INTRODUCING TEA RAILENE

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There are so many pieces I would love to share, but this is definitely still one of my favorites. This essay first appeared in a Cup of Comfort for Friends, the first book to publish my work. Enjoy!

THELMA RAE

Thelma caught my attention with a wave of her arm from where she sat on the beach just below me. Blue jeans rolled up to her knees, she sat digging her bare toes in the warm sand as she worked.  Her curly hair had become a victim of the coastal wind as it blew across her face. At 36 years old, she looked as much a teenager as I did, and even with the 18-year age difference, she had long been my best friend. Waving again, the tablet fell from her lap as she motioned me to join her.

A strange way to spend an afternoon for some, for us it had become almost a tradition. Thelma and I shared a love for writing, and Simpson Beach was such an inspirational place to work. We would each bring our tablets and find a comfortable seat. Then sitting apart to avoid the temptation to sit and chat instead, we would work as the waves crashed and the seagulls sang from above us. A large wolf-shaped rock in the water off shore would watch over the scene--Wise Old Timmons, Thelma called him. 

I climbed down from the ledge ten feet up the base a sandstone cliff where I had nestled with my tablet. Work time was obviously over, and it was time to play. Joining her in the warm sand, our tablets were soon forgotten as we ran along the water?s edge, splashing in the waves. Like two kids we threw pieces of driftwood into the surf and waited for them to come back.

Then we were off to visit the tide pools that were located at the edge of the rock cliffs on one side of the beach.  Thelma loved to poke her fingers in the tiny sea anemones. I seldom dared touch them myself, but it was fun to watch them suck long, sticky tentacles into a soft wad of color attached to a rock. Sometimes we also found starfish and tiny crabs that we had to hold a moment before letting them go back to their pool. Every visit to Simpson Beach was full of new discoveries to explore and it was always an afternoon well spent.

Thinking back now I remember so many nights we sat up until dawn just talking. It was no wonder we were best friends. We had so much in common--a love of Chinese food and soft music, the Oregon coast and, of course, writing. Sometimes during our long talks Thelma would get philosophical and give me advice about life. She taught me that every now and then, grownups do say things worth listening to.

 "It is better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it," she used to say all the time. I don't know if she made the little phrases up or if she read them somewhere, but even today I find myself hearing them echo through my head at just the right moments.

 I remember when I became old enough to date, she decided to impart words of wisdom. She told me there are two things to always remember when searching for that perfect guy, your soul mate. The first one was if you wanted to truly judge a man?s character and know that he is a gentleman, watch him around children and dogs. If he takes the time to show them affection, he will do the same for you. It seemed silly back then, but it also made sense.

 "Secondly," she said, "You will never find a perfect man. The trick is to find one with faults you can deal with." I wondered at the time if she ever thought about looking for her soul mate. She had been married once for about ten years, but her husband had died in a logging accident. She had been single since then.

 At twenty-five years old I finally did marry and our time together lessened, but we always stayed close. Soon after I got married, I had a daughter and Thelma was with me in the delivery room. She breathed through the contractions with me for fifteen hours and held my hand while they stitched me up when it was through. 

I named my daughter Tessa Rae, giving her Thelma's middle name. I will never forget that beaming face as she repeated it over and over again.

 Things got harder after that. My husband accepted a job three hours away and we had to move. Thelma's health had not been good and I worried about her daily, but we stayed in touch faithfully. I tried to talk her into moving too, but then one day she called me at work from the hospital.

 It was cancer, terminal cancer because they had not caught it in time. The phone almost hit the bakery floor as I fumbled, in shock, to keep it to my ear with those words thundering through my head.

 "I'm on my way," I heard myself whisper.

"Can you bring some of those lemon-filled donuts?" she answered. I could almost smile as I pictured her dancing blue eyes pleading.

 I arrived in the evening when the hospital was quiet, but Thelma's room was full of beeps, buzzers and strange faces. I knew I must be pale, but I put on a brave face and marched around the corner into her room. Thelma hadn't changed. She sat high in her bed, busily teasing the nurses. Before I knew it, she was lecturing me about keeping positive. 

 The cancer quickly traveled from her lymph nodes, then into her bones and finally into her brain. I held her hand daily, watching her fade slowly. My Thelma, once so intelligent could now barely speak.

 During our last visit, I retold old stories about Simpson Beach to those eyes so hollow and blue. She could not say much, but I know I saw a smile as I sat Tessa Rae on her belly in the hospital bed. Thelma weakly lifted both hands so she could play patty cake one last time.

 Now I embrace those memories and pass them along to Tessa and her brothers, along with the words of wisdom. I also try to write regularly, eat Chinese food and go to the Oregon coast as often as I can to pass on the legacy of my friend. You see, Thelma was someone extra special. Not only was she my best friend, she was also my mom.


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