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I used to be such a good friend. I returned phone calls right away, sent greeting cards and even mailed out packages all tied up with strings, like Julie Andrews sang about in the movies.

I was especially thoughtful when it came to my little sister, Melody. For the first 6½ years of her life, I showered her with gifts, cards and all the attention I could spare.

Then I moved to Okinawa for three years and returned with a wild toddler and a screaming newborn.

Suddenly, my little sister informed me, I wasn’t so much fun anymore. Now it is almost time to celebrate Melody’s 21st birthday, and I’m lucky if she can remember the days when I was fun.

A few years after I began toting a diaper bag and stopped being “the fun sister,” I started getting slack about keeping up with old friends, too. And then, we moved, and moved again.

New friends became old friends whom I had left behind and couldn’t quite find time to call back. The madness of keeping up with Jimmy, Tommy and Ronnie left me with no time to chat on the phone.

Over the years and various moves that have followed, I have found myself with even less time to be a good long-distance friend.

The birthday greetings I still manage to send out are picked up on quick trips to the grocery store for milk and bread. There is simply no longer any time for me to buy heartfelt greetings at the card store.

Now, I know I’m a bad long-distance friend, and would like to apologize to all the people who only see my scribbled signature on a Christmas card once a year. I bought St. Patrick’s Day cards in an effort to bridge the gap, but still haven’t sent them out.

Since I didn’t open the package, I hope they won’t turn yellow before I finally send them out next March, or the next. If they do, I’ll just hold onto them until they turn green, and my friends will think I planned it on purpose!

This column is not only an early happy birthday wish to my now- grown- up baby sister, but also an apology to my very neglected friends Donna, Angela, Sharon, Sharifa, Jeanette, Lonnie, the Donnas (Yes, there are at least three!), Liz, Christy, Barb, Belle, Kim and Kim, Sue, Kathleen, Tamara and Tara for my severe slackness when it comes to keeping in touch.

You will all hear from me again sometime this year, hopefully before Christmas. Maybe I will have my act together in time to send out Halloween greetings, but I seriously doubt it.

One of the best things about the friendships I have made with other military families is that after years of neglect, we can pick up right where we started 10 or 15 years ago if Uncle Sam happens to send us to the same duty station.

My civilian friends have come to realize my constantly changing address and phone number is simply a way of life for us, and they have stood by me as well. Here’s to all of you … old friends, new friends and future friends waiting down the road.

And a great big Happy Birthday to my little sister, Melody!

A mother of three boys, Pam Zich has moved eight times in 17 years of marriage to her Marine Corps husband. They have been stationed in various locations, including Okinawa, California, Texas and their current home in Springfield, Va. E-mail her at homefront@stripes.osd.mil or find the Zichs online at www.lifeonthehomefront.com.

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