My best friend smells of leather ballet slippers and lavender hand soap.
The scent mingles with the highlights in her hair as I hug her, taking me back to the nights spent sharing secrets on hardwood dance floors while nursing the blisters that came from uptight tap shoes.
And though I file away people I have met, placing their name beside a concordance of eye colors within my head, smelling my best friend became a new addition to daily routines only after I met Maggie.
Maggie was the queen bee of the nursing home I was forced to visit during a day of service in college. Truth told, I didn’t want to be spending my Saturday morning playing gin with old folks sharing stacks of Aces and Spades with the dentures sitting on both sides of me.
I made the Macho Mistake of checking my phone beneath the table while waiting for Maggie to make her move.
“I don’t understand all you young people,” Maggie spoke, directing her comment right at me without a tinge of hesitation. “You are always talking to one another on a screen. My grand-daughter talks to all her best friends on a screen. That is not a best friend! You need to be able to see your best friend, touch your best friend, smellllll your best friend.“
Maggie will forever be the reason why, when my first child asks me for a cell phone, I will retreat to a cedar chest settled beside my bed and pull out a chalkboard like the ones the pilgrims used to practice their ABCs upon.
“Here,” I will say, stringing the small board up with a bright red cord and saddling that little sucker right around my child’s neck. “This is even better than text messaging. You just write that message down and pass it your friend.”
Presto, handwriting practice and social interaction all in one swift swipe.
And then I will pull six more chalkboards from that cedar chest and plop them onto the table beside my child. “Here’s more, in case you need to send out mass messages.”
Yup, this conversation will take place right after I buy my girl her first petty coat and teach my son all the Right Ways to walk along the Yellow Brick Roads that Pave the Hearts of Young Girls: Tell her she is beautiful. Always. Never tell her she looks big in those jeans. Buy her flowers even if there is no occasion. Admire her and do not fear being in awe of her; there is nothing more radiant to watch than a young woman who knows her way.
But, in all seriousness, I am already fearfully watching from the car window as my children scurry onto the school bus; already pleading endlessly with the gods of socializing that they will sit beside Someone. And that they will like the bus ride adventure beside that Someone so much that they decide to share lunch with that Someone.
Their feet will grow bigger. Their hands will grow bigger.
But still, they will itch to sit with people and find Someones. And call before texting. And just show up even before calling. And know how to use those ten fingers of theirs.
Lesson Number One, my little kiddies: Your hands will never feel so full and so well used as when they find themselves enveloped and interlocked with those of another soul in need.
Another Restless, Itchy Soul who needs Love. Well, don’t we all need love? We might not know much of what we want in this life, nevermind what we actually need, but we know enough to distinguish how it feels to rest our heads on Certain Shoulders or to be wrapped up tight into Certain Arms. And let’s face it, no one told us we had to know everything so I think that sticking to knowing Shoulders & Arms & Ten Fingers and the power behind them is plenty.
Because that will give us enough of a good feeling, a right feeling, to go on knowing nothing at all.
No, I don’t want my children to miss out on that. To miss out on Certain Shoulders and Life Changing Conversations because their noses are super glued to Kindles or their minds are surfing the Internet ten thousand miles away from the dinner table they are sitting at. Their Faces Illuminated by the Glow of the Screen from Beneath Them.
I want them to know certain things that will never be unearthed from a pile of mobile devices, certain things that I believe will define their lives and leave them without worry as to what this life is actually for: the way it feels to say sorry in person instead of cowering behind an email address. The way it feels to gush over another human being without fear of being cut off after 140-characters. The way it feels to sit beside someone with Palms Sweating and Heart Racing; feeling so awkward, so uncomfortable, so anxious but so incredibly alive.
Lord knows one day I will be sitting in the same spot as Maggie, preaching to a restless youngin’ of the days when we still received letters in the mail and we trotted over to the neighbors to borrow a cupcake tin.
Cupcake tins, neighbors, and handwritten letters may all be extinct by the time I play gin with young college students.
But perhaps they will learn from me what Maggie so graciously taught in her preaching of smelling best friends: we have precious time upon us; spend it with friends. There is laughing to be heard, names to be learned, manners to be used and friends to be pulled in after a long spell of “Missing,” transporting you right back to the days of lavender soap and sitting on dance room floors.