Friends, Relationships

Strangers becoming Friends

A few days ago, I pulled into a parking space at a metered spot in an outdoor shopping mall in California. As I was trying to pay, a woman walked up to me and said, “Oh, don’t worry about paying. Someone told me they don’t monitor these spaces.” 

I thanked her and thought that was the end of the conversation. 

A few minutes later, I knew everything about her life. 

Just making a friend over a parking meter

She had just sold her home in one of the beach towns in Southern California and is staying with a friend in Rancho Cucamonga until she moves to Oklahoma where her sister lives. She told me how much the buyer paid for her beachside home and how much she paid for her new home in Oklahoma, the amount of her new mortgage, and shared her happiness over being able to retire earlier.

She loves her teaching career but doesn’t want to do it forever, and moving to Oklahoma and having a more manageable mortgage will allow her to retire sooner. Now it’s exciting for her to plan her future because she will have so many more options. Our conversation went on so long, I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if she had invited me to lunch to continue chatting. 

As I was listening to her tell me all of these personal details, I was thinking, “Why are you telling me this? We don’t even know each other?” Then, I thought, “Don’t tell Sara, Annie, Doug, or any of my friends because they will roll their eyes and say, “Well, of course, you made friends with a stranger! Why are we not surprised?”

Then, Doug would go into his story about how I have an unusual knack for making friends in public restrooms. 

You see, several years ago, while we were waiting for our luggage at the baggage claim at the Salt Lake City airport, I went into the restroom and accidentally made a friend.

She said, “Are you from Salt Lake?” 


“No, I’m from Washington, D.C.,” I said.

“It’s a long shot,” she said, “but any chance you ever knew my sister Claire?” Then she told me all about her sister.

Well, as luck would have it. I did know her sister! She was the intern coordinator that picked me up at National Airport when I went to D.C. for the first time as a congressional intern.

Naturally, that led to a conversation and by the time we left the bathroom, we were like old friends. As we walked out, she stopped and gave me a big hug.

I saw Doug standing by the baggage chute shaking his head. 

“How does that always happen?” He asked. 

He swears men never talk in bathrooms. He says it’s almost verboten. So, he finds this bathroom friendliness baffling.

One morning while I was walking in Northern Virginia, a woman pulled up next to me in her SUV, and said, “Hey, you look like someone that would be fun to walk with. Mind if I join you?”

I was surprised, but, I said yes.

“I live just around the corner. I’ll run home and change my clothes,” she said.

I approached her driveway and she invited me into her home. I naively followed her inside. (After all, she was a mom in an SUV in a residential neighborhood. How dangerous could she be?) She scampered up the stairs to change her clothes, leaving me standing in her living room, which was more like a carefully curated art gallery than a normal living room.

“Make yourself at home. I have art everywhere — on all three floors. Feel free to check it out. Cold water bottles are in the fridge!”

After a few minutes, she came bounding down the steps, and off we went on our walk. 

Over the pandemic, I went shopping and one of the salesladies struck up a conversation with me about everything she’d been through during the pandemic. 

She hadn’t been able to see her parents, and then, her mother suddenly died! She was so heartbroken as she explained how crushing it was for her dad, and how hard it was for her to accept that her mother was gone and that she hadn’t been able to see her because of the pandemic. I listened and sympathized. 

Then, later, she gave me a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates with a note about how much she appreciated being able to share her loss with me and how I felt like a friend to her. 

I told Sara and Annie, and they said, “Well, of course, she did! Who else has these kinds of things happen to them?”

I was at a hair salon recently — now admittedly, women often over-share in salons — but I learned everything about a woman I’d never met — her mommy makeover, her rough bout with COVID, and how everything smells like garbage to her now. Every morsel of food smells like it came out of a smelly garbage can. I learned about her kids, her husband, a recent flood in their house, and more. 

When I got home and told Doug all about this terrible tale, he shook his head (a common gesture) and said, “You learned all that while you were getting your haircut?” He swears men never talk to each other in barbershops.

Maybe I can blame (or credit) my parents for this gift of gab if I can even call it that.

The saying that “there are no strangers, just friends we haven’t met yet.,” applied to them.

My dad once met some dancers from New Zealand who were in town for a folk dance festival. By the end of their conversation, he had invited them all over for a barbecue. 

He once went on a fishing trip and stayed in a rustic lodge in the Tetons and met a man from Washington, D.C. who was shocked that my dad was a milkman. “You mean, you leave milk on doorsteps?” He couldn’t believe that there were small towns that still had milkmen, and he wondered what that must be like to just walk out on your porch and get your cold milk and dairy products. My dad decided to surprise him by finding out his room number and leaving cold milk products on his doorstep for him to find early that morning. Voila. Instant friends.

