Malls may be dying, but true friendship survives always

Published in the Duluth News Tribune


There is nothing better than reuniting with an old friend.  I first met Patti in 2nd grade, some fifty years ago.  Her birthday party was one of the first I attended outside my neighborhood.  I didn’t even know about things like apartments until that day, she lived in the downstairs.  The thing I remember the most about the party is the colorful balloons with the strings hanging down.

Through my grade school years, my friendships were mainly sustained through those within a few block walking distance.  Even though Patti moved into a new home on my same avenue, it still wasn’t close enough, and it wasn’t until we started Middle School that we reconnected.  A group of us girls decided we would walk to school together.  Meg would walk to my house, we’d then meet Patti on 11th street, and then we’d pick up Brenda and Peggy on 9th Ave.

I remember this experience as one of the first times I was unattended by a parent, outside the neighborhood perimeters.

The middle school years were filled with friendships coming and going, one day you had a best friend, the next day not.   I remember not always being sure why someone was mad at me, or why I was suddenly forgiven, but the real friendships, like the one I had with Patti, survived.

When Patti and I started High School, we continued to walk to school together.  She started sneaking cigarettes from her dad after school, and we smoked them in her dad’s workroom in the lower level.

Patti’s mom would usually ignore the evidence.  But not always.

“Patti?  You aren’t down there smoking, are you?!”

Patti would giggle, “No, mom.”

“That’s not what it smells like,” her mother would say with a hint of disappointment.

I think Patti’s mom preferred to keep the lines of communication open.  There were much worse things her daughter could be doing.  I thought she was choosing to lose this battle, a trite infraction in comparison to all the drugs and alcohol that were easily assessable to the teens in our community.

We weren’t what you’d call best friends, we were genuine friends.   We learned that it was safe for us to share our deepest secrets, our joys and pains of growing up.

After High School, I started a family, and Patti went to College.  It was almost five years later that we had a chance meeting, an exchange of phone numbers, and the cinder of our friendship fired up again.  And then she moved from our hometown of Ashland to Minneapolis.  She may as well have moved to Spain.

We sustained our friendship when she’d come home to visit her family.  After she started her own family, the time for us was limited to meetings after the children were in bed.  Exhaustion took over, and one day, we stopped calling each other.

It was almost twenty-five years since we had spent any amount of time together.  I always thought about her, wondering how she was, but I had no phone numbers or email addresses when I had the time to do something about it.  And then one day I was contemplating a ride on my exercise bike, and the phone rang.  With only three rings to get to the landline phone, I was going to let the answering machine pick it up. Thankfully my husband answered and brought the phone to me.

“Hello?” I said with a bit of impatience.  I was frustrated that my workout was going to be delayed.

The responding melodic ‘hello,’ triggered my heart to skip a beat.  It was Patti, her voice easily recognized without seeing her face.  “I took a chance that you still had your home phone.  I remembered the number so I thought I’d take a chance,” she said.  “It is so nice to hear your voice . . . ”

We chatted for at least an hour, easily picking up where we had left off all those years ago.  At the end of our conversation we made plans to meet at the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth, MN.  I needed a dress for a wedding and it was one of those times when I needed to try something on before I bought it, unlike the shopping I had become accustomed to on-line.

I hadn’t been there in years.

The mall was such a great social place.  The good smelling stores, the sweet tasting candies, foods for every appetite, the huge selection of clothing, jewelry, and household items.  Everything was there.

So, imagine my surprise when the first store I wanted to visit had a huge ‘Going Out of Business’ sign draped over the entrance door.

“Nooo,” I cried.  “Not Younkers!”

I was a bit in a daze as I wandered through the store.  Patti and I chatted about the emptiness of such a huge space, and what a loss it was to our community.

We continued our shopping and then I saw that same closing sign, draped over the Sears store.

“Nooo,” I said.  “Not Sears too?!”

“Malls all over the cities are closing down,” Patti said. “They say malls are becoming a dying breed.”

The echoing silence in the store gave me a feeling of regret.  We did this, I thought.  We have succumbed to what is easier, faster, and in our changing world of online shopping and wanting things now.

“I love this mall,” I said, fearing for the loss of this kind of social/shopping experience.

After two hours of shopping and finding the perfect dress, Patti and I easily found a place to sit in the center atrium.

We chatted about our past while observing the people that passed by.  When we reminisced about her dad’s horrible Tareyton cigarettes and our innocent thoughts of what we thought true love was, we laughed until it hurt.

To wrap up our visit, Patti and I went to Applebee’s, a few short steps from where we sat.  It was the perfect day.

When we parted in the parking lot, Patti heading South, me turning North, I felt delightfully recharged, with more of a youthful sense of self.  I looked forward to our next visit, hoping the Miller Hill Mall would be there for us.  I smiled in knowing that no matter where life brought us, our friendship will always kindle our hearts.






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