I grew up in a small town.
In trying to convey its size, my memory debated all week if there were three or four stop lights. Either way, you get the picture.
As small as our town was, we were the largest town in the county. Another small town, 12 miles down the highway was our rival.
We were Forest.
They were Morton.
Conveying the level of the rivalry is beyond my skills. But I will tell you that for thousands of people in this county, in football and basketball, whether Forest beat Morton (or vice versa) defined much happiness, self-respect and a basic belief in goodness. The rivalry went beyond sports and deep into our psyches.
They were the enemy.
If you lived in one town and had friends in the other, you were regarded with a strange blend of suspicion and respect by most. In extreme cases, there were people who actually dated people from the other town.
Most of us knew people in Morton, but my family very much kept our social circles on our side of the county.
That is until I started lifeguarding at a lake outside of Morton.
And, in the second summer I lifeguarded, I really crossed the line. Everything about my life was up in the air. I was 16. My mother had a baby. My dad left coaching to become principal of another high school in another town. My family loaded up and moved 50 miles down the road.
The combination of pulling up roots so deep, combined with the new baby and the job change for my dad shook everything I knew to be. My world was spinning. My parents were so occupied that I had more time and liberty than I ever had before.
In the course of that summer that was rather full of magic, I became great friends with Kim Cooper and Cindy Parker — two girls from Morton.
And that grand friendship shaped much of the rest of my life. During those few short months, I realized that I had a lot in common with Kim and Cindy — more in fact than most of my lifelong friends in Forest. Discovering those commonalities with people from, of all places, Morton, forever changed the way I thought about making friends.
The deep friendships we made that summer sent me on my way to making strong friendships with new people across the world.
Looking back, the whole rivalry scene blows my mind. But it wasn’t crazy back then. We all believed in our little towns, and they had a great sense of place.
Even though these girls were from less than 15 miles down the road, their friendships led me to the discovery that I could become great friends with people I hadn’t known all my life and with people I perceived to have very different backgrounds than my own.
And to learn that with a little exploring, finding common ground with others really wasn’t all that tricky.
When I count my blessings, those two girls are on my list.
Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears in Lafayette, Louisiana’s The Daily Advertiser ever Sunday. Email her at email@example.com.