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I keep the image on my computer’s desktop, so that when I spend more hours than I’d like at that computer, I can switch to the photo, pause and smile. It’s a portrait of love of the purest kind.

Not romantic love. Not hearts-on-fire sizzle. Not even the love of a parent and child.

No, this image is of two little girls looking into the camera almost wistfully, heads close together, locked in a five-year-old best-friend kind of embrace. Each has a hand on the other’s chin, lovingly, protectively.

Those little girls are my own granddaughter, Carly, and her beloved Aleila. From the moment they met in their respective strollers as toddlers, something magical clicked between them.

Because Carly’s and Aleila’s mothers go way back, and because they ended up living in the same town once they were married and homesteading, Carly and Aleila are growing up together. And loving it.

I have so delighted in watching these two, as opposite as any little girls can be, clinging to each other through what would constitute life’s ups and downs at age five.

They beg to play together. They can’t bear to part when one has to go home. And they are not too old to sob inconsolably when the moment of parting comes.

Aleila is fair-haired and delicate. Somewhat shy. Soft-spoken. Angelic.

Carly has shiny dark hair and has a certain spunky charm. Her voice is raspy. Her laugh is wonderful. And in this love fest, she seems to be captain to Aleila’s lieutenant.

As I watch them, I can’t help but remember other sets of best friends – including Carly’s mother, our daughter Amy. A middle child, Amy always seemed to be reaching out to others, seeking a place to feel special.

So Amy was fierce about friendships and instantly on the alert if she felt slighted in any way. Her “bestest” friend for those tender years was a little girl named Laurie, who ultimately dropped her. Amy wept for one long day, then went right out and found another “bestest” friend.

I remember firstborn Jill’s first pal, a beautiful child named Colleen who had lots of brothers and sisters, and sought Jill only when she was somehow stranded. There is a birthday party picture of Jill and Colleen at that stage when little girls unabashedly cling to one another and seem incapable of being pried apart.

I keep that photo on a little table in our bedroom, not just because of its sweetness, but also because it was a child’s first foray into that big world out there – without mommy.

Our daughter Nancy and her friend Caroline found one another back in the carpentry corner at nursery school and never let go. It was a friendship that was meant to be.

Caroline and her family moved away just when all the anxieties of middle school were heaped upon these best friends. I sometimes think that trauma is one of the things that propelled Nancy into becoming a psychologist, although I’m sure she’d debate the point.

But perhaps I remember more vividly than she does how Nancy stood sobbing in Caroline’s driveway as the moving truck, and then the family car, pulled away. It’s an image that was permanently imprinted on my own breaking heart.

So as I watch Carly and Aleila – as I see the sheer delight in their faces when they spot one another arriving for a play date, or meet by chance at the local supermarket, I rejoice for them and with them.

I know there’s no telling how long this love fest will last. I understand that even a year from now, they may have a parting of the ways. But this I do know: Time and tides may come and go – but there’s never a best friend quite like your first.

March 2011
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