Sticky Friend

She opened the drawer, and I fell drooling into the pit of covetousness.

My father had driven us somewhere–maybe to Washington, D.C. The woman was, I think, a distant aunt. Her only child was about my age, who, like me, was trapped in the boredom of adult talk.

“Do you want to read a book?” his mother asked him, pulling open the chest’s bottom drawer. Sitting obediently quiet by my mother, I had been thinking about that chest of drawers. It seemed out of place in a living room. Didn’t a bureau belong in the bedroom? But when I saw that open drawer chock-full of children’s books–beautiful, wonderful companions waiting to be met and enjoyed–I threw conflict out the window and replaced it for a double amazement. So many books and he told his mother no! Without another word she closed the drawer.

But I can read too! I even have my own library card. I’ve had it since I was six.

I couldn’t read then, but I was old enough to join the library. As soon as my July 3 birthday came, Mama gave me permission to walk to the library for my card. The librarian, though, handed me another kind of card, saying my mother had to first fill it out and sign it. I walked back home, then back to the library.

As she handed me my card, the librarian tainted my pride of ownership with her admonition. “You can only check out one book at a time. You must prove you can take good care of a book and will return it on time.”

I ran home hugging my first book all the way. Mama immediately sat down with my brothers and me and read the story to us. Then back I went to the library for my second book. When I returned home, Mama said she wouldn’t have time to read that one until tomorrow.

My fourth-grade teacher took my appreciation of books to a new level. The school did not have a library as such, but each classroom sectioned off  a small semblance of one. Every week we could select a new book to take home. One morning Miss Snap showed us a dog-eared page in a book. As she smoothed the corner back up, I noticed there was a permanent crease. Then she made the statement that claimed my heart. “Books are our friends. We would never do this to a friend.”

Only once had I seen my father read a book. Someone in AA loaned him Alcoholics Anonymous. I was probably in the fifth grade when I saw him reading the big blue book.

By then I was cherishing books as forever friends. I felt they would never leave me even though I had to return them to the library, for we had shared special moments together. I wanted Daddy to have these lifelong friends too.

When my father finished the last page of Alcoholics Anonymous, my hope soared that he was hooked into reading another book. I watched to see if he would. He never did, and I never thought of what would motivate him. (Before the Door Closes, p. 41)

But I didn’t have to motivate my husband,who is as great a lover of books as I am. We were married for less than six months when we bought our first bookcase, which I still use today in my home office along with one that my father made from a wooden playpen while drunk one night and a barrister bookcase I snatched up at a resale shop because I could stack books two deep on its shelves. We made sure our children had bookcases in their bedrooms. The last time we moved we had a bookcase built on the entire length of one wall. Sometimes my husband looks at me and says, “We have to get rid of some books.” Inevitably I reply, “You first.” Of course, that ends the discussion. Anyway, it’s much easier to buy another bookcase.

The Bible says in Proverbs 18:24, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” I know who, what, and where my sticky friend is.

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The All-Weather Friend

“I was ‘startled,’ Judy, to receive your book,” my friend emailed me. “You know, we just don’t know people, do we?”

She was one of three out-of-state friends I surprised with a copy of Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father. They had had no inkling of my father’s alcoholism. The friendships were formed and maintained for decades without the trust of my shameful secret. I wouldn’t chance losing a friend who knew the whole truth about me.

Growing up, I wanted to have a best friend. But how could I start? I couldn’t invite anyone to my house. Daddy might be drunk.

The closest I got to having my desire for a bosom buddy was with my college roommate. Whenever we listed our preference for the next semester, I was afraid she would choose someone else. She liked me well enough, though, to stick with me for four years. But if she had known I was the daughter of an alcoholic, would that have changed her mind?

Her relationship with her father was totally different. He drove her back to college after the summer breaks. On one of those trips, she told me, he held her hand all the way from Florida to Tennessee. Strange! My father had never as much as put his arm around my shoulder.

In my forties I developed another close friendship. Her family had ties to my teenage neighborhood. Maybe she knew about my father’s history of alcoholism. I don’t know. We never talked of it, but we had a good time sharing stories about our children over lunch every few months. Then one day her name came up in a conversation with two other people. One of them said, “She is Judy’s friend that I took.” I wasn’t shocked. I had noticed the change in her and was glad I did not need to excuse it anymore.

But the friend who was emailing me about my book gift refused to read it until she laid down her ground rule: “Before I begin, I want to say I love you as a sister in Christ and as a person.”

“A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17).
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