Between first grade and sixth grades, I changed schools five times; only once was I without a friend. In Anchorage, Alaska, I’d walk through the door and tell my mother, “Mary and I painted on easels,” or “We saved our silver crayon for special coloring.” In Tanana, along the Yukon River, Sally and I baked oatmeal-raisin cookies. In Tulare, California, Linda and I incessantly colored “stained glass” designs we randomly scribbled and after school rode our bikes with streamers flying on the handlebars. In Soldotna, Alaska, Karen and I tunneled in tall grass along the beach bluffs.
In Browning, Montana, I sat alone in class. No one would be coming to my house after school; no one to whisper to in the clarinet section. That was the year I stopped eating and I learned to cry without making a sound, in the bathroom stalls.
As an adult, I climbed my first of Colorado’s 53 mountains over 14,000 feet. Courtney was my guide and inspiration. I followed her deliberate zigzag traverse to the summit. “Just three steps this way– and stop to breathe,” she said. I couldn’t have done it alone.
Twice a day, I walk my English Cream Retriever. On a mild day, the time goes quickly. I observe Taffy sit and survey the deer, cock her head and watch the cows, or pounce on a vole hole. But on days when the wind howls and I know I’ll need long johns and a wool scarf, I’m not eager to go out. (Taffy already has her thick white fur coat on and earflaps down.) I text Melissa. She’ll meet us! Her long-legged Vizsla bounds towards Taffy. They race up and down the hills. Melissa and I talk about good books, places we’ve explored, and how we should have worn snowshoes. Forty-five minutes later we smilingly tell each other what a great walk it was. Alone, I might have turned back.
Anyone who has quilted knows how time progresses more quickly, and with more pleasure, when more than one person engages in the process. “Look how much we got done!”
When my grand boy relocated from Canada to Colorado, his parents wanted him involved in Drama Camp, Lego Camp, and Vacation Bible School. He is outgoing and social, yet he protested loudly, “But I don’t have a friend.” No one.
In a letter to my father’s parents in California, my mom wrote on January 13, 1963, “We wanted to work on the homestead Wed morn but didn’t have the courage to go out in the bitter cold, we did however go out yesterday in the heavy fog… the snow is getting deep enough that it really bogs us down, we cut and trimmed 12 trees, even got a fire going after sprinkling on some gas.”
It took my parents three winters to clear an airstrip, nearly a half-mile long. Imagine if only one of them had been working? Six years? Would one have given up in the hip-deep snow? In the below zero temperatures? One and one equal two; and two makes “we.”
If you’re not an extroverted person who gleefully assesses a group of people like a bee views a patch of clover, “we” doesn’t have to be a group. One come-along-side person is all the encouragement we need. One is a powerful number.
This article was first printed in “The Country Register” (Kansas), Jan/Feb 2016 issue. i
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