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"F" Is for "February" Is for "Friend"

What are friends for if you can't discuss bra sizes with them?

"You haven't changed a bit!"

What could I say? I hadn't seen the woman who met me at the concierge desk of the J.W. Marriott in nearly 24 years. Of course, she changed. I changed into a person whose mirror face no longer reflected the face inside her head.

"Vonnie, it's so very good to see you."

The simple truth. After the initial shock, memory opened its gates, if somewhat erratically at first. Could I remember a single thing from 23 holiday cards? No, and I constantly worried about forgetting a name or incident that meant the world to Vonnie. But something more important took the place of simple chronology. The sense of comfort and grounding that made me want to hang with Vonnie in 1978 made me so very glad to be sharing dinner with her in 2002.

If anything, the years that separated us from the young women who met at an Army school for editors made her even easier to talk to. Neither one of us imagined the roads we would travel from that Indiana classroom, but it felt good to share the story. Vonnie's adventures, her family and recent pleasures intrigued me, and she claimed she felt the same way about mine. Friends say things like that.

You need a warm heart to survive winter's bleakest month. Usually, we go for the big burn -- hearts and flowers and St. Valentine. But good friends, as comfortable as flannel and soft shoes, can provide a more reliable heat.

The books we love serve much the same purpose. What other friends can you greet in dirty pajamas, snuggled under your Aunt Ethel's afghan while rain and snow pummel the world outside your window? They don't even ask for a share of the Valentine chocolates.

This month Marketing Sherpa's Anne Hills Holland offers a wealth of British books guaranteed to become your newest best friends. At the same time, Nancy Bartholomew reveals all about her comic sleuths, stripper Sierra Lavotini and country and western singer Maggie Reid. And she almost comes clean on her bra size too. What are friends for?

But, yo, Sierra, I draw the line at sharing my shoes.

Jean Marie Ward

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