A Valentine’s friendship tale It has taken commitment to keep strong relationship
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/02/2022 (468 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
‘Hey, Whatchamacallit… Will you be my Thingumajig?”
Traded between best friends for 60 years, a silly valentine illustrated with an unsentimental squash (yes, the vegetable) has become the most treasured artifact of their lifelong friendship.
It came from a little greeting card shop on Portage Avenue where they worked together in their early teens, and it’s a symbol of the shared memories that have kept them close all these years.
Most Saturdays, while her mother rang up regular customers in the shop upstairs, Carol Enns worked in the dark basement storeroom with her best friend Chris Ranick. Under the glare of a bare lightbulb, a faint smell of dried glue coming up off the envelopes, the girls unpacked and priced crisp stacks of the latest cards, chatting away.
They made a game of trying to find the most beautiful cards, tearing open packages hoping for sparkle dust. At the end of their Saturday shifts, they were always $5 richer and covered in glitter.
They would have done it for free.
Enns was at the shop with her mother in February 1962 when she spotted it: the card with the glossy white cover, red heart, and orange-and-green striped gourd.
“It tickled my funny bone,” Enns remembers. She knew Ranick would laugh, too. And they have been laughing about it since.
The following year, Ranick mailed the card back to Enns, adding a question in neat, blue cursive. “Remember this?”
The next Feb. 14, the card boomeranged back with Enns’s teasing reply: “Do you?”
And so the tradition began.
For the past 60 years, Ranick and Enns haven’t let a Valentine’s Day pass without sending that same card back and forth.
(Except for that February Ranick was visiting family in England and Enns didn’t trust the overseas mail service, so she laminated, scored and folded a colour copy and tried to fool her friend with the replica. “It took me a minute, but then I realized,” Ranick says with a smile).
Even now, when they buy valentines and other greeting cards for their friends, they hunt for ones with “sparkle dust” on them. “Not as easy as it used to be, but we still try,” Enns says.
● ● ●
“Oh, they’re getting hard to read, Chris!”
“Well, the ink has faded.”
Over a video call from her home in Brandon, Enns holds up the open card. It’s almost completely filled with tiny inscriptions – a handwritten patchwork of quips. She deciphers some of the messages, and reveals the newest addition for this year.
Their short messages to each other, and the initials undersigned as their families grew, are a chronicle of their shared history.
“1966 + still going strong!”
“From grandma-to-be in ‘83. Love, me.”
“Still alive in ‘85.”
“1996! And still up to our old tricks!”
“First trip of this century!!”
“Grandma again in 2010!”
“Year 52, woohoo!”
“Another interview in 2022!”
They’ve told and retold the story of the card many times, but this is more like reminiscence than an interview. Especially when Ranick takes out some black-and-white photographs of the two of them as kids, grinning then almost as wide as they are now.
“If something major is happening, the first person I think to phone is Chris,” Enns says, just as Ranick jumps in.
“And you’ve always been there for me, more than I’ve been for you, I feel.”
“I don’t feel that way,” Enns reassures her. “If you need me to be there, I’ll be there.”
At its heart, this is not just a story about a vintage valentine.
“It’s really a map of our lives,” Enns says.
“Really,” Ranick agrees, “it tracks our whole lives.”
● ● ●
They met when Ranick was five and Enns was six. (Or was Enns five and Ranick four? On this, and not much else, they disagree). Ranick’s family had just moved into a house across the street on St. John’s Avenue in Winnipeg’s North End, and the neighbourhood became their playground.
“It was an easy time,” Ranick says. “We knew everybody in every house on our street.”
When Enns visits the city, they still like to drive down their old street.
“That’s where we remember our friendship started, and we have lots of memories. Memories that keep us together, right?”
“Definitely,” Ranick answers.
Of course, they had their disagreements.
“Very, very, minimal, I would have to say,” Ranick says.
“The biggest one was over the doll! And the doll clothes! And the doll carriage!” Enns says, making Ranick laugh as she unearths another vivid childhood memory.
Growing up without growing apart meant writing lots of letters (“phoning was just too decadent,” Ranick says), and sometimes, surprise visits.
They put in the work to stay in touch, even when that involved packing a frozen Jeanne’s cake into an airplane carry-on or showing up unexpectedly for a birthday dinner in another province.
After university, Ranick stayed in Winnipeg and Enns moved around the country, before she settled in Brandon in 1988.
“Can’t top ‘88 but happy to send it so close by in ‘89,” Ranick wrote in their card the following Valentine’s Day.
Even during the years they were apart, certain similarities seemed uncanny. Arriving in New Brunswick as Enns’s birthday present one year, Ranick saw her friend’s home for the first time and found it familiar.
“We had couches with the same upholstery, we had the same curtains, we had the same TV, we had the same microwave. And neither of us knew what the other had. So we’ve always been on the same wavelength,” Ranick says.
These days, they have a lot of the same things “mostly on purpose,” Enns says. Like identical embroidery machines so they can help each other with sewing projects when they’re not competing in online Scrabble or planning future vacations together.
They’ve always needed each other.
“You need someone that you can unload to,” Ranick says, “And boy, oh boy, do we ever.”
“And then, we usually end up having a good chuckle,” Enns adds.
“It’s a forever friendship,” Ranick says. “And when we’re no longer able or here to send the card, our adult daughters have agreed that they’re going to continue the tradition.”
Their ability to stay close for so long comes down to equal communication and embracing the element of surprise, they say.
There was never a magic formula for keeping their friendship strong all these years. It took commitment on both sides spanning six decades – and a bit of sparkle dust.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.
Updated on Monday, February 14, 2022 8:14 AM CST: Adds photos
Updated on Monday, February 14, 2022 1:46 PM CST: Corrects quote attribution to Ranick