Her name is Juanita. She is the sister of one of my closest friends, and because she lives in Virginia, we don’t see one another as often as I’d like. But when we do, it’s as though time has never separated us. We just pick up where we left off and do a lot of laughing in between enjoying martinis and endless shopping.

If shopping is a religion, then shoe shopping is the altar at which Juanita worships. Her closet at home in Virginia is so stuffed with these purchases that when her mother or sisters come to visit, they “go shopping” in her closet, often finding trendy pairs never worn! Whether we are driving in suburban Washington, D.C., or on our way to a mall in New England, Juanita squeals like a child with wild abandon whenever a shoe emporium comes into view.

All of this may not seem unusual to the reader. Many women adore shoe shopping; moreover some may indeed squeal at the very prospect, but what makes Juanita unique is her other persona.

Juanita is a highly specialized accountant. She works for the U.S. Department of Defense. To acquire such a position took years of applying, scrutiny, and thorough investigation. It is not a position to be taken lightly, and Juanita is very good at what she does. And serious. Deadly serious when working. So perhaps it’s her release from such an exacting, black-and-white, straight-arrow job that allows her to be so carefree in such a childlike innocent way.

She collects stuffed animals, she watches cartoons endlessly, and much to the mock horror and consternation of her very serious husband who has an equally responsible position with the government, she colors. In coloring books. With sharpened Crayolas of every hue.

While some visitors might bring candy or a bottle of fine wine as a house gift, when we visit Juanita I always bring a fresh box of Crayolas and a coloring book or two.

The first time I really saw her in action and learned of her passion was when the Providence Place Mall first opened some years ago, and she flew up for the occasion. She used the excuse of coming to visit her sister in Westerly, but we all knew it had more to do with the new mall than the old family. Juanita would fly around the country if she could each time a new mall had a grand opening.

Because we were coming from another place, we met Juanita at the mall, and having been told of her penchant for coloring, I packed a box of crayons and a coloring book.

When I presented them to her somewhere on the second floor of Providence Place, she squealed that precious squeal, causing more than a few shoppers to stop dead in their tracks and turn in our direction. Her husband shriveled up a bit, her sister uttered a “My, my,” and I don’t quite remember, but I might have blushed.

Nonplussed by our reactions to her spontaneous outburst, Juanita proceeded to drop to the floor of the mall, crossed her legs, opened the brand new Crayolas after first giving them a long sniff with closed eyes, and began to color. And color. And color some more.

She colored for quite a long time. We stood around, not knowing if we should shield her from curious onlookers or just wait patiently for her. We decided on the latter.

When she had had her fill, Juanita looked up smiling and said, “There, now I feel better.”

Then she rose to her feet, carefully put the precious crayons back in their box, and off we went for a very sophisticated martini.

I love all my friends, but I especially love Juanita because she knows how to get the ultimate out of life. She knows how and when to work hard and how and when to play hard, not one bit self-conscious about either behavior.

She’s a good person. A loving wife, a caring daughter and sister, a cherished friend. Her religion is very important to her. Her family is everything. She is gentle and generous, fun and funny. Most of all, she knows that when the world is too much with us, there is nothing wrong with dropping to the ground and coloring, and not caring for a minute whether you stay within the lines.

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at six07co@att.net or 401-539-7762.

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