Strolling Gretna: The Story of a Friendship

mary&harriet1-31-09Back in 1963, my home church welcomed a new pastor and his family. Less than two years before that, my family had moved from Africa, and I had experienced a great deal of difficulty adjusting to life in the United States (see “Re-Entry”). So, when I heard the pastor had a daughter close to my age, I decided I would make a point of introducing myself to her to help make her transition to a new home easier than it was for me. Who would have guessed that 50 years later we would still be best friends?

When Mary first became my friend, I was a senior in high school and she was a junior. We took piano lessons from the same teacher and sometimes played duets for recitals; our piano teacher called us the Bobbsey Twins because we were always together. We were both on the Bible quiz team at church and led our team to the Grantham Church’s first denominational championship in 1964 (scroll through the gallery to find photos of some very young and innocent-looking teenagers!). Because she came from a high school where her course schedule was more advanced than ours, she took several classes with seniors, including Algebra and Trigonometry with me. By the end of her junior year, Mary was probably more ready for college than I was (not to mention really bright and an over-achiever!), and she was granted junior admission to Messiah College. So we entered college together. We both lived at home (on the same main drag through the tiny town of Grantham) for three of the four years of college, and often shared rides to campus. We lived on dorm on the same floor for one year. Mary was an English major so after I switched from nursing to English following our freshman year, we had almost all the same classes and often studied together.

After we graduated from college, Mary went to the University of Kansas for graduate school, and I went to Idaho. Thanks to Mary’s writing to me about on her mother’s conversation with Dale’s mother that first fall out of college, Dale and I started writing to each other. She spent only one semester in Kansas, and returned to Pennsylvania to transfer to Temple University where she could be closer to her future husband John. When Mary and John married in June 1970, I was her maid of honor. And then when Dale and I married in June 1971, she was my matron of honor.

For several years, Mary and John lived in Indiana and we didn’t see each other very often. Quite coincidentally, we both became pregnant at the same time and were due on the same day in 1973. Mary’s daughter was born just four days before my daughter. In 1979, when the Three-Mile Island nuclear power plant almost had a meltdown, our family was living not much more than 10 miles away so we decided we ought to self-evacuate for awhile. Mary and John kindly agreed to take in this “refugee family” of four for about a week until we were confident it was safe to come home again.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Mary and family moved back to Pennsylvania and we started getting together once a month at each other’s homes. We never ran out of things to talk about, and the hours flew by as we mined all kinds of topics, from children to marriage to work projects to conflicts to the church and beyond. Eventually, both of us began working more outside the home and eventually we had full-time jobs, so we couldn’t continue the monthly “chinfests” as we began calling our time together. However, often when I went to Lancaster County for MCC board meetings, we arranged to get together either before or after my meeting. One particularly memorable conversation was while I was still undergoing cancer treatments. Things weren’t going particularly well in other parts of my life, and that morning I had slipped in the shower and split my chin enough to require three stitches, so I was in a pretty sorry state of affairs. Mary and I sat out on a bench under a tree and I cried while she encouraged and comforted me. Another time, Mary called me at home in the middle of the night to ask me to accompany her to the hospital when her mother ended up in the emergency room. Of course I went with her.

A number of years ago, we started meeting periodically in Mt. Gretna, about halfway between our two homes. It’s the ideal town for walking, and that’s what we do. We walk up and down the little streets among the quaint summer cottages and permanent homes; sometimes we sit awhile in the Mt. Gretna Campmeeting Tabernacle. We always have brunch at La Sorelle Porch and Pantry, and if we’re there in-season, we have an afternoon treat at the Jigger Shop. And the hours still fly by as we talk and talk. When I get home, Dale asks me, knowing ahead of time what my answer will be: “Well, did you run out of things to talk about?”

We’ve often reminisced about how our mutual childhoods of “unrootedness” initially drew us to one another and have subsequently helped us understand each other’s psyches and why certain things trigger similar knee-jerk negative responses. We both have other very good friends besides each other, some of whom we may spend more time with on a regular basis. But for both of us, the long-term nature of our friendship is unique. I’ve known some people longer than I’ve known Mary, but other than my family, I don’t have any other close relationships that have lasted longer. Friendships of 50 years and counting are to be treasured and protected and nurtured. I can’t wait to stroll Gretna again!


3 thoughts on “Strolling Gretna: The Story of a Friendship

  1. Lifelong friendships are the best. And it is especially sweet that, given your “unrooted” childhood, you found a lifelong friend.
    Say hi to Mary from me, next time you get together.
    By the way, Mt. Gretna is where Carlin & I had our first date (we met while working at Kenbrook). It was also where my Climenhaga grandparents spent their honeymoon!

  2. Um-m-m! My friendship with you has been delicious, Harriet. When John and I consider locations where we would consider “growing old gracefully,” John interjects, “Could you and Harriet continue walking and talking there?”

    Given our gypsy childhood, we have both remained firmly rooted in the Mechanicsburg and Lancaster communities where we landed as adults. My rootedness has been purposeful. I wanted my children — and my self — to have a hometown and a hometead where the memories roll forward uninterrupted by the dislocation of moving.

    Considering our shared drive for rootedness, it’s curious that we both enjoy taking flights of fancy in our personal and career lives. We subscribe to the allure and wonder of chasing lifelong dreams like the Seuss characters in _Oh, the Places You’ll Go!_” For you, that has meant retracing the scenes of your earliest memories in Africa, involving yourself in the far-reaching work of MCC, launching a periodical called _Shalom!_ to foster dialog about issues of peace and justice and adding your voice to many other writing and editing projects. For me, writing and teaching have beckoned as I’ve intermittently taught most grades in public school and returned to school for a Library Science degree in midlife — a second career that has taken me to new places to this day.

    I celebrate you, my dear friend, as you enjoy this birthday season. I look forward to more chinfests where we stroll the quaint byways of Mt. Gretna or sit together on some quiet creek-side bench to contemplate the meaning of our lives.

    • Let’s schedule our next Gretna getaway! (I contemplated telling the stick-shift driving story, and the quivering voices in the president’s office one, but thought better of it!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s