A TRIBUTE TO MY FIRST BEST FRIEND

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

In the spring of 1957 a housing development rose like an oasis in the field across from our parent’s home.  Twenty mid-century homes were built, complete with aqua appliances and pink tile bathrooms.  I was the only girl under age 10 in our neighborhood so I anxiously awaited their completion, hoping that a girl would move in.

Leslie, at age 10

Leslie, at age 10

For months I watched new families arrive in the neighborhood, but, alas, there were no girls in sight.  Then one summer day a 1956 Studebaker station wagon pulled into the driveway at 48 Madeline Court and it was filled with children.  I dashed over to the car and saw a girl my age.  She was leaning out of the rear window so I ventured up and introduced myself to the person who would become my lifelong friend … Leslie Sherman. She seemed friendly enough, explaining that they had driven across country from New Jersey.  Then she suddenly whipped around, picked up a small bar of hotel soap and asked if I’d like to buy it for a nickel.  Would I???!!!!  I was so excited to have a potential friend move in right across the street that I would have paid a whole dollar!

Before I could fish a nickel out of my pocket, Leslie’s mom discovered her daughter’s entrepreneurial scheme. Naturally, she was mortified that the Sherman’s introduction to the neighborhood consisted of Leslie hawking free hotel soap to anyone foolish enough to buy it.  Like me.  But that first transaction, when we were both 7 years old, became the basis of our friendship.  We laughed about it in almost every conversation for the rest of our lives; I always chastised her for trying to swindle me, while she chided me for being stupid enough to actually pay for free soap.

Despite that rather shaky beginning, from that moment on we became fast friends.  Each day on our half-mile walk to school and back we shared secrets and plotted adventures.  In retrospect, we really couldn’t have been more different. She was as bright as a penny, excelling in every subject.  Let’s just say … I did not.  Social skills, however, were not her strong suit, while I was gregarious and outgoing  She liked cats, I liked dogs.  She was a Camp Fire Girl, I was a Girl Scout. My idea of a fun game was paper dolls; she liked to play in the dry creek bed with bugs. She was book smart, clear-headed and logical; I was street smart, emotional and impulsive .   But somehow, it just worked.  I think we both admired in each other the traits we didn’t possess.

We became inseparable, sharing all the silly things that young girls do.  The high point of every Saturday was getting our twenty-five cent allowance and walking a mile to the Five and Dime at Nave Shopping Center.  We would spend an hour poring over our choices of candy bars and comic books.  Even there we differed; she would read about the adventures of Superman and I would laugh with Archie and Veronica.

As pre-teens we enjoyed our annual summer trip into San Francisco with her dad.  He would take us to lunch at the Cathay House in Chinatown and then to Blum’s on Union Square for hot fudge sundaes.  Looking back, his tolerance knew no bounds, for in later years he also took us to Peter, Paul and Mary concerts in the City two years running and patiently waited for us in the car while we listened to what he referred to as “yowling”.

1967 - the year of the Vietnam discussion at Tahoe

1967 – the year of the Vietnam discussion at Tahoe

My parents took her on every family vacation to Lake Tahoe, where we made memories in sunshine and snow.  We loved it when my parents would go out to dinner and leave us at the cabin with Swanson’s TV dinners and a television set with rabbit ears that got ONE station from Reno.  We would lie in bed, watching that old TV and laugh until our stomachs hurt.

As we got into high school we accumulated more friends, but never to the exclusion of each other and her trips to Tahoe with our family continued.  In the summer of 1967 we were on the beach in Tahoe City (Leslie reading TIME and me perusing Seventeen) when two boys wandered over.  I was thrilled – until Leslie launched into a discussion of the Vietnam War, the “domino theory” and stemming the tide of communism in Southeast Asia.  Needless to say, the boys were quickly overwhelmed and made a speedy exit. I just shook my head – there was no changing her.

Later that year she suffered injuries that would plague her for the rest of her life.  She was spending the night at my house, listening to the Beatles and eating junk food.  We ran out of potato chips and TAB so she decided to walk to the corner store for more provisions .  When too much time had passed and she hadn’t returned, I ran down the block.  The street was cordoned off  and police lights were flashing.  She had been hit by a car, catapulting her into the windshield, injuring her head, back and hips.

After high school we went off to college and our paths varied.  As the years passed, we both rounded off our edges.  She became more social and I became smarter.  We both had good careers and were lucky enough to work in San Francisco and would occasionally meet for lunch. Without fail, we always contacted each other on birthdays and at Christmas.  Although we didn’t see each other often, we kept up enough to know what was going on in each other’s life.

