A true friend

Photo booth picture from 1971My sister, Pam, and me, in 1971. Apparently taking a turn in the haunted photo booth.

“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

There are few things more inspiring than true friendship. Who’s your true friend? If you’re immediately thinking of someone specific instead of searching your mental rolodex, consider yourself blessed. If you’re thinking of more than one person, know that you have been blessed from full to overflowing.

Today is my sister, Pam’s 50th birthday. I don’t think she’d mind me sharing that with you. Some of you reading this know her. Others do not. But what I want you all to know about her today is that she is, always has been, and always will be my true friend.

Born 21 months apart, we have grown up and grown older together.
I have a lifetime of good memories, but want to share a few snapshots.

Early years

Pam and I shared a childhood in a home in the woods on a dirt road with parents who loved us and loved The Lord. Our father enjoyed gardening and our mother froze and canned what he grew. And in addition to enjoying the fruits of his labor, we were especially fond of the moist dirt clods he’d turn up with the first tilling of each new season. More than a few evenings were spent in friendly combat as we battled with the clods, hurling them at each other in the twilight before being called in for baths.

Even as kids, she cared enough to help me invest in the creative process. When I needed a model to draw a comic book character I had dreamed up, Pam was there, donning a ridiculous outfit and posing for my reference photos.

For years, Pam took piano lessons from Mrs. Ruby Bosher, who taught scores of students throughout the Hanover countryside. She was the best and Pam is part of her legacy. Pam’s gone on to be a wonderful music teacher herself, as well as a pianist, accompanist, arranger, composer, singer, and church music and choir director for adults and children. When we were kids, Pam tried to teach me piano, but I only lasted for one lesson. I should have stuck with it.

With Bonnie, a neighborhood friend, we started a detective agency. Inspired by more than a few Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, we had plenty of cases fueled by our imaginations, but only one paying case—from a neighbor, who’d lost the gas cap to his tractor and offered us a dollar to track it down. Our detective mettle was tested, but failed and the mystery has long since been filed under our “cold cases.”

Our dad built us a treehouse and later, a log cabin at the edge of the woods. We added on to both of them with bamboo and scrap wood. The creative process can take varied forms with infinite outcomes—in our case at that time, what emerged was a bamboo veranda off the side of our log cabin.

Archive notes are sparse, but this is no doubt an important meeting of the SPB Detective Agency held on the bamboo veranda of the log cabin. Pam looks like she’s just figured out the solution to our toughest case, but she hasn’t; we never solved any. The design drawings for the veranda have, sadly, been lost to the ages. This was well before the advent of selfies, so the photo is by Mama Rountree, the official detective agency photographer.
Growing up, moving out

After high school, Pam and I both attended James Madison University. She majored in music. I studied communications and journalism with a side of graphic design. We shared some friends and also had our own circles. We also shared a wonderful little green, 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle. The license plate read, “2TREES,” which was all of “Rountree” we could fit.
When I moved to California to work for a newspaper, Pam was one of a small handful of people who made the trip out to visit me—twice.

Pam and Stephen in San Fransisco, 1991
Twenty years after the photo booth picture, we’re vacationing in San Fransisco with our parents in 1991. She had just graduated from JMU that May and would soon start teaching. I was already working for a newspaper in Southern California.

Later, when I worked as a news artist for U.S. News & World Report in Washington, D.C., I lived with Pam and her husband, Stuart for more than 10 years, renting a basement room. My schedule allowed me to be in Washington for just three nights a week, so I split my time between there and my home in Hanover. I got to watch my sister as a young mother and enjoy the time with my oldest niece and nephew as toddlers on through elementary school.

In some seasons of life we and our families have seen each other frequently. In others, circumstances have made visits more sporadic. And of course, we’ve exchanged many gifts over the years, but Pam has given me two gifts that I will always treasure. The first arrived on the day of the first performance of a small play I wrote a few years ago. It wasn’t a big production (she’s produced far bigger ones), but Pam sent me flowers. Men don’t typically get a lot of flowers. But she cared enough about what I was doing to send them. Whenever I remember that production, I think of those flowers, and my sister.

She gave me the second gift when I turned 50—a collection of thoughts and wishes from some of my close friends. It was such an encouragement to read and I appreciated her not waiting for my funeral to put together such a nice compilation.

True passion inspires

Pam and I haven’t always done the same things, but we’ve shared a consistent and deep commitment to faith, family, and the arts. Her passion for all three inspires me to this day. Since our early years, Pam has always been there for me—as a listening ear, a cheerleader, a speaker of challenging truth, and an advocate. That’s what good sisters—and true friends—do.

I began this post with a quote from the closing lines of E.B. White’s classic, Charlotte’s Web. It’s fitting to end with an adaptation of his very last line, certainly one of the most satisfying of any closing line written in modern literature. So of Pam, I’ll say, “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good sister. Pam is both.”

A gift for Pam on her 50th (shhh—don’t spoil the surprise!). Good Sister is a sculpture of salvaged wood (finished with white pickling stain) and wire with hand-transferred lettering. It’s created with wood from the barn where Pam and I played as kids with our Southwest Virginia cousins on our Aunt’s and Uncle’s farm. Apologies to E.B. White.

Now it’s your turn! Whether it’s their birthday or not, what inspires you about your true friend? Share your thoughts with us here at Inspiring Handmade using the quick comment box below. Just leave us your name and email and a comment about your friend. If you’re in a sharing mood, let us know that it’s okay to use your quote in an upcoming post and specify if you want your name included in the posted article or not. We’re not out to embarrass anyone—only to encourage ourselves and you to think on all things good, right, noble, praiseworthy, excellent, and true—including true friends!

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