A First-and-Forever Friend is a rare human in this big world. Almost like a unicorn. And, I have one. I grew up in farm country and went to a small school. My graduating class had twenty-eight students, and most of us had been together since first grade. I’m still in touch with several of those people six decades later. (Hi, friends!)

My first-ever friend, though, was Judy Coleen. We were already friends when we walked into the scary hallways of the big school and took our seats in Mrs. Epperson’s classroom. Judy remembers that I corrected her grammar on that first day. I probably did. I’ve always been mouthy.I remember that we sat near one another in reading group. I think we were Bluebirds, and maybe that is why I’m still fond of those birds.

We are sitting next to one another in almost every school picture – even those class reunion shots years later. We read the same books most of our lives, and now we write novels with similar themes. We married our teen-age loves, and we each still think ours is the cutest boy at the dance.

Our paths diverged a bit in adulthood, but our friendship held. Even if we went years without seeing one another, we could pick up mid-sentence when we got back together.(Plus, we usually broke into happy tears when we met again. Our children grew accustomed to it.) We wrote letters, but not frequently. We made promises to get together, but we often failed to pull that off.

We didn’t live in the same neighborhood, and we didn’t do all the same stuff. Yet, we both felt that invisible connection across the miles. In tragedies, we reached out. In victories, we celebrated. Every year, we marked our autumn birthdays with cards, poems, pictures, and a promise to “get together sometime this year.” Finally, as we neared retirement age, we learned to put that promise on a calendar and actually keep our date.

Judy shows up in all the books I write. Not her name or a physical description, but her essence. The most obvious reference is when MaraLynn describes her relationship with Alexandra Marvel in The Marvel House. They are First-and-Forever-Friends.

That is how Judy and I sign our notes to one another now. I’m writing this post in honor of her birthday this month, because she is special, of course. And also because I hope to encourage you, Dear Reader, to reach out to someone you haven’t seen in a while.

Don’t let the passage of time keep you from connecting. Find someone who shared birthdays, perhaps. Or heartbreaks. Or prom dates. First-baby-blues, I’m-new-to-the-neighborhood-too, or lets-pray-at-this-altar. Think about the friends who have brought joy along your journey, and look one of them up this month.

Maybe the person who comes to mind was not your first friend. You still have time to make it Forever.