To my kids, friends, and husband who tease me about this becoming-friends-with-strangers- thing, remember this wise adage: every good friend was once a stranger. Think on that for a minute, and maybe you too will start coming out of public restrooms, hair salons, and retail outlets with new friends.

Family, Friends, Personal

We all need a Shelia!

I had a sweet experience last week visiting my mom’s friend and neighbor, Shelia, who was my mom’s walking partner for over 30 years.

Mom and Shelia

Now, I’ve had some good walking partners but never one with that kind of consistency or longevity.

Thirty years of walks five days a week is remarkable — especially with someone who is not just your walking companion but your confident, counselor, and cherished friend.

My mom and Shelia covered a lot of territory over the years — in actual miles and in ideas, words, and heartfelt sharing

I visited Shelia to gather some of her memories of my mom, knowing she would have a unique perspective on her as a long-time friend.

Shelia invited me into her living room and as we settled in for a good visit, I turned on a voice recorder and started asking her questions. I wanted to know everything — what was Mom like as a friend? What were her priorities in life? What funny experiences did you have together? What would you say were her strengths? How did she get through her many trials?

I wanted to know as much as I could in the time we had together.

Not only did I learn some good stories about my mom, I felt like without even trying, Shelia welcomed me into the warm, intimate space of their unique friendship.

I actually felt sad to leave because I didn’t want the sweetness of that experience to end. I’ve always known Shelia to be wise, spiritual, creative, and smart, and I’ve appreciated her role in my mom’s and my family’s life. But while sitting with her in her living room, I felt some of what my mom must have felt to have her as a friend, and the word that kept coming to my mind was “lucky.”

My mom was one lucky woman to have had a friend like Shelia, and Shelia was lucky to have had a friend like my mom.

While I might not have a Shelia that lives around the corner that I can walk and talk face-to-face with every day, I have many other friends that have walked the miles with me.

I walked for years with my friend, Laura, in Virginia. After we both moved, we were sad that our walking ritual had to end. We too covered a lot of territory — not just on the paths and streets of Northern Virginia but in each other’s lives.

When she and her husband were called to serve a three-year mission for our church, I went to hear them speak before they left. As I approached Laura to tell her goodbye and wish her well on her mission, her husband stopped me and said, “If I were you, I’d just walk out that door, go to your car and leave.”

What he meant was that he knew it was about to get ugly, and I should just cut my losses and leave before Laura and I broke down in messy tears. We survived the three years, and now we are surviving the thousands of miles between us, but the fiber of the friendship is still there, and it gives me a little taste of what it might have been like for my mom and Shelia with their long history as walking partners.

Every morning, at 5:45, they met at the corner and canvassed the town, and as they walked, they talked about everything on their minds and in their hearts.

As Shelia told me her memories of Mom, I realized she knew everything about our family. There were no secrets between them. She knew every heartbreak and every triumph in my mother’s life – down to the oft-repeated detail that I was my mother’s hardest child to raise.

I told Shelia I couldn’t understand why my mother thought I was so difficult to raise. Shelia kindly said, “Well, with children like you, sometimes mothers want to say, ‘Hey, I’m the mother here!”

How could this child be difficult to raise? I mean, really…

Oh, so that’s what she meant…

She said my mom was more than a friend to her. “Sandra was a friend, neighbor, sister, mother, and therapist all in one.”

Not only did they share all their secrets and help each other through their challenges, they had some interesting encounters, like the morning Shelia was attacked by a white owl or when they were almost charged by a deer, or when my mom had some choice words to say at and about barking and unleashed dogs on their walking routes.

She reminded me of my mother’s obsession with neatness. She didn’t like anything to be out of place – her house, her yard, even her hair. She had a short, pixie cut and had to rush to her hair dresser Helen as soon as she felt the slightest bit of growth changing her neatly coiffed style.

Mom hated litter of all kinds. It just made her blood boil. Shelia said as they walked, Mom picked up all the stray bits of trash she saw along the way, and again, probably used some colorful words to describe the despicable people that would dare leave their garbage on her beautiful streets.

She felt a special kind of ownership of Main Street after working on Main at several places over the years — 224 clothing store, Town & Country home decor store, The Book Mark, and the Chamber of Commerce.

As she would say, it “irritates me right to death when they don’t take care of Main Street.” So, when Shelia and Mom walked on Main, Mom felt compelled to pull weeds, and deadhead flowers, and even leave reminders to water the plants!

