I grew up in a typical, middle class suburb of Richmond, VA. For the first three grades of elementary school I attended a private Catholic school. When my parents moved, they gave my sister and I a decision to make. Do you want to continue at private school or would you rather attend public school? Hint: If given the opportunity to not have to wear a uniform to school, what do you think your average 3rd grader is going to choose?

I was amazed at how many activities were available to me in public school. There was a club or a class for just about any interest imaginable. After seeing it all my first year, I decided I wanted to take violin in the 4th grade, so my mother signed me up for the class. That was where I met Karen.

Karen was a shy, quiet girl but because the strings class was so small (gee, I wonder why) we became fast friends and were virtually inseparable at school. We hung out together at lunch and at recess and introduced each other to our circles of friends.

There was one thing about Karen that made her "different" from the other kids at school, although I didn't really see it with my 4th grade eyes. Karen was one of about four "black" children at our mostly "white" elementary school. I didn't notice it because she was my friend.

We graduated from elementary school and after having the summer off, I started off to junior high. I arrived my first day, but Karen was nowhere to be found. Our circle of friends asked around, thinking she may have moved to another school district. She was being raised by a single mother and they had moved before. However, after checking with a few of our former classmates at other schools, no one had seen her. I didn't hear from her again until...

Fast forward about 35 years. I was sitting in my office one afternoon at work and I received an email. Upon opening it, the sender was asking me if I was the Ellen from strings class at Chalkley Elementary School. The sender was Karen. She had found me through my maiden name posted on my college alma mater's website. I was absolutely thrilled. So thrilled that when I went home that afternoon and told my daughter about it we dragged out my elementary school yearbook from the attic so I could show her Karen's picture.

We exchanged several emails and it became clear to me how much my friendship with her meant, even though I hadn't known it at the time. I never knew how she felt like an outsider at her own school. The fact that she remembered me and sought me out after so many years just absolutely floored me. Her mother had moved to the northern part of the state after elementary school, and Karen had to start all over again in what are probably some of the most difficult years of trying to win acceptance among your peers.

Karen lives in another state now, but we remain in contact (she's even on Twitter!). She and her husband still have family here though. About four years ago, she and her family were coming to town for a funeral and we made arrangements to meet for breakfast. I took my daughter, who was about the same age that Karen and I were the first time we met. The morning came and I was SO excited to see her.

She finally walked into the restaurant and I looked at her and she looked at me and it was just like we were kids again. After huge hugs and introductions all around we eased right back into our friendship and sat down to break bread with our families. We laughed over old times and caught up on the new and we were both disappointed when our short time together came to an end.

I guess there are several points to this blog entry.

1. My belief is that prejudice against any so-called "group" of people (whether it be race, religion, sexual orientation etc.) is taught by example. Children do not know prejudice until it is introduced to them by others.

2. True friendships really do last a lifetime. Cherish them.

3. You never know how your actions affect the lives of others. Be kind. It may come back to bless you in ways that you never dreamed.

I love you Karen. Thanks for teaching me so many valuable life lessons. You truly are my oldest and dearest friend and I am so very proud to know you.

Thanks for reading!