I don't remember ever not knowing Catherine. By the time we started school, we'd already known each other for what felt like years (and probably was two or three). On our first day of school, we posed with Marilou (a friend who was a year ahead of us in school), proudly wearing the smocked dresses Catherine's mother had made and holding our dishpans full of school supplies. It was the first of many milestones we'd celebrate together.
There weren't many days of my childhood that I didn't see Catherine. On summer days I'd get up bright and early, eager to call her to play. My mother insisted I wait until the respectable time of 10 a.m. The hours seemed interminable - after all, summer was wasting away. With our other friends, we would often spend much of the day in Catherine's pool (where I learned to swim) and then set our towels up on the asphalt driveway while we dried off (sun safety was not on our list of priorities back then). When we weren't swimming, we were playing hide-and-seek, cockyolly (a variation of hide-and-seek) or soccer baseball.
During the winter, we'd spend hours outside until our woolen mittens were full of miniature snowballs and our feet were numb with cold. No matter the season, our parents' standard instructions were, "Go play outside." One Christmas, when both Catherine and I were young (probably pre-school), my parents bought a small Christmas tree for the basement and let Catherine and I decorate it. We covered it with construction paper chains and tinsel. Lots of tinsel. More tinsel than should ever grace the branches of a tree. It was almost completely silver when we were finished. And we thought it was beautiful.
We spent our share of time inside too - watching "the soaps" (much to my parents' chagrin) or game shows, or playing board games. And I'd occasionally go to Catherine's for sleepovers (where I would inevitably call my parents to pick me up before midnight, thus the "occasional" nature of the sleepovers).
But Catherine was more than a conveniently located playmate. She was a true friend. When I was in grade three, my first pet, a guinea pig named Goldie, died. My mom was looking after Catherine that day, so she was with us when it happened. I remember a tear running down my cheek and Catherine, without a word, pulled out her sticker book and gave me her orange-smelly Smurfette sticker (barely scratched and sniffed). I don't think Catherine even remembers that, but I always will.
When Catherine's family took off on a year-long European adventure the year I was 12, I wondered what I would do without her for a whole year. Much to my delight, the family came home after six months. Best. Gift. Ever.
While I fell out of touch with other friends, Catherine remained in my life. We went to movies together (where I and other friends would beg her not to talk or ruin the ending), we talked endlessly about our favourite TV shows, we hung out, we told stories (Catherine's always been good at that) and we laughed - a lot.
High school came and went, university came and went and whether we went days or weeks without talking, we'd always pick up just where we left off.
Catherine has always been independent, has always lived life on her terms. She'd have been the first to tell you she'd never get married - she could never stand living with someone else for that long, wouldn't put up with anyone's crap. Then came Craig. When Catherine introduced him to us, we figured he must be somebody special. When he moved in, we wondered if he might even be the exception to her no-marriage-for-me rule. He "got" her. And she got him. And they loved each other for it. Catherine and Craig have many things in common - a love of food that could challenge the most devout foodie, a love of dogs (particularly their hounds Wallace and Harriet, who live a life that is the envy of many dogs), a love of camping (although this was an acquired taste for Catherine as far as we can tell) and a profound appreciation of naps (usually cuddled with a canine).
Today, Catherine and Craig exchange vows. Their wedding in Niagara Falls will be simple - just family and close friends (while I am not there in person I am absolutely there in heart). Catherine will proudly tell you she bought her wedding dress and shoes for less than $60 (together). I don't think she has spent a moment's stress on wedding planning, which is as it should be. Rather, she's focused on what matters - the fact that she and Craig "get" one another and love one another, today and for the rest of their lives. I couldn't wish for anything more for my lifelong friend. Catherine and Craig - I look forward to watching as you grow old together (not too quickly, you understand, as I'll be aging along with you).