She didn’t like seeing a dead plant through the window of one of the stores, so she made up a sign that said, “Please water your indoor plant.” Then, she taped it on the store door.

She told Shelia she was going to bring a little shovel and some gardening tools to clean things up along their walk. Shelia said, “I drew the line there, and said, ‘Sandra, we’re NOT doing that.” Shelia was so glad when Mom finally dropped that idea.

She did, however, make up awards for beautiful yards, and leave them on the porches of homes along their travels. She never missed a beautiful garden, a pretty porch, or a well-trimmed lawn! Even when I went home to visit, she would take me on a walk and make herself right at home showing me someone else’s yard.

I thoroughly enjoyed being wrapped in the warmth of Mom and Shelia’s lifelong friendship, and could only imagine what it must have been like for the two of them to see each other daily and “solve the world’s problems,” as my mom always said.

I called my daughter, Annie when I got home, and told her about my experience. She said, “Mom, we need a Shelia!”

As we talked, we realized we have wonderful friends, but our Shelias look different. Our friends are not always living next door or across the street — especially for 30-year stretches. And, our communications are different — more texting, or communicating through social media instead of walking together five times a week.

But, we sure envy and admire the Shelia-Sandra 30-year friendship ideal!

When my mom died, Shelia came to her viewing with a flower arrangement inside of a walking shoe. That said it all. It was a simple, beautiful symbol that captured a friendship that covered a lot of miles and a lot of life experiences.

A perfect symbol of a friendship that covered a lot of miles

Jane Fonda said, “Friendship between women is different than friendship between men. We talk about different things. We delve deep. We go under, even if we haven’t seen each other for years… It’s my women friends that keep starch in my spine and without them, I don’t know where I would be. We have to just hang together and help each other.” 

Shelia and my mom were the starch in each other’s spines, and isn’t that a treasured gift?

Who are the friends in your life that put the starch in your spine?

My visit with Shelia reminded me of the friends who have been and still are my “starch.” They may not fit the Sandra-Shelia standard of meeting at the corner at 5:45 ever day for 30 years but they surely have walked the miles with me.

I was reminded of some of my starch-like friends last week — one that talked to me from across the country about the challenges of parenting adult children, and then getting together with a group of cherished friends I met during my freshman year at college. We are all still walking the miles with each other.

So, thank you Shelia for welcoming me into the sacred space of your friendship with my mom, reminding me of her fun personality, strengths, and wisdom; and for reminding me of the value of friends.

Oh, and for teaching me why I was so difficult to raise, I think I get it now…

Friends

Gregoria Korologos: 87 years was not enough of you

One of my best friends in the world died Monday morning, and even though she was 87 years old, lived the fullest, most fascinating life of anyone I know, and was completely physically worn out, I still feel like she died too soon.

Even 41 years of friendship with the one-and-only Gregoria Korologos wasn’t enough.

I was a young professional on Capitol Hill working for U.S. Senator Jake Garn from Utah when I met the legendary Greg — the proudest Greek, truest American, and most loyal friend I’ve ever known.

Wearing a Kelly green linen suit with matching espadrilles, she was a striking presence with her then- jet black hair, deeply tanned Mediterranean skin, and signature fuchsia lipstick.

She was a powerful, intimidating woman with her booming voice, big personality, style, sophistication, and unmatched humor. My friend MaryJane called her a supernova — an apt description for a woman who was a rare, bright star.

Greg had just been hired as the senator’s new office manager. She wasn’t technically my boss but.. well, she thought she was everyone’s boss. She was older, wiser, and more politically savvy than most everyone else, and she believed we all worked for her.

As the assistant press secretary at the time, I was rushing to finish a press release for some reporters who were waiting in the hall when I heard a loud, long, repeated buzz on the office intercom. (Remember this was in 1980!)

I knew it was Greg because she was the only one who “buzzed” with that kind of drop-everything-and pick-up-the-phone-NOW urgency.

“Hello,” I said hesitantly.

“Get you’re a*# back her NOW,” she ordered.

I walked back to her office, wondering what could be that important.

When I entered her office, she was pounding away on her typewriter, and without even looking at me, she shoved a dollar bill across her desk and said, “Get my coffee — black.”

I was stunned.

Did she just order me into her office with such urgency so that I would get her coffee?

I wasn’t even sure how to respond, but then, probably stupidly, said, “If you want to ask Curt (the press secretary) if he’d rather have me stop writing this press release so that I can go get your coffee, go ahead.”

