A friend knows

The mandevilla is blooming profusely again, outgrowing the tomato cage propping it up. August 2016

The mandevilla is blooming profusely again. August, 2016

“A friend knows the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails.” — Donna Roberts

In April, during the weeks Jeff was recovering from the surgery to remove his brain tumor, we were unable to travel to our York home. I started to worry about various things I needed to take care of there, especially our plants, but I was afraid to leave Jeff for very long. So Amy agreed to go with me for a day trip to get some things done.

When we got there, the hibiscus and mandevilla plants I had bought at markdown prices the previous summer were looking nearly dead. They had bloomed so fabulously for several months last year in Alexandria that I brought them down to our sun room at our York home for the winter, determined to have them blooming for us to enjoy again when the weather got warmer. I was crushed to see how bad they looked, after Jeff and I had watched over them so lovingly through the winter months.

Amy watered and tended all our plants for me while I did other tasks, and she reassured me about those and some other plants that were looking almost as desperate. I had been afraid they had died from not being watered, but Amy told me she thought that they had been damaged by the cold snap that had happened shortly after I had moved them outside thinking the danger of frost was past.  She told me that they probably would come back again. I wanted to believe her, so despite the hopeless appearance of the plants, I did.

I don’t remember much else about that day. I was still pretty numb with grief, shock and exhaustion from the trauma of the preceding weeks. I know I talked a lot and must have said quite a few things that sounded gloomy or reactive or bitter. Amy never scolds me or tells me to snap out of it or urges me to look on the bright side or changes the subject. She simply listens, and sometimes cries with me, and I always feel better if she is around.

Amy was there for me, just as she has been so many times over the years, especially since the beginning of our cancer nightmare in 2012. Again this spring, she was there to take care of Matt while Jeff was in the hospital for yet another surgery, and she was there at the hospital with us, and she was there in York County with me when going there alone would have been more than I could bear.

She was right about the plants. They are looking more beautiful than ever. They just needed someone to have the faith not to give up on them; to tend them and care for them until they could get over the cold and neglect that had nearly killed them. The mandevilla is pictured above and the hibiscus below, both photos taken in recent days. Now every time I see them I am reminded of Amy’s rescue.

Just one of a half-dozen blooms on the hisbiscus, late July 2016.

Just one of a half-dozen blooms on the hibiscus, late July 2016.

Sometimes in life we are simply treading water, trying to survive day to day, rarely thinking about the broken dreams and dashed hopes, but knowing on some level that a huge part of us has gone inert and desolate. If we are lucky, we will have friends who hold onto that part of us and tend it faithfully, helping us go through the motions, trusting that in time we will be whole again, or at least better able to cope with the sorrow. Then one day we might hear a familiar melody in the notes our friends are singing to us, and realize that the strange song we’ve been hearing from them is one we knew by heart all along, even though we forgot it for awhile.


  1. Hope all is better. This is a loving post. What a great person Amy is, and her song is beautiful. You are blessed to have her as your friend. I keep you and your family in my daily prayers for blessings. The flowers are looking great!

    • Patricia, thanks so much for your prayers. They are answered in ways we may never fully know about, but I can say with conviction that I do feel the power of the prayers people send up on our behalf. We feel blessed in so many ways. Thanks for being with us here!

  2. I am sure I know this Amy! Sounds just like her. So thankful God placed you two close – in distance and heart! I prayed after reading this; thanksgiving for friends and hope. Love you ladies! This post has helped me more than you will ever know.

    • Yes you do know this Amy! I miss our wild and crazy years together (kidnap birthday surprises, fake waitress birthday surprises, etc.) but we will always have the memories and who knows, maybe we can do some equally outrageous things together as old ladies mature women – the “she” musketeers! I am so glad the post helped you! It helped me to write it and it always helps me to remember those golden years on the central coast, which now feel almost like an unreal dream. Thanks for being here with us.

  3. LB

    Oh I am so grateful that Amy is in your life. What a blessing, and a true friend … as I’m sure you are to her.

