Dear My Forever Best Friend . . .

Victoria Ann with Nita and Jim LaRue.

We all have friends. Some of them are always there while others tend to shrink into the backgrounds of our lives when things are going a bit rough. We all know who “those” friends are. It’s not often that you run across people who hold themselves and those around them to a higher standard. They make you better because you know them, and when you do find that type of friend, you’d better hold on tight to them! They are rare gems, and they make a difference with everyone they touch.

My former neighbors, Jim, and his wife, Nita, are such friends. They built their home when the children were little and soon were adopted on both sides as family. Almost every day Victoria Ann would walk over to their home to be greeted by her surrogate grandparents. Our relationship grew, and it became obvious to me, if not to them, that with both my parents dead, they would be filling that gaping hole in my life and the lives of both of my children.

Through the years, we have gone through life together. Nita has showed Victoria Ann how to drive, given her lessons each week and taught her responsibility by caring for and showing her beloved pugs. Back when I was doing the Hope and Inspiration breast cancer calendars, I was able to feature Nita and celebrate her cancer-free diagnosis. We have survived two hurricanes together with their pugs and our cats. Daddy lovingly would refer to my cats as “roadkill” just to rile me up, and I would let him just a little! (I’m winking!) We would sit outside and enjoy a cigar and a bourbon and discuss the plight of the world. Daddy, a decorated naval veteran, had in his arsenal a library of stories of being at sea and of life. He is not a man you want to make mad and one, who like my own Father, commands respect in his sheer presence. Perhaps that’s why he got the title of “Daddy” – not something  I call  many men because they have to earn it. My standards are high too, and both Daddy and I get each other. I consider him one of my forever best friends.

When the neighbors decided that shooting pictures wasn’t something they wanted me to do, it was Daddy who stepped up and had my back. He sat with me many a night and listened to me scared that I would have  to leave my home and all that Brian and I had worked so hard to build. He assured me that was not going to happen, and he stuck his neck out and stood up for us and made sure that indeed the issue was resolved without us moving. I do not know of any other person in my life who would have done that. That, my friends, is what a true friend does. It’s what a real man does, and it is rare and special.

When we had hurricane Rita, we all loaded up in the RV and trekked together with their pugs and our dogs and cats and went to San Antonio. We spent hours in that sea of traffic with so many other Houstonians evacuating, and Daddy swore that if we ever had another storm, we were not doing that again! He installed the biggest and baddest generator, and I bought wood for both our houses and had it custom cut to fit all of our windows. When Ike struck, we were hunkered down and ready with weeks worth of food from my kitchen and plenty of air conditioning and running water to tend to ourselves and other neighbors and friends.

With age came health issues and the need to move back to be closer to their biological family. We have stayed in touch weekly over the last two years even though we have not been able to see each other. “Mom,” aka “Granny Nita,” was here last year for Victoria Ann’s wedding, and early this year, we found out that Daddy was not well – the kind of not well that everyone dreads.  But Daddy, as we anticipated, like the warrior he is, strapped on the big guns and put up with more than necessary in tests and treatments.

It is always difficult seeing our loved ones die. I do not know why we don’t prepare ourselves better for it, because we all know there is an end to this version of “us.” I am grateful to have been given many things in this life.  For one, my friendship with Jim or “Daddy,” and the opportunity to know and love a great man. He is a loyal friend with a true, kind and always joking spirit.  He is that someone whom I am quite sure my own father is waiting to meet and thank for taking care of his daughter and his grandchildren like a daddy and a grandfather since he never got to.  I am comforted in the fact that my sweet Daddy is not going very far and will be near to me once again when I no longer need this casing for my spirit.  And while I am going to miss his jokes and antics for a while, I am sure we will be together once again someday. I expect you, Daddy, to keep “the generators running” until I can get to you, and we all hang out once again!

All my love in this life and the life thereafter.

Take Care of YOU!