Then, I turned and walked out of her office.

When I told Curt what had happened, he said, “Well, you might have just ended your Senate career right there.”

Yes, we all thought she had that much power.

A few weeks went by, my job remained intact, and we steered clear of each other. Then, she buzzed me again on the intercom — with her signature style as if it was a life and death emergency, and when I answered, she said, “Wanna go out for a belt?”

“A belt?”

“You know, a drink — like a Tab or whatever Mormons drink!”

I agreed to go, wondering what kind of evening I had in store. We went to the American Café on Capitol Hill and it was an absolute riot like all interactions with Greg would turn out to be. We chatted and laughed for hours. She regaled me with her endless supplies of hilarious, entertaining stories, and we became fast friends.

After we heard the news on Monday morning that Greg had died, Doug asked me if I could imagine what my life would have been like without her.

The question brought me to tears.

“Absolutely not,” I said.

She has been part of every large and small thing that has happened in my life from the time I was 22-years-old — “a kid,” as she always said.

“Your mom might have raised you through childhood, but I raised you in Washington,” she said. There is so much truth in that statement.

Our Capitol Hill lunch bunch — the official Utah State Society with President Korologos at the helm

So, when I think of her not being part of my life, I am filled with immense sadness but also gargantuan gratitude.

How did I get so lucky to cross paths with her?

After that first annoying “buzzing” on the office phone, I never wanted to miss one of her urgent calls because they were always full of surprises like the time she called me and said, “Pack a bag. We’re going to the World Series!” And off we went to New York City to watch the Yankees and the Dodgers — a memory we always savored.

She had a code phrase for playing hooky at work too. If it was going to be a beautiful, sunny day, she’d call and say, “get your gear!” That meant, Joanne, Greg and I were taking a sick day and heading to Rehoboth, Delaware beach for sunshine, Dolly’s caramel popcorn, and shopping at her favorite stores.

Greg taught me to appreciate a handwritten, personal thank you note, a thoughtful gift, and the importance of always returning a phone call. “You’ll never make it in Washington if you don’t return every call,” she said.

She taught me to be a generous tipper, how to navigate around a congressional reception, how to cook and eat an artichoke, appreciate Greek pastries, festivals, and certain choice Greek words! She introduced me to high-end fashion brands I’d never heard of like St. John, Ferragamo, Gucci, and more. She took me in my first limousine ride and said, “Act normal like you do this every day! Don’t let anybody know you’re from Springville, Utah! and that you’ve never been in a limo!”

We went to White House events, Orioles games with front row seats right behind the dugout (Thanks to the generosity of her brother, Tom), Washington National’s games, birthday luncheons, Christmas dinners, Cherry Blossom Festivals, and more. We went to space shuttle launches, election night parties, Junior League Christmas events, St. Patrick’s Day parades, Kennedy Center productions, and even to a palm reader who shocked us both by how much she knew about us.

Greg ready to get a baseball in case one of the players rolled one across the top of the dugout

One night we were in Georgetown, and we walked past an ATM. She asked what it was, and I told her what it was and explained how it worked. “Are you serious? A machine on the streets that spits out cash?” She tried it over and over just because she couldn’t believe it.

There never has been and never will be anybody like Greg again in this life.

As our Garn office Chief of Staff Jeff Bingham said, “There are just so many things I could say about Greg — all of them superlatives and yet still so inadequate.” So absolutely true. She made an indelible impression on everyone she met.

Oh, how I will miss this one-of-a-kind woman

Rest In Peace, Gregoria, my forever friend. I will look forward to seeing you on the other side which surely has already become a more exciting, fun place now that you’re there lighting up its every corner.

I can picture you now holding court with everyone you know, taking your place as heaven’s most popular, entertaining angel, keeping everyone rolling on the floor laughing in the celestial aisles in the skies.

I can hardly wait to see you again because even at 87, you were too young to die.

If you knew Greg or even just knew of her, I’d love to hear your stories. If you knew her, I know you have stories, and I know they are unforgettable because she sure was…

Change, Friends, Personal

Funeral for a Friend

Yesterday, I was telling Doug about how I spent my day — at a funeral for a friend, Kay Banks Robbins, and then at a luncheon with some of my childhood friends. He said, “That sounds like a blog.”

Thanks for the idea, Doug.

Kay Robbins Banks

Kay was one of the funniest people I ever knew. She was a quiet presence in the room, but with one comment, she had us all in giggle fits. We laughed and cried our way through her beautiful funeral.

