I lost my first best friend.

It was “Mary Ruth” and “Mary Jane” from the time we were able to toddle around together until high school. We were together every day. If someone saw one of us by ourselves they’d ask where the other one was.

She was born a week before I was — and frequently reminded me that she was the oldest. We started in the Sunday School class for the youngest children — when you are just big enough to sit in a little red wooden chair – and we graduated from high school together. We started first grade in the “Little School House” — a one-room building in the center of town. Miss Patricia was strict but we were quick learners, good students, and school was exciting for us. When we moved to the Big School, three or four blocks away, we were intense rivals for the highest grades each year. Mary Jane was always the smartest one in the class in every subject, every year. I came close but she was always better in math so when we graduated from high school, she was valedictorian and I came in second.

We both lived on Main Street, just a dusty graveled road. They lived about three blocks west of our house and by the time we were 5, we were free to go back and forth to each other’s houses whenever we wanted to. They had a big screened-in porch which was cool in the summer and tall trees with shady places to play. There was a huge tree across the street from our house and we spent hours up in its branches, exploring the mysteries of the world.

We both loved to read. We took piano lessons and played duets for recitals. She had a passion for horses and dogs which, if I didn’t match, appreciated. She liked bread and butter sprinkled with sugar for an after-school snack. I didn’t.

When they moved into a new house on the west edge of town, they had a full basement to play in, a grape arbor to spend long hot afternoons under, lots of room for adventures. We were practically a member of each other’s family. We went with each other’s families to the movies, on picnics and swimming. We spent nights at each other’s houses, often sleeping under the stars in the hot summer. I remember many a night with her big sister, Eleanor, their cousin, Mary Emily, Mary Jane and I all piled merrily into one bed for the night.

We’d call each other on the phone. “Meet me halfway,” one of us would say excitedly. “I’ve got something to tell you!” And we’d trudge up the hot, dusty road to rendezvous.

We shared secrets, hopes, dreams, ambitions.

With high school, things began to change. Mary Jane “went steady” earlier than I did; I had some other “best friends,” we didn’t spend as much time together. But I don’t know how many times her boyfriend of the moment would have some nerd of a friend who was the one with the car and she would cajole me into double-dating. Usually only once per nerd!

She planned to go to Oklahoma State University — then Oklahoma A&M. I desperately wanted to go too so we could be roommates but Daddy insisted I go to the school my mother had attended. Home for holidays, we quickly got together to compare experiences. The next summer we both were a lot older and more knowledgeable. She had dropped the Jane; I the Ruth and we were just Marys, except at home, of course. We spent long hours walking and talking.

Then we both planned weddings with men we’d met in our freshmen year at school. Hers was first. I was her maid of honor and we both knew it was a major turning point in our lives. Our talks were bittersweet, remembering all our hours, our days, our dreams together because we knew we would be going our separate ways for sure, now.

One week later, same church, I got married but she was already gone.

We got to see each other briefly over the next few years then she moved to Idaho, a long way from Oklahoma. Our lives, careers, families changed as lives do.

We got together again at our high school class’s 40th reunion and it was like we had parted the day before. We picked up exactly where we had left off, talking, laughing, as comfortable as going barefoot. The next morning we all went to a little country church to hear a classmate preach. She and I sat side by side and we giggled and whispered as we had done from the age of 2. Only this time, there was no disapproving mother to insert herself in between us.

We were last together for our 50th class reunion. We had three wonderful days of get-togethering. She and I sat in a motel room and did serious catching up and, again, it felt so right.

We are so lucky when we have a friend that lasts a lifetime — a true friend who understands you and lets you understand them. A friend that even when you don’t see her for 30 or more years, she is still in your heart.

She was my first best friend and I will always miss her.

— Mary McClure lives in Lawton.

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