Tuesday, June 11, 2002

They're best friends

What makes a great friendship? These friends talk about what makes theirs so good

        The essence of friendship is creating a fine balance of compassion and forgiveness between two people who choose to meet again.

        Sustaining friendship may be challenged by time and distance. People grow up, grow apart. But some never break the union. Those people become best friends.

        Friendship is special because it's a choice, says Dr. Martha Moody, a Dayton internal medicine specialist and author. Dr. Moody will be in town Thursday to sign copies of her novel Best Friends.

        “To maintain it requires extra effort, forgiveness and understanding.”

        Here are some Tristate best friends. Their friendships have withstood time and distance, marriage and children, transfers and careers.


Sheila Williams and Leslie Sawyer

        When some friends say they've known each other since birth, it's a slight exaggeration. For Sheila and Leslie, it's the truth.

        Their parents and grandparents were friends so their girlfriend status was a given. They “met” when Leslie's mother brought her daughter along for a visit after Sheila's birth.

        “We have been friends ever since,” says Mrs. Williams. “...We are always picking up conversations started 47 years ago when I learned to talk.”

        They both grew up on the east side of Columbus less than five minutes apart. They went to the same elementary and Sunday schools, parting ways at high school. Even then, they got together on weekends for teen basement parties and lots of girl talk. They went to different colleges.

        Sheila is now an author (her book Dancing on the Edge hits bookstores in late fall) and Leslie works for the Ohio Board of Regents. They're both married; Sheila has two children. Leslie lives in Columbus and Sheila's now in Newport. How have they managed to stay in touch for more than 48 years?

        “We really are very different people,” says Mrs. Williams, “but we have a lot in common. Knowing the same people, growing up in the same neighborhood. We have a commonality of memory. Our friendship is so valuable now. We don't have a lot of friends from back then and there aren't that many around to talk to now.”

        Leslie is very close to Sheila's two children and godmother to daughter Bethany.

        “She's like an aunt to the kids,” she says. “She always buys them gifts, and Beth calls her Aunt Leslie. She's just the kind of person children love.

        “Our friendship is very precious. We don't always talk every week but when we do, an hour goes by like five minutes. She's very valuable to me.”


Mei Tang and Fay Zhao

        As a first-year student at Shanghai International University in 1981, Mei Tang found herself sharing a small dormitory room with Fay Zhao, a girl from Beijing she didn't know. Twenty-one years later, Mei and Fay have stayed in touch and consider each other best friends.

        With all the pressures of college, how were they able to begin a friendship?

        “She chose me to be her friend,” says Mei, an assistant professor of counseling at the University of Cincinnati.

        “We were in a cohort group, like in elementary school, so being together as friends just stuck with us. We just became really good friends.”

        They continued as roommates for two years, Mei in the top bunk and Fay in the lower. The two remained inseparable even after moving to separate quarters for the remainder of their schooling. After graduation, Mei moved to Minnesota and then Cincinnati, they continued their friendship through the mail and intermittent visits.

        “We changed jobs, got married and Fay had a daughter,” says Mei, “but we always stay in touch. She came to Milwaukee once for a business trip and we talked for hours. We took a trip together one Christmastime to Milwaukee and Ottawa to see other classmates.”

        Technology has made their friendship stronger. They communicate daily by e-mail and send faxes frequently. Fay, who owns her own marketing firm in China, always works a visit to Cincinnati into her busy schedule so the former classmates can be together.

        “We had a really good time while she was here last time,” she says. “Every summer when I go home, we visit in Beijing,” where her parents still live.

        Mei's grateful to have kept such a long friendship going in spite of time and distance. But she says it's easy when you have a friend like Fay.

        “She's a great friend and a thoughtful person.”


Julie Levis and David Aldinger

Julie Levis and her daughter Kristin Levis, 4 playing checkers with David Aldinger at his Montgomery home.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        When Julie met David in 1987, they had been pushed together by mutual friends. The typical matchmaking setup by friends of friends.

        “I was bartending at the Silver Spring House (in Symmes Township), Julie says, “and some friends kept saying "you gotta meet Dinger. You guys'd be perfect.”'

        So they met and eventually had that first date.

        “The first time we went out, he said we'd be married one day.”

        Two years later, they were. Five years later, they weren't.

        “We had a great marriage in 1990,” she says. “But we recognized that we had grown apart and went hand in hand through our divorce in 1995. I think we became even better friends after that.”

        “If we don't speak every day, it's odd,” says David.

        In 1997, Julie gave birth to daughter Kristin. Although not her birth father, David eagerly included Kristin in the circle of friends and continues to be part of her life.

        “Through all of this, David's always been my best friend,” Julie says. “He was with me when my mom passed away, through the birth of my daughter. There's not a day that goes by that we don't talk. It's an unconditional friendship, the acknowledgment that nobody's perfect. No matter what you do, there's always that person in your life who doesn't judge you and who's always there for you.”

        Their post-marriage friendship has puzzled family and friends. Those who knew of their divorce were surprised to see the three of them behaving like a family.

        “We'll be out somewhere and run into friends,” Julie says, “and they'll ask Dave, "is this your daughter?' He'll answer, "no, that's my Kristin.' ”

        “Kristin's my best friend and my hero,” says David. The two are a golf twosome, and he enjoys helping the 4-year-old steer the golf cart. “When I'm with her, it makes me feel like a kid again.”

        Their friendship has even withstood Julie's relationships with other men, including her current boyfriend. “It's hard on him, but this is a unique relationship with David,” she says. “It's a non-physical relationship that will never end, and nothing comes between that.”

        She credits the success of their long-term friendship to maturity. They appreciate and respect each other more and feel more comfortable being around each other now that they know their personal limits.

        “It's a more mental and spiritual relationship for us,” she says. “When you get so busy in your life, it's good to have people you can depend on. We have a fortunate friendship with no judgment. We're the best of friends.”


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