At first, I didn't recognize the sender of the e-mail message forwarded to me by Classmates.com.
"Hi Tess, remember me? I used to live next door to you and we were best friends in high school. I'd love to hear from you. Peggy."
Nobody but my family and oldest friends called me Tess. And although the last name of the sender was different from the last name of the only Peggy I've ever known, I had no doubt that this Peggy was the same old friend that I'd lost touch with nearly 25 years earlier.
A transplant from Tennessee, Peggy moved next door during our freshman year in high school. She was a tall, blond girl with a deep southern drawl and booming voice. Peggy was a newcomer. She looked different, she sounded different and she couldn't help but stand out in a crowd of high school teenagers.
At 14 years of age, that's the last thing any teenager would want.
But something drew me to Peggy. Unlike classmates that taunted her and called her names like "Hillbilly" and "Amazon," I was intrigued.
I certainly sympathized with her plight as an outsider - I had been there just a few years earlier when we moved to the area. But mostly, I liked her simply because she was so different.
She was bold and brash and unvarnished. She didn't pretend to be anything but just who she was. She possessed a mature confidence that belied her age and she really didn't care what others thought or said. I was always amazed that she could let the cruelty of others wash off her. I found her down to earth approach to life refreshing and, in some ways, she seemed light years older than me.
We were a study in differences. I'd been raised in a happy, two-parent family and Peggy had been raised by her sister - her young life had been difficult. I was successful in my college prep classes, Peggy was an average student. I was short and petite, Peggy towered above me. I was quiet and reserved, she was loud and outgoing.
We spent countless hours sitting on the double bed in my tiny upstairs bedroom, talking about everything that mattered - boys, clothes and school. We walked to school together and ate lunch together. We walked home together. We spent so much time with each other that my mom bought us matching outfits for school - navy wool skirts and icy blue sweaters. We loved dressing alike - our obvious differences in size and stature didn't matter one bit.
It just seemed natural, Peggy was always there.
Peggy was there for me during my first attempt at making gravy. Panic-stricken, I couldn't understand why my gravy resembled thick cement. With only a hint of smile licking her lips, she patiently explained that it took only a few spoonfuls of flour mixed with drippings to make gravy. She never made fun of the fact that my cement-like gravy occurred after I'd dumped several cups of flour into the pan.
My parents loved Peggy and my dad especially loved teasing her. One day, Peggy let herself in the front door wearing a mini skirt popular for the time. My Dad made a half-hearted attempt to scold her.
"That's a pretty short skirt, isn't it Tennessee?"
Peggy just laughed and waved her hand at him, "Oh, Pop, it's just fine."
The morning that I learned Dad had died in a hospital before I'd gotten a chance to say goodbye, it was Peggy's house I went running to. It was her arms that wrapped around me as I cried uncontrollably. And Peggy cried right along with me.
Peggy and I remained friends throughout high school. She was in my wedding and a year later, I was in hers. I held her firstborn in my arms shortly after he was born, and one year later, she held my son in hers. We spent holidays and birthdays together. And just like in high school, we were there for each other.
And then, ever so slowly, things changed. Our families got bigger, life got busier. Peggy got a job in Silicon Valley. I remained a stay-at-home mom. We moved to Stockton, she stayed in San Jose. Our friendship changed, we drifted apart. And eventually we lost touch.
On Labor Day weekend, I searched the dock area near the Delta King. My scanning eyes caught sight of a vaguely familiar face. Could it be Peggy? This woman looked different, a little older, just like me. But, there was something about her. My doubt was soon erased, a big smile broke out and a booming voice cried, "There she is! It's Tess! She hasn't changed a bit, she's always been a little bitty thing!"
With arms outstretched, we hurried towards each other and embraced. "I love you, Tess," Peggy whispered in my ear. The years melted away and we were 14-year-old girls, once again.
Theresa Larson is the administration manager and biweekly columnist for the Lodi News-Sentinel.