Leslie, at our 20th high school reunion

Leslie, at our 20th high school reunion

Last August, she called on my birthday only to discover that I had chickenpox.  She burst out laughing – “How could you not have had them when I did?  We were together every day!”  She made me laugh too, just listening to her hearty guffaw. She updated me on her recent activities – she was full of plans for the future.  Then she began to reminisce about the good times of our childhood.  For some reason, she just needed to talk that day.  We spent more than an hour on the phone, laughing and remembering. I am grateful that we each ended the conversation by saying “I love you”.

Because on November 21, suddenly and without warning, she died of a massive internal infection.   I did not find out about it until last week because, true to form, the passwords to the address book on her computer were in Greek and Latin.  I have had a difficult time reconciling myself to a world without her in it. Certainly it is a dimmer place without her dry wit, keen intelligence and loving nature.  Personally, my life will now be different.  She was the touchstone to my childhood, the only person with whom I could share memories about the neighborhood, our teenage pranks and our early hopes and dreams.

I’ve made a lot of friends since that first fateful meeting in 1957, but no one ever replaced my first best friend.  Now she is gone and the space in my heart where she once resided is empty. I take solace in knowing that she is free of pain, undoubtedly somewhere hawking soap to the unsuspecting masses.  And laughing.  Definitely laughing.

 

 

 

33 comments on “A TRIBUTE TO MY FIRST BEST FRIEND

  1. It has taken me way too long to respond to your tribute. Mostly because I break down and cry and cannot compose myself to write an appreciation.

    Sue – you were always so sweet to me and I think that it was a result of your love for Leslie. You revealed many aspects that heretofore were unknown. I did understand that Les was a hawk because my Dad was military and my brother was attending USMA. It was an amazing transition once she went away to UCSB. That’s when I think she realized her purpose in life – to help others as best she could. She always had that heart but getting away and living on her own helped her realize her true destiny. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Sometimes (but very rarely) she did extend herself to those that were unworthy but that was the basis of her trust. She got great Karma by caring for others and I am amazed at all the charities (as I get renewals) to which she subscribed.

    Even now I am tearing … and I am so grateful for your well written and heartfelt tribute.

  2. Suzanne, just read your tribute to Leslie. It is beautiful and I felt like I was on your journey together. How wonderful to have had such an incredible friend.

  3. What a wonderful story about Leslie. Kathy, Leslie’s sister has been my next door neighbor since I moved to Sonoma in 1991. I never really got to know Leslie, but she was always friendly and cheerful when I met her. Kathy held her in high regard not only as her sister, but as her “best friend”. To Kathy and all of you, I am very sorry for your loss. I like to say “memories are like star-light, they go on forever”. Please cherish those wonderful good memories and fun times you had together. XXOO

    • Jennifer, thank you so much for your wonderful comments. You are very lucky to have Kathy as a neighbor, as I was to have Leslie as my friend. Memories of good times are really the only way to get through something like this, and Leslie provided all of us with lots to remember.

  4. I’m touched by your tribute to Leslie. I got to know her at one of our reunions, who knew we had so much in common. Her laugh was infectious. I’m sure she is touched by your tribute and will be laughing for all of time.

  5. I’m touched by your tribute to Leslie. I got to know her at a reunion, I can see her laughing about what we had in common. Who knew. I’m sure she is touched about your stories and will be laughing for all of time.

    • Thanks, Kay. She was so multi-talented that I’m not surprised that you had something in common with her. I will always remember her laugh..I’m so glad you got to experience it!

  6. Sue, I am so sorry for your loss of a Very Special, Best Friend, You were both so lucky to have each other. My heart goes out to her family for their loss of a daughter, and a sister. My thoughts are with you all. .

  7. That’s the thing about love and friendship…it hurts so much when you lose it. The pain of this loss will soften with time, but always be a reminder of your wonderful relationship. I have no doubt she was as aware of your talents as you were of hers. Your lovely tribute is a perfect example and she must be so very proud of you. Sending love and a great big hug your way!
    By the way, I hope you don’t mind that I reposted your blog on FB. It was just that special!

    • Thanks, Marge. Yes, I’ve heard from lots of people today who have had a life long friend they have lost. I guess we all have to come to grips with that at some point but, boy, is it ever hard. Don’t mind at all that you rePosted – thanks for the compliment. By the way, having a Cavalier snuggling up next to me is good comfort!

  8. Sue weren’t we in the same Girl Scout Troop my mother was a leader. Ellen Gagulio, Crhris MacBeth, Sally Hetrick, Karen Graxiola.

