying personality traits.
Inevitably we would talk about our faith. April was one of the few devout Catholics I’d ever known and I loved asking questions and learning about the church calendar and feast days and the saints and seeing what a Catholic home looked like. It was deeply refreshing to talk about something meaningful and interesting with another adult during a time when most of life revolved around little people.
Once school was out for the summer, we met at the pool with our brood and shared red and blue slushies from the gas station and occasionally our better working window air conditioning units during unseasonably hot days. One afternoon I tentatively offered April a “teeny-tiny gin and tonic” and hoped she wouldn’t think I was one of those women from the headlines who have drunken afternoon playdates. She said yes so enthusiastically like it was the best idea ever, which was one of the reasons I liked her so much.
She had tears in her eyes when I told her we were moving. We only had a week to pack our house before we left, but she and I carved out time to walk around the block to the Ole Store for a glass of wine after the kids were down for the night. We talked and talked and only left when they closed, then talked a bit more on the street in front of the Fellowship House while the ridiculous Minnesota mosquitoes bit us.
The night before we left, they had us all over for a family dinner. We shared delicious food and a pitcher of fresh margaritas and told stories of the people we were before we were the caretakers of small people while simultaneously wiping little faces and sopping up messes.
And when we left their house for the last time, April embraced our shared faith and joy in good refreshments for comfort in our parting. “We can look forward to drinking wine together in heaven!” she said.
It was one of those rare friendships where we brought out the best in each other. We were truthful and honest in a way that encouraged the other toward something better in ourselves; something nobler than what our rebellious hearts and tired bodies often felt. It was a friendship built on proximity as close neighbors who shared the same street, yet came to recognize a sisterhood grounded primarily in our faith.
It’s been a week since we left. I watched the wine falling into my glass and, for the first time since we arrived in our new home, in our new neighborhood, in our new town and state, allowed myself to think about what was lost. And wept.
For April. And Robyn. And Abby. I miss you guys.