    • Thank you, Laurie. I so blessed to have such fabulous women friends, sisters really, who help me keep going through whatever comes my way.

  4. Good morning, dear Julia! Please give Amy a big hug from me. She did what I certainly couldn’t have done so well.
    Today’s “Upper Room” Thought for the Day was, “Life goes on, and God goes with us.” It seems that in your case, God sent Amy to be that physical presence that you needed, bless her.
    Bless you, too! I’m continuing to pray for you and Jeff.

    • Thank you, Susan. I to think that God sends people to us (or vice versa) and the ones who end up staying awhile are extra-extra special. I have thought back many times to the first time I ever spent much time with Amy, at a mutual friend’s home on base. She and Steve were an adorable young couple with an equally adorable new daughter, and though I quite enjoyed being with them, I had no way of knowing how long a golden thread of association was beginning that night. There are very, very few people on this earth who have been through as much with me as she has. I know she will appreciate the hug and since she is a champion hugger herself, I’m sure she returns it in thanks for all you have done for me as well. BTW I did give Grady and Owen each one of the pinwheels, but as these things tend to go, the pinwheel bouquet looks prettier than ever and I took another photo of it the other day which I will send you you eventually. Thanks most of all for the prayers!! and for being here.

  5. Cherie

    Julia, such a wonderful devotional on true friendship. I am so glad you have Amy in your life. One true friend in life is a Jewel worth more than Gold. I am always thinking of you, Jeff and Matt. Love to you, my sweet southern sister!

    • Cherie, you are so right. Friends are a blessing beyond description. Thank you so much for being a friend! and for your steadfast prayers and support. ❤

  6. Mike Bertoglio

    I just got a Dipladenia- (Mandevilla- close relative). I think I may have over watered it. It has not set many blooms yet. These are grown in hot houses in British Columbia and when they move south it takes a while for them to acclimate. How tall do the Mandevillas get?

    • I do wonder whether I’m over-watering mine, too. I have them at each home, and I notice when the hibiscus are drooping after our having been gone a few days, the Mandevilla never are. The one in the photo here is about 5 feet tall, but could be taller or shorter depending on the trellis height. I have this one in a small pot with a tomato cage, since that was all I had when it outgrew the little bamboo trellis that came with it. I just bought a HUGE pot and a much taller trellis for it, and plan to transplant it so it can keep climbing. Then we’ll see if I can nurse it through another winter in the sun room.

      • I just looked up dipladenia and I think that’s actually the plant I have in a hanging basket. I had thought it was another mandevilla plant with bright red flowers, but it’s not a climbing vine so it must be a dipladenia. Both my mandevillas have pink flowers.

  7. Amy

    OHHH lovely!!! A post ALL about me. I love to talk about me. Just kidding. Glad I could be there that day. I certainly don’t feel I have done enough for you and Jeff or Matt. I am glad to have been your friend all these years. WOW the time flys. I am glad to be able to give back to you and Jeff the beautiful example you set back at Vandenberg. The flowers are lovely. Remember I thought I had killed the hydrangea with that same cold snap. I was so mad at myself for not throwing a sheet over it that night. I brought in everything that was in a pot and never even thought about my hydrangea. The leaves turned black and curled up. I just had to be patient with it and now it has been the most beautiful this season since it was planted five years ago. It is really quite large with beautiful blooms everywhere. This post made me think of this verse I am sure you know well. Phillipians 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” I pray I am doing that every day. Thank you for your kind words. Enjoy your beautiful flowers my friend. You deserve them. I love you.

    • I love you too! Thanks for everything! ❤

  8. Sheila

    Julia, I’m sure that Amy, and her caring friendship, is certainly a blessing. Her comments are always so timely and reassuring. You are much like those lovely blooms, often struggling, refusing to give up, and growing stronger through it all! We can’t always bloom, but friends adding a little personal “fertilizer” seems to help! Beautiful words today, my friend! 🌺

    • Thank you Sheila. Your steadfast support and friendship mean so much!

