03/15/2013 07:04 am ET

Long Lost Friends Reconnect After Decades-Long Search

We recently received an email from Suzie Keels, a Huff/Post50 reader who shared an incredibly sweet story of a childhood friendship that was lost, and then rediscovered more than 50 years later, thanks to a dogged search. Keels, 76, is retired after years of repairing emergency vehicles. Here, she shares her story in her own words.

My story starts back in 1937 in Columbia, South Carolina when I met the girl who lived across the street from me. She was three months older then I -- we were both born in 1936 -- and soon went to the same kindergarten. Her name was Sara, [and we] had a wonderful time together. One of our parents would take Sara and I to the Saturday matinee show where we saw cartoons and Gene Autry Westerns.

In 1941 our new home was finished in Forest Hills, a suburb of Columbia. The house was Mother and Dad's dream home -- they [had] found a picture of the house in a magazine and made a few changes. All of us had worked on it, so it was special.

Mother and I would drive to where Sara lived and pick her up to play with me. Soon we had Helen, who lived next-door, also playing with us. Helen had a play house upstairs in here home with small furniture, so we would play house [there]. Sara and I had Shirley Temple dolls and other toys that we played with. One day I found some paint brushes, a pan and water and made red paint from mud on the other side of the street. I mixed it up and Sara and I painted the old scrap-wood garage with the red mud. Most of it got on us, but what a good time we had before my mother found us covered with that red mud. There were woods behind the house and on a summer evening Sara and I would catch fire flies, or lightning bugs as we called them, in a jar and watch them in our screened-in porch. [We] let them go later.

One day Sara told me she was going to sing "You Are My Sunshine" on a radio program. I had my mother find out what time and day so I could lesson to Sara sing. This was in 1943 and Sara was 7 years old now. Mother and I sat at the radio one Saturday morning and heard her sing. I never forgot that day and Sara singing that song.

That same year my mother's younger brother was shipping out for the war in the South Pacific, so she wanted to go back to Los Angeles. This came so fast -- Dad put Mother, younger brother Larry and me on a train going to California. I thought we would be coming back to the dream home after a few months with Mother's folks. That didn't happen, but we did come back to visit with Dad's mother. On our trip back to South Carolina in April of 1952 we saw Sara. It was her 16th birthday [and] that was the last time I saw her.

In 1963 Mother told me Sara's husband was killed in a swimming accident. This stayed with me. Sara was my first playmate and she was like family. Once I heard her husband was dead I wanted to know if she was OK and how she was. My mother passed away before I could find out where Sara lived.

In 1992 I was trying to write about my life and my childhood with Sara. [It] would take me 10 years to find her. Our high school came out with an alumni directory and I bought one, which was great -- they found classmates going back to 1926. I asked them for help and was told no, because they used credit reports to find old students. I used [and] wrote letters with no luck. A friend told me it was like looking for a needle in a haystack or [that] she may be dead.

I asked the program director in the Santa Clara Mission Library for help. She asked me for the city and state, and in a few minutes was back with phone numbers.

When I arrived home I called the main library [back] in Columbia, South Carolina and asked if they had a phone book for 1952. I was in luck -- they did. I gave her Sara's last name and there were three [listings under that name]. When the person read the first name, [it was her father's name]. That was it, [but they didn't live there anymore]. That night I wrote my story about Sara and I and mailed it to the Library in Columbia, South Carolina for help.

I had been praying every night that God would watch over Sara and keep her safe and help me find her. I hadn't seen Sara in 54 years. Two ladies who find obituaries for genealogists received my letter and wrote to me. [In a week they found] Sara and her sisters' phone numbers.

On May 22, 2006 I called and talked with Sara's daughter-in-law -- it was like I had known her for a long time. She told me Sara was still as wonderful as she was when we played together. She also told me it wasn't Sara husband who was killed, [but] her younger sister's husband. I told her about Sara singing on the radio -- she didn't know about that. Soon I was told Sara should be home [later].

I made that call [back] and to hear Sara's southern voice again after so many years... That was the most wonderful sound. Her voice brought tears to my eyes. I had finally found her.

She asked me how did I ever find her. I told her it took 10 years and two ladies in a library. We relived our childhood memories and she told me I didn't say goodbye when I left in May of 1943. I apologized for that and a birthday gift. (I gave her a gold fish [for her birthday] and my mother told me to give it to Sara's mother so she could put the fish into a bowl. I [had] forgot -- there was too much going on -- and the gold fish died. Sara never forgot that.)

Sara has been married for 51 years and had one son, two daughters and eight grandchildren. I was in tears when we said goodbye to each other. My goal was to find Sara before we were 70 years old; Sara told me she just rolled over to 70 last month. I was still 69.

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Suzie Keels