When my wife and I were married, my brother served as best man. Her maid of honor was Melissa Marshall. Sammie and Melissa had been next door neighbors and best friends for a couple years as they transitioned from preteens to teenagers.

That was in King, North Carolina. My future in-laws moved to Michigan and then to Bowling Green, Kentucky, before Sammie had completed her first year of high school, but the two young ladies and their families remained close friends throughout the years.

That was before the days of social media. There was no such thing as email, Facebook, cell phones and so forth. Many of the communication gadgets we take for granted today were found only in science fiction movies and comic strips such as “Dick Tracy.” Still, they stayed in touch. It was a bit more difficult with “snail mail” and phones with rotary dials. There were a few interstate highways, but not like now. Still, they managed to stay connected.

After we were married and I whisked my bride off to New Orleans where I enrolled in seminary, Melissa’s mom passed away. Sammie flew to North Carolina for the funeral. Melissa enrolled in the nursing program at Western Kentucky University and moved in with Sammie’s family.

Melissa ended up marrying Charles Wilson — Sammie had introduced them — and Charlie ended up as a career army officer. When he retired from the army as a Lt. Colonel, they stayed in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, near Fort Knox.

Our paths have crossed a few times, through the years; we exchange Christmas cards and pictures every year; and the two “girls” have chatted — via more modern devises than rotary-dial telephones — enough to keep up. A few weeks ago, Charlie and Melissa came through Bristol on their way to a family reunion and spent the night with us. The time passed too quickly.

We brought each other up to date on the passing years and laughed so much that we surely kept neighbors awake. It was so refreshing.

Could I just share one story from their years in the Army?

As a young lieutenant, Charlie was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. At a New Year’s reception, all the officers and spouses, in dress blues and formals, were being introduced to the commanding general and his wife — very proper; very ceremonial — and that was the setting for Melissa to commit a real faux pas.

The aide-de-camp stiffly announced the young couple, “SIR! LIEUTENANT and MRS. Wilson!”

Melissa had stepped in front of Charlie, so the general took her hand and said, “Mrs.Wilson.”

In a sweet Southern accent, Melissa responded, “You can just call me Melissa, general.”

Charlie turned red. The aide-de-camp held back a laugh. The general cleared his throat and said, “Excuse me?”

So, with a wave of the hand, she said it again, “Just call me Melissa.”

After shaking the general’s hand, Charlie rushed his wife through the line and prayed that was the end of the story. It wasn’t.

The next week, Lt. Wilson was with his company at the shooting range when the general’s car arrived and the door opened. Per protocol, the company commander, Charlie, stood at attention, saluted and started to give his name and information about his company, but the general spoke before Charlie could.

He said, “Oh! You’re Melissa’s husband.”

For the rest of their time in Missouri, Lt. Wilson was known as “Melissa’s husband.”

When Sammie and Melissa get together, even after all these years, they are like the best friends they were as neighbors back in North Carolina. As Christians, friends are friends forever.

Proverbs 18:24 says, “…sometimes a friend is closer than a sibling.”

I must confess, Sammie and Melissa are closer than I ever was to my brother.

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Steve Playl — chaplain, columnist, college instructor and former pastor — can be emailed at playlsr@yahoo.com.

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