  9. Julia, I’m so happy you have Amy in your life. I suspect she feels the same way about you. She was wonderful to me when we exchanged multiple notes regarding Jeff’s progress before and after the surgery. She’s the genuine article.

    • Alys, she really is the genuine article, isn’t she? And as they say, “it takes one to know one” so I am glad you two were able to connect in a helpful way. ❤ Giant thank-you hugs flying your way.

      • Awww. Thank you, Julia. I’ve just read your most recent post about mornings and found myself wishing I could be there to bring you a breakfast tray filled with hot tea and other yummies, a pair of slippers and the like. Depression is a dark companion. The heavy sadness you’ve been under is a dark burden as well. You write of defeating despair, and I know you mean it, but life can be so cruel. Arms around you.

        • Yes, life can be cruel. But also very beautiful, and I try to concentrate on the beauty of it. I shall pretend that’s you, one morning sometime soon, arriving with the tea tray and slippers (especially when it turns cold outside and it’s a good day to settle in with a great novel school textbook and some companionable silence. Feel free to bring along the kitties; they are so purr-fect for cozy times! 🙂 ❤

          • Julia, you more than anyone I know, are stellar at focusing on the beauty and not the sadness. I applaud you, admire you and respect your efforts to defeat despair. Kitties are wonderful for cozy time. During the hottest days of summer, they prefer to be sprawled out on the cool tile floor. I hope you’re enjoying cooler weather.

            • Thank you, Alys! Your kitties sound like Pasha. He used to lie right on top of the air conditioning vents in the summer. Sometimes I wouldn’t have the heart to make him move, knowing he was stuck with that lovely black fur year round. YES, I love the gradually cooling weather! Walking is becoming really fun again.

  10. Mike Bertoglio

    The nursery guy said to wind the runners around the trellis until you can’t see it. Yes dipladenias have more of a bush structure than the mandevillas- which can grow ten feet in a year. He also said they don’t mind being evenly watered- not too much. Hopefully global warming will help them through the winter here. Looking on the bright side. I picture the Mandevillas growing across the ceiling – but that may be Mexico.
    My neighbor has a Bougainvillea that she keeps in her greenhouse which blooms most of the year. These remind me of trips to Mexico- Hawaii-etc. Right now the Dipladenia is one of the few things still blooming on our deck.

    • Good advice about the trellis. Mine are almost completely invisible by now but I’m going to add a taller one and see what happens. I love the Bougainvillea, one of the first sights to dazzle me when we moved to California in the winter of 1990. As you probably know, they bloom everywhere there, from highway medians to well-manicured gardens. Totally gorgeous.

  11. Mike Bertoglio

    Even on the highway medians like weeds? I did not know that. I don’t remember those from our time in Berkeley although I was not into plants at the time. Here we do have California poppies growing like weeds on our parking strip, but I would rather have the bougainvillea.
    Funny I don’t remember them in Hawaii , but do remember the spindly Plumeria trees with brilliant yellow blossoms. They hawk Plumeria starts at the county fair here, but these seldom survive.

    • Maybe I’m confusing them with Oleanders, but I do know that I used to see them growing wild in many places. Those gorgeous bright blooms are unmistakable. I miss the California poppies, too. They are one of several plants I managed to grow from seeds during our central coast years. I think that’s the state flower. Those Plumeria are wonderful; they’re one of the things I miss most about Hawaii, that heavenly fragrance. Totally maintenance free, too, from what I can tell. The older mature trees we had on base were beautiful, low growing, with spreading branches like a mimosa or live oak. It made it super easy to pick flowers for lei making.

  12. Mike

    Don’t remember those from time in Berkeley. I remember Plumeria trees growing in yards in Kaneohe. Kind of ugly trees actually, but the blossoms were awesome. We do have California bright yellow poppies growing in our parking strip here in rainy Seattle. who knew.

    • Mike, you just didn’t have the right Plumeria trees! The larger ones can be very lovely. Of course, it’s hard for anything to compete with the landscape (or should I say seascape?) in Kaneohe. I didn’t realize California poppies grow that far north. They must be loving this atypical heat. At least I hope it’s atypical!

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