My Friend Shirley

I was a young mother moving away from my home of south Louisiana to Virginia where my husband was stationed with the US Navy.  The year was 1988 and there were no cell phones, home computers or GPS devices.  It was a new life in a big city with no family or friends for hundreds of miles.

 My husband would be traversing mostly onboard the USS Shreveport; I had to figure out how to navigate an unknown area with two children under four years old.  My solution was to look up addresses of businesses in a phone book.  I then located the address on a city map and mapped out a route from my location to my destination.  I was able to find my way to the grocery store, medical facilities, church and so on.  I am a person with no sense of direction, so I felt quite accomplished with myself!  My first year in Virginia, I was a stay- at- home mom getting acquainted with new surroundings and reassuring my little ones that this new, strange land was safe and was now home.

A year later, during one of my husband’s deployments, I felt secure enough to venture out into the workforce.  After obtaining a sitter for the kids, I walked up the steps to Sussex Apartments’ office and met my future boss/friend, Shirley.

My first impression was – this is not going to work out!  I found Shirley to be nothing like anyone I had ever met.  Here I was, this short, conservative, modest, Catholic wife and mother; there was Shirley, a platinum blonde, heavy make-up and spike high heel wearing divorcee – we were the very definition of opposites!  Looking back on that moment, I imagine it was comical to behold!  She carried herself with such elegance and self-confidence; I knew I had just met a force to be reckon with!

Always polite, I carried on a conversation with Shirley and smiled while she ranted about her current assistant, who she described as “drab and depressing.”  She complimented my smile and thought out loud that I would be such a welcome change to the office.  I left that interview not knowing what the heck just happened!  Shirley and I seemed to hit it off and talk effortlessly – I saw something in her that I lacked, and she evidently saw something in me.  Before long, I was sitting at the front desk and working daily with the ever surprising and bodacious Shirley!

Why the two of us got along so well is still a mystery!  I had two little kids at home and an early bedtime. She had two Russian wolfhounds and no bedtime.  She dressed to kill every day and flirted with every man that walked in the door, married and unmarried alike.  I was friendly and sweet with everyone, but always was careful to keep my distance.  She walked into a room and lit it up with her presence; I was shy and quiet trying not to bring attention to myself.  She visited psychics and was very New Age.  I loved my Catholic faith and had never been exposed to such things. We were worlds apart as far as personality; yet for a time, she was my dearest friend and confidant. 

Shirley had a huge heart!  She genuinely cared about her staff and residents.  I watched her cry over employee firings and rejoice at our accomplishments.  A lonely, elderly neighbor to our office was visited almost every evening by Shirley.  I accompanied her once or twice while the gentleman served us cake and talked about his wife that had passed.  

My best memories of Shirley are from Christmas. Shirley absolutely loved Christmas!  She took great care to decorate for the Christmas season and was a gracious hostess to our Christmas party.  The season of giving just delighted her to no end. 

I still love that dear woman to this day – even though I have not seen her since my family moved back to Louisiana – thirty years ago!  I was just in my mid-twenties then and Shirley and I made plans to visit over the years; but life is just so busy that it never happened.  Each year for Christmas, I receive Virginia salt-water taffy from my friend, and I ship out some Louisiana gumbo to Virginia.   We exchange Christmas cards and catch up once a year.  Since I have seen Shirley, I had a third child, and watched my children graduate and get married.  I am now a grandmother and have a blessed life with my love of thirty-seven years and our dog, Archie.  Shirley, now retired, has been a mother to many fur babies over the years.  I have numerous photos of her rescues who were treated to a wonderful dog life!

The time I spent in Virginia was intimidating – I was a fish out of water.  My friend, Shirley, took me under her wing and filled my days with laughter while listening to her escapades.  Whenever I think of her, I smile, and that has to be the most wonderful compliment I could give anyone – you make me smile!

Merry Christmas Shirley and thank you for the taffy!

Your friend still,

Sherry

Shirley, 1989

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