Back in the day…
Playpens, Bikes, and Parents, Shared
It seemed they had always been, and would always be,
friends. Time could change much, but not that.”
—Winnie the Pooh (AA MILNE)
It was 1955. Her name was Barbara, and she lived next door. We were born a month apart. Her brother, Gary, was 2 years older. She and he were my very first friends. We three played in our play pens, lined up side by side in the driveway between our two houses. I’ve seen the photos.
One day, so the story goes, Barbara escaped from her playpen and determined to break me out of mine as well. What she did, being the cleverest 10 month old alive, was, she made the trek to her milk box, lifted out an empty glass bottle, and dropped it inside the wooden-railed square that was mine. So I could climb out. Apparently it didn’t suffice, because when our moms came outside and found us both sitting happily on the grass they discovered three empty bottles in my playpen and one spilled bottle’s milk dripping down Barbara’s front steps. Boy, if I had a dollar for every time Barbara and I have heard this story...
There were 12 houses on our dead-end street. Every one with 2 parents who genuinely liked each other and stayed married until their dying days, and an average of two boomers of a certain age. We kids grew up together. Everyone’s parents were, uh, everyone’s parents.
We were Carol & Maryann; Barbara & Gary; Nadine & Russell; Karen & Lauren; Stevie & Greg; Kenny, Mag, & Gerard; Judy & Susie; Johnny & Steven; Freddie & Helen; Brenda & Janie; Rickie; and Holly & Jill.
I see us now, walking, or more likely biking, to and from school, the older ones flanking the younger ones; helping each other with our after-school chores so we could all get to our neighborhood street game of the day. Softball, kickball, spud, tag, and epic games of hide-n-seek that were the best times of our lives.
1970. We all cried, like it was the end of the world, as the older ones left for college, and we pen-pal’d ourselves to exhaustion until they came back home. Indeed, those letters to my missing friends were a magnificent introduction to journaling.
1975 and beyond... Birthdays, weddings, graduations, extended families, children of our own, moving away, burying our parents (all except one), two of us bonding over losing children of our own, and finally one of us, Nadine, passing on a few years ago.
We’ve never lost touch, though get-togethers now take place once a year, between Christmas and New Year’s Day — or at a funeral.
We love to catch up, but somehow we collectively drift back in time to the old days, riding our bikes as fast as we can, wind blowing through our hair, screeching with glee, no particular destination or care. Because we were together. Never