The spring of my sophomore year in high school, one of my best friends, Gail, got word that her dad had been offered and had accepted a job that meant they would moving back to the mainland.
This was all fine and dandy with Gail’s two younger sisters and her parents, but it was not at all fine with Gail. And because it wasn’t with Gail, it wasn’t with me.
So the two of us hatched a plot. We decided that since by the fall of the next school year my older brother would have moved out to attend college in Indiana, Gail could just stay on in Hawaii and live in my house, thus being able to finish her last two years at our high school.
We arranged a meeting of the two families to talk this proposal over, and somewhat to our surprise, our parents agreed. (Then we left it to the four adults to work out the details of figuring out Gail’s room and board, and other arrangements we weren’t capable of wrapping our adolescent minds around.)
I have to digress for just a moment to say: Do you know anyone who would do this nowadays? Just leave their 15-year-old daughter to live with an unrelated family for two years, 5000 miles distant, and trust that everything would be all right? I don’t think I do. Still amazes me, 40 years later, that we pulled it off.
Anyway, although Gail and I were the same age and the same grade and both mostly easy-going individuals, our first couple months in this new arrangement were bound to have their rocky moments, and in fact they did. We struggled a bit to get along until finally we reached a pivotal point where, from then on, all was well.
It happened on Thanksgiving.
My memory’s a bit vague, but as I recall, we had spent the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving just sort of sniping at each other: not flat out fighting, but not really getting along all that great. I’m sure there were tears. My poor mom must have been wondering how she was going to manage cooking for a bunch of guests and at the same time be there for a hanai (foster) daughter who was spending her first Thanksgiving away from home and family.
One of the families that was invited to our home that year was the Wilsons*. Mrs. Wilson was a colleague of my mom’s, and had what you might call a splenetic personality: she seemed to be perpetually in a state of ill-humor. At least that was our teenage perspective; I’m sure she was probably a totally decent, happy person.
Anyway, we were barely into the first course when Mrs. Wilson, after asking several questions about our temporary adoption arrangement, pronounced that it would never work: “By the end of the two years, they most certainly won’t still be friends,” was I think how she put it.
Gail and I looked at each other. At that moment, we could see in each other’s eyes, we had the same thought. The two of us, not in any kind of athletic way, but in more of a psycho-emotional way, are deeply competitive. (I don’t have time to go into our online Scramble games; suffice to say that neither of us likes to lose to the other.) And the gauntlet had just been thrown.
We determined then and there that no matter what, we would stick together and make this thing work, if for no other reason than to prove Mrs. Wilson wrong. I’m sure Mrs. Wilson had no idea that she became the motivation for the success of our relationship going forward. But that day, with our plates before us piled up with turkey and trimmings (because we had also planned some sort of challenge to out-eat each other — competitive; told you), was the beginning of Gail and me becoming not just best friends, but sisters.
Because in the end — and we had a private little commemorative moment on our graduation day — we could proudly tell Mrs. Wilson or anybody that we had weathered those two years and most certainly were still friends. Now, every Thanksgiving day, Gail and I make a point to call each other to say Happy Thanksgiving, and we always remember Mrs. Wilson and the challenge she put before us, and how it changed everything.
Happy Thanksgiving, Sister!
*names changed to protect the not-so-innocent