We were like two fish out of water, my friend Elizabeth and I. Except technically, I was in the water, pregnant and whale-sized in my red and blue maternity swimsuit, making sure my year-and-a half year-old son wouldn’t try and venture off the swimming pool steps — and despite his flotation devices — get in water over his head and that my 7-year-old would surface each time he dove for the rock he had thrown into the pool.
Elizabeth sat at the edge of the pool, feet dangling, trying (I think) to let her mind rise above it all, despite the fact her 8- and 9-year-old daughter and son, egged on by my son were splashing so obnoxiously that all who were within 15 feet of the pool were bound to get wet.
All the truly beautiful people — childless, of course — were lounging poolside caring mostly about getting the perfect tan, but wondering (I’ll warrant) why the homeowner’s association had ever allowed the likes of us to live in the condominium complex with them.
Gosh. That was 29 years ago. And it was the beginning of a beautiful and wonderful friendship. We were — are — kindred spirits. Not at first glance so much. No. Our likeness is a deeper, more fluid-like mind and spirit bond. We’d landed in Florida — both of us — because of the most discombobulated set of life circumstances.
It was as if we’d looked and said, “Oh no, that will never work.” So we closed our eyes and leapt, anyway. Thinking, I guess, that whatever didn’t work, we’d figure out when we got there.
She’d come from Minnesota, getting away from a bad marriage and situations she didn’t talk about much, but dedicated to succeeding with her second marriage. I’d come from Illinois — but that was just a technicality — I was from Texas (born and bred) and dreamed someday of going back.
Anyway, there we were. In Florida. A strange, odd place we thought. We couldn’t go back to where we had been, and so, despite the disdain it might cause for the people by the poolside, we were going to make the best of our tough situations. I believe it was me who said to Elizabeth, “If you’re going to live in a condominium with a furnished pool in Florida, you need to take advantage of it.”
And take advantage we did. Actually, our situations were that we took advantage of every free and extremely economic opportunity we could. Picnics on the beach; Friday-night family movies in the park; festivals in Ybor City (downtown Tampa); beefsteak tomatoes, peas and watermelons we could buy for pennies (practically) at the little roadside stand on the city’s edge. We delighted in pooling our resources (mostly groceries, but other things too, like my stack of Crafts magazines and arts and crafts supplies and her discipline and organization). You know what I mean. Making do so none of us had to do without.
Elizabeth was an artist. A quilter. A seamstress. Photographer. She has a perfect sense of logic, but with an earth mother’s heart.
I was a writer, who needed work, but wasn’t sure what I was going to do if I found it. But given the chance, I thought someday I might write a book. Or become a newspaper columnist.
Neither of us knew it at the time, but our life’s joy awaited. As much delight as we found in being mothers, being grandmothers is so much more delightful.
We built each other up. More than that, we always seemed to understand one another. Elizabeth would talk of home — Minnesota, like I would talk of Texas, with a near tear in the eye and a bit of gravel in our tone. When finally my chance came to return to Texas, she wrote in a goodbye note, “I wonder, if Texas and Minnesota might not really be the same place. The place we would go back to if we could.”
We never lost touch, Elizabeth and I. But we didn’t stay in touch. We know why, but we hate to say. We just got busy.
I think of Elizabeth often. Her wisdom. Her laugh. The home she made, where lovely meals were fixed and beautiful gardens grew.
So here’s something wonderful. The other night, about 3 a.m., Elizabeth couldn’t sleep. In her wakefulness, she thought about me and “googled” “Candace Fulton, San Angelo, Texas.” And there I was all over the Internet, she wrote in an email.
Just that easy. My old friend’s been found.
Candace Cooksey Fulton is a freelance writer, formerly of Brownwood, now living in San Angelo. Her weekly columns are published Sundays in the Brownwood Bulletin and Thursdays in the San Angelo Standard-Times and are unique for each paper. She can be reached at email@example.com.