Darla, Kae and AJ at Punto Lobos near Todos Santos, Mexico, in 2019. (Image: Darla Sadler)

Fifty years ago this month I met Darla.

I had moved with my family to Concord, Calif., from Springfield, Va., a month before I turned 8. She and her family lived next door. I soon found out she was a year and grade older than me. She would be a fourth-grader that fall.

Darla is the longest friendship I have. A lot of memories are tied up in those five decades.

Despite being a freshman and sophomore in college, Kae and Darla tell Santa what they want for Christmas in 1983.

We don’t see each other as often as we would like, though I just visited her at her home in Bend, Ore., last month. A bonus was getting to see her mom, who has also relocated to Central Oregon.

We have a ton in common, and yet we are so very different.

I credit her with teaching me how to snow ski—as well as the etiquette of the sport. To this day she is such a beautiful skier, making it look so effortless. I never came close. We had such fun family trips to Tahoe, Mt. Bachelor in Oregon, and that time to Sun Valley, Idaho, with our parents.

Kae and Darla at Catalina Island in 1984 where Kae’s parents were living temporarily.

My parents introduced her to water skiing. At times she was like a fifth daughter to them.

I’ve never been a morning person. Oh, my goodness, she is such a morning person to this day. As kids she would come over to see if I could come out and play. My mom would say I was still in bed. No one has ever liked to wake me up because I’m not all that friendly, but Darla persevered.

On our cul-de-sac there were other families with kids around our age. We played baseball with a tennis ball. When a neighbor dad complained we were messing up the rocks in his front yard, our dads said just hit the ball that way and don’t worry about it going in either of our yards.

We made up games—like flashlight. This was a precursor to paintball. If only we had known, all of us kids could have capitalized off our innovation.

She had a swimming pool where we spent so many summer days. We pretended to be Olympians at least one summer.

We talked about boys and then girls.

There have been plenty of ebbs and flows to the relationship. Laughter and tears, disagreements, forgiveness, significant others have come and gone, job changes, new addresses—but nothing can rock the foundation of our friendship.

We offer each other a place to be vulnerable without judgment. We let each other vent. We offer advice without preaching.

Kae and Darla floating on the Deschutes River in Bend, Ore., in July. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We support each other; though that doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye. And that’s good. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

We can discuss the mundane as well as the serious. We can chill or work up a sweat.

I still haven’t gotten her to like wine, but there are plenty of breweries to enjoy.

I can’t imagine us not being friends for the rest of our lives. I know I could call on her for absolutely anything, at any hour of the day or night without question. Questions might come later, but she would be there in the moment. And I would do the same for her.

I am thankful for Darla’s friendship. It has taken work. There have been periods where we didn’t communicate much. Life does that. But like any relationship, it can last with effort and desire.

This is a friendship I will never take for granted. Thanks, Darla, for these 50 years of friendship. Ours is one of the most important relationships I have.

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