The Best of Friends: Two Women, Two Continents, and One Enduring Friendship

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-09-09
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Transplanting Southern roots to southern Africa, Ginger Mauney has earned the acceptance of a troop of baboons, unraveled mysteries of life and death in an elephant herd, and raised her young son in the wilds of Etosha National Park. During her career as a television journalist, Sara James paid her own way to cover the war in Nicaragua, exposed slavery in Sudan, plunged to the grave site of the Titanic, but struggled to balance work with marriage and motherhood. Though the two lead seemingly opposite lives, there is much they share. A hometown in Richmond, Virginia, an attraction to life on the razor's edge, and a past. Now, in this heartfelt memoir, Sara and Ginger alternately narrate the story of their twenties, thirties, and forties through the lens of a friendship that has spanned thousands of miles and more than thirty years, and reveal how they dared to reinvent their lives, just as it seemed that everything was falling apart.


The Best of Friends
Two Women, Two Continents, and One Enduring Friendship

Chapter One

Ginger (1983-1985)

I took a deep breath. Slowly breathing in, concentrating on calming my wired nerves, and trying hard to ignore the churning in my stomach, I let go, breathing out and glancing up. Against a deep blue sky, the sun had finally broken through the clouds, matching the heat and intensity on the court. The smell of fresh-cut grass, grunts, and explosive clapping filled the air. Freckle-faced ball boys and girls, their lean limbs nearly as white as the players' tennis clothes, ran determinedly after each ball. Precise arm movements judged every fault, affirmed every winner. Passion and pageantry, and I simply couldn't believe I was here, courtside Wimbledon, a long, long way from home in Richmond, Virginia.

For years I'd dreamed of running away from home, leaving the azalea bushes, church bells, and slammed doors behind, but at twenty-one years old, I'd never thought I'd get so far so fast. When I was a child, the idea of escaping the ordinary seemed pure fantasy, and I believed more in the magic of miracles to transform my life than in my own tender nascent power. If there was an Oz, and like Dorothy I wished hard enough, I too could escape a predictable existence for a yellow brick road to adventure.

With a deep attachment to the land in Virginia, my family provided love and security, but few role models in running away. For generations they'd lived in farm-houses rooted deeply in the history of the South, with the church being the center of their small community. Outside its white wood-framed structure with the bell hanging high in the steeple, my ancestors put flowers on headstones in family plots where the names varied little. Inside the same church, my great-grandmother, great-aunts, grandmother, mother, and cousins had all married, most pledging their love to one of the boys who plowed the fields next door. Growing up, I had tried to peer behind my older sister Marsha's big brown eyes. I could see she was dreaming of another life, but as puberty struck, she kept her dreams to herself. So I moved forward alone, blindly putting my faith and future in the power of wishful thinking.

At twelve years old, by chance, I found an ally who shared my longing to break away: Sara James. Though we were from the same suburban side of the tracks, Sara and I knew each other only in passing. In the hall at school, Sara on her way to honors English, me on my way to gymnastics practice. Passing in cars, Sara waving on her way to the Governor's School for the Gifted, me on my way to cheerleading camp. Sara was taken seriously and I was seen to be about as serious as the last pep rally. Although she hung out with other straight-A students, Sara didn't share their air of arrogance. Every school clique wanted her as a member, and she moved easily from one to another, a part and apart. This openness made Sara approachable. When I spoke to her, I felt like she was really listening, not worried about a boyfriend waiting down the hall or a gaggle of friends from the Honor Society, sneering, wondering why she should be talking to me.

But at that time in our lives, conversations between Sara and me were few. Despite the friendly waves, we remained acquaintances, separated by perceptions: Sara smart, me pretty, and never the two shall meet. But one night we did, pretty Sara with her auburn hair and intense green eyes and me smartly daring to expose more of myself than the blond-haired, blue-eyed façade. At a friend's sleepover party, we shared secrets, whispered in the dark, confidences from the past that had shaped who we were. Other secrets were dreams that would inspire us and form the women we would become. Lying on the floor watching the stars fade, we found words for a desire to run away in search of a life full of adventure, intrigue, and wonder. We just needed a way out.

And now, nine years later, I'd found mine. On the grass courts of Wimbledon, my boyfriend Kevin Curren was on the verge of the tournament's biggest upset. Smelling blood, the fans filled the grandstands until they overflowed. Players lined the balcony overlooking court 2—the "graveyard court"—sensing a changing of the guard. The press area bulged with reporters and photographers waiting to document the rise or fall of a champion. Punching volleys, diving for impossible shots, tumbling on the grass, glaring across the net, whispers as sides were changed—all of it was part of an incredible physical and mental contest.

After more than two hours on court, the scores were level in the fourth set. Six games all. Tie break. As Kevin prepared to serve, I ran my hands through my hair for the hundredth time, pushing a strand into the claws of my earring. I'd only had these earrings, a college graduation present from my parents, for a month. I remembered opening the pretty paper and finding a Canon camera box underneath. My smile faded. A camera? Why? I'd never wanted to be the one taking pictures. Then I'd spotted the tiny black velvet box nestled inside and opened it to find a pair of diamond earrings in a beautiful antique setting. They were perfect, plus there were plenty of professional photographers courtside at Wimbledon, with multiple cameras slung around their necks. Instinctively I rubbed the sparkling stones for good luck. Kevin tossed the ball, low, and struck it hard. I looked down, unable to watch, twisting the sapphire ring on my finger, and listened. I heard the ball hit the strings, again and again and again. I heard the players grunt, felt the intake of air from the spectators around me, and then I heard the crowd roar. I looked up in time to see Kevin punching the air with his fist. "Game, set, match, Mr. Curren." He'd done it; he'd beaten Jimmy Connors, the defending champion.

The Best of Friends
Two Women, Two Continents, and One Enduring Friendship
. Copyright © by Sara James. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Best of Friends: Two Women, Two Continents, and One Enduring Friendship by Sara James, Ginger Mauney
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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