There’s something about childhood friends you just can’t replace.

Lisa Whelchel

I remembered Kay performing a hilarious parody of Olympic sportscasters when we were about 12 years old. She was a one-woman comedy act using the funniest voices and accents to announce events like the shot put and synchronized swimming.

The stories of her pranks are legendary. As her sister said, “she was usually close to the center of every prank.” For example, it was so thoughtful of her to place visual aids in the high school library books, like a piece of bologna in the “B” section of the dictionary. 

As we sat reminiscing at lunch at a restaurant on Main Street of our hometown, I thought of a quote from one of my favorite writers.

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be.”

Joan didion

You can’t go to a funeral for an old friend or have lunch with friends you’ve known since elementary or middle school and not think about the person you used to be. Even if you want to forget, they will remind you!

While we told stories about our great friend, Kay, we pulled up old photos that triggered some great memories.

One of the photos I found recently was the one below of our high school Booster Activity Club.

The Booster Activity Club. I’m the third from the right on the middle row

Can you picture this lovely group of formally dressed teenagers wanting to be in this club so much that they would endure a 1970s high school version of hazing?

Yes, we pushed pennies down the middle of Main Street with molasses slathered on our noses to help the pennies stay put.

We wore blindfolds and and swallowed what we thought were goldfish. (They turned out to be slimy peaches, but we didn’t know that until after we swallowed.)

And, we did all of this voluntarily.

As I left our day together, I thought of all these funny Main Street memories, and I thought of how much we will miss Kay, how there will forever be a hole in our group of friends.

We will miss her laughter, stories, friendship and fun, but we will never forget her.

We will remember the stories her children shared at her funeral like how she accidentally used cooking spray for mosquito repellant and how she was known as the Mary Poppins of Utah because she created fun and adventure everywhere she went, and she was practically perfect in every way.

We will remember her as one of our lifelong, forever friends.

When they carried Kay’s casket out of the chapel, one of my friend’s reached over and held my hand as our eyes filled with tears.

I thought about all the years that have passed and all the things that have changed in our lives, yet there we were together as if nothing had changed at all.

At the end of our luncheon, a man came up to our table and said, “I don’t know who you are but I can tell you sure have fun together!”

It reminded me of this meme…

Change, Friends, Home

10 Lessons about moving

I keep a five-year journal , a charming little gem that allows me to write five-line entries for five years.

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Every day, it tells me exactly what I was doing the previous year on the same day.

My daily entries from last year at this time included :

  • Last visit to our home in Virginia. That house is packed with memories. Not sure I can handle any more tears or goodbyes.
  • Signed our closing papers and hit the road for Utah. I can’t believe it.
  • Staying in Missouri.
  • Just outside Denver.
  • Arrived in Utah at our new home. Stood on the deck and marveled at the beauty.
  • Roughing it with a folding table, two lawn chairs and an air mattress until the moving van arrives.

As I read these entries, I thought about everything that has happened and changed in our lives in the last year.

Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned:

  • While moving is a major life decision and a big risk, it turned out to be easier than I expected.
  • At a going away party last year, a wise millennial friend said, “Don’t compare Utah to Virginia/D.C. Just take Utah for what it is.” Best advice ever.  It’s not better or worse. It’s just different. (Thank you Jason McDonald.)
  • There is beauty everywhere. While I love the green, lush world of the East Coast,  I love the spectacular mountains and scenery of Utah.

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  • Being near family is better than I imagined.
  • My Virginia friends are still my friends. I’m grateful for phone calls, texting, social media, and lots of visitors. fullsizeoutput_942

 

  • While I miss the vibrancy and closeness of the Mormon church community in the DC area, I’ve learned there are unique cultural challenges and tests of faith in different places. Again, one place is not better or worse. It is just different.
  • Going to the Outer Banks is still worth it. Even if we have to fly, rent a car, and go less often, it’s definitely still worth it.
  • Making new friends doesn’t mean I’m forgetting my old ones. I can cherish old friends and still make new ones. In fact, it’s essential. We all need friends — near and far.

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Reuniting with old high school friends — “You always go back to the people who were there in the beginning…”

  • Another wise friend who has moved many times in her life told me to give it a year to adjust. She said it takes a year to find doctors, hair stylists, dentists, favorite grocery stores, etc. and to feel comfortable in a new house, new neighborhood, new community. She said not to judge whether I like it until a year passed. She’s right. It requires some patience to rebuild your life in a new place.
  •  Finally, I’ve learned that being happy is a choice. So, I’ve decided over and over to be happy, and guess what? I am.

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