Peggy Cole is a self-published author who enjoys writing fiction stories, book reviews and articles about simpler times.
On the Beach
We met in 1976 at a hair salon where we both worked and discovered we'd both attended the same beauty school. When she turned twenty-one, she and a group of stylists left for a new salon. We lost touch until a couple of years later, when I took a job there, too. Standing behind a styling chair next to each other day after day, our friendship deepened.
I moved to Texas, back to Florida, then back to Dallas. Paula's birthday present from her mom in 1982 was a plane ticket to Dallas. My boss owned a 300-acre horse ranch and we toured her enormous house on the property before going to Southfork Ranch and the Gold Twin Towers. Then we drove to Oklahoma to see a real oil rig. We felt like Thelma and Louise on a road trip.
Looking Back in Time
Through the Years
She was the kind of friend that made you comfortable just being yourself. While visiting each other we watched TV or read novels sometimes not talking for hours. There was never pressure to do stuff or to go anywhere. We could just be there for each other.
Over the years our lives seemed to run parallel. We both earned our real estate licenses and moved into corporate jobs. We both became instant mothers to five-year old stepsons. We both felt the heartbreak of failed marriages. The eighties were turbulent, but we still had each other.
In 1988, we shared our first vacation at her timeshare on the Gulf Coast. It was close to the beach, had a heated pool, lounge chairs and all the shells we cared to collect. We grilled out with a spectacular view of the sunset before staying up most of the night watching rented movies. We made so much noise, the people in the next unit banged on the wall for us to shut up. Ah, good times.
Year after year she'd invite me to join her during timeshare week. There were rare years when I couldn't go but nearly every year we went come hurricanes or rain, sunshine or seaweed.
The third week every September was our time together with days of beach combing, collecting shells, baking in the sun and swimming in the pool. We'd pack up with sadness at the end of the week and drive back to her house where her shells would go into the garden. Our last night together would be reruns of Star Trek and dreading my early morning flight back home.
I'd call to let her know I got home safely and she would tell me she'd cried all the way from the airport to the house. She felt things deeply and wasn't afraid to show her emotions.
That's What Friends are For
When I would fly into Tampa International, she was always there to pick me up at baggage claim. We did tourist things visiting Universal Studios and Sea World. Busch Gardens was only a few blocks from her house. We could hear the screams from roller coaster riders and see them as they peaked the high point of the ride.
We ate many meals at the Village Inn over the years. We loved Houlihan's, Friday's, and Café Pepe where we enjoyed sangria and paella with homemade brown bread. We shopped the thrift stores for bargains and items to sell in my antique store. And we drove around the neighborhood where parrots would roost in the trees near her house. We always made a run past my old house that was only a few blocks from hers.
Things We Did
When I visited my dad in Winter Park, she would drive across the state and join me at his house for dinner sharing tales of her adventures of killing Cane frogs that invaded her back yard. Their poisonous secretions endangered her dogs and she would do anything to protect them. Her reenactments of stunning them with a shovel and hurling them over the fence kept us all entertained. Poor froggy.
Her dad was not part of her life so she felt strongly attached to mine. She was like a sister to me. When he passed away, I spent the next few days at her house, going to work with her and making the drive to his funeral together.
A Good Listener
She was a friend that remembered to call on birthdays, holidays and in between, always asking if it was a good time to talk and sharing the latest while listening attentively.
She had an incredible recall of my family's history, the names of aunts and cousins, the ups and downs of my job. Over the years our roles expanded to caregivers for our aging mothers and their live-in partners. We shared the joys and pain of those duties.
Through the Years
Voice Mail Tag
In May of 2017, I'd left a couple of voice mail messages and hadn't heard back. She usually returned calls within a couple of days. When she finally called, her voice was hoarse and strained. She apologized for the delay confiding she'd spent the past 10 days in the hospital. They'd run a battery of tests and she had been waiting for results.
Nothing could have prepared me for what she said. It wasn't good news. The tests showed she had pancreatic cancer. I wanted to go see her immediately but she wanted me to wait until she started chemotherapy. By then, her 83 year old mother would need a break.
There were delays in treatment and changes of medical facilities due to scheduling issues. The end of June I flew to Tampa despite her protests. Paula was growing weaker. I could tell. She was unable to eat more than a few bites of food. She'd have terrible gastric reactions when she did.
I wasn't prepared to find her looking so frail. Skeletal by her own description.
I'll never forget her comment, "Don't think the irony of this disease is lost on me. All my life I've struggled to lose weight and now I'm dying of starvation."
My friend was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. After weeks of not eating, she was too weak to take the chemotherapy. But she was resilient and still hoped to beat this disease. She wanted to travel and visit places she'd never seen.
Right to the last, she was grateful for even the small comforts and blessings of life. She had loving friends who considered her as a sister, the affection of her beloved dogs and a mother who loved her dearly.
She passed away in July, just two short months after her diagnosis. I find myself reaching for the phone to call her, even now and still dream of us sharing a meal or sitting in her living room with the dogs, the cats and her cockatiel.
She loved Jesus and I hope she's had a chance to meet Him and reunite with her pets that have crossed the rainbow bridge: Chevas, Aramis, Nevy, Spunky, Chloe, Zoey, Hansel, Gretel, Dakota and TC Wilson.
Paula is gone but not forgotten. She lives on in my memories.
© 2021 Peg Cole