  9. Hello!
    Leslie was our neighbor for 12 years, and we are so so sad and shocked that she is gone. She was, without a doubt, one of the most important people in my children’s life, she was a chosen grandma to them! She was there the day we brought our eldest, Remy home. A chicken was waiting in the oven, and she couldn’t be more helpful to us. I think she used to come up and do the dishes when we were passed out. And walk the dog. And get this – Leslie TOLD me, less than a year later that I was pregnant with my second…and not only that, she knew he was a boy! Whenever the kids were mad at me they’d stomp down the stairs, and Leslie would be there by the door. She let them in, give them a cookie, and let them play with sweetie and nannies. We always laughed recalling when my son learned to use the potty. He flew down to her house, ran to the bathroom, screamed “laleee! Look at this!” and peed inside the toilet.

    Leslie took care of them when they were sick, wrote poems for each of their birthdays, and every chanukah gave them generous gifts. Leslie was filled with love for us, and we adored her too.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us! I can totally see the soap scene in my head. That’s our Leslie! She will never be forgotten, she was our angel.

    • Amy, thank you for such wonderful stories about Leslie. Not the least surprised that she was a favorite grandma! It is a loss to all of us but these stories help us to remember what a special gift we had in her for the time she was here. I hope to meet you at her memorial service.

  10. That was a beautiful story and thanks for sharing. I could relate to a lot of those things that you shared with your first best friend. I have one too which I will see more often now that we are in Dallas. You have some wonderful memories with her and I know she is smiling down on you every day.
    Love, Sharon

  11. Sue I remember both of you guys from NHS. So sorry to hear about your loss of Leslie. You were both the nicest girls in school. I feel the same about my friend Judy Azevedo. We have been friends since we were 12. May she rest in peace.

  12. Sue, you definitely did my beloved and only sister justice! Thank you so very much!
    I know you ALWAYS remembered each other’s birthdays. How could any of us forget yours? It was the same as our Dad’s. You and he had such a special bond.
    I love how you describe our ‘parental figures!’ Spot on!
    I sent this to 55 people, so far!
    Your timing is perfect. I am preparing to pick her up and take her home now. I will think about how happy she was as a child, as well as an adult. And how she made others so happy, as I drive to SF.
    One friend, Sharon L., who you know from Novato High School, wrote that Leslie made every single friend of hers feel as though he or she was her BEST friend. That is a gift.
    I will look forward to seeing you at her ‘Celebration of Life!’
    Fondly, Kathy

    • Sue –

      There was a time when I thought you and my sister were nothing but irritating pests!
      After all, I was a whole 5 years older and I knew everything!!

      Boy, was I wrong! You were not a ‘pest’ – you were my sister’s best friend.

      I did not really consider that important then, but I came to understand just what
      that when I met and found a very best friend. In fact, he will be here this coming
      weekend so we can watch the Army-Navy game together. We have been doing
      that since 1977 with only a 1 year break in that change.

      Thank you for loving my sister – she was important to both of us.

      Fondly, Bob

      • Bob, so good to hear from you, although certainly not under these circumstances. I am so sorry for your loss.

        I actually think Les and I WERE pests! I hate to think of all the times we bugged you and wouldn’t give you a moment’s rest.

        I’m so glad you have a great friend – sounds like you’ll have a great time this weekend. Enjoy your time together.

        All my best,

        Sue

    • Kathy – just wanted to let you know that we’ve had tremendous response to this blog today. If you look on the blog page there is a place where you can see the comments and I think you’d like reading them. I know today was a hard day but hopefully you have made it home with her safely. As for my depiction of your parents, in one draft of the blog I talked about how we would spend time at your house eating your mom’s divinity and fudge while PB banged out Army songs on the piano. I always remember them as my second set of parents – they were the best!

      • Sue, I read what you wrote and all of the comments, every single day. I know you never had a sister, but we have a very special bond, no matter what!
        I could talk, but did not need to do so. Leslie spoke for me. Always. ‘Kathy wants more gravy!’ ‘Kathy needs a new coloring book!’ ‘Kathy wet her bed again! ‘Kathy is having an asthma attack!’
        She will always be my beloved ‘MOUTHPIECE!’
        I MISS HER DESPERATELY!
        Leslie was THE FIRST BEST FRIEND to both of us!
        Love, Sister Mary Katherine

  13. Suz, I am crying as I read this. What a blessing to have such a friend in your life. I just enjoyed a 2 week visit from my oldest friend. We grew up together and met when we were 4 years old, on Vashon Island in Puget Sound. We laughed so much and shared old stories. I know there will be a hole in your heart going forward. You wre both so lucky to have each other.

    • Thanks, Marie. It really is such a priviledge to have a life-long friend. I’m glad that you have one too – treasure her every day.

  14. What a beautiful story Suzanne. I am so deeply sorry for your loss. While reading I pictured you and Leslie as the Hayley Mills “twins” in their camp days in The Parent Trap! What special memories you have – lock them up and throw away the key! Love you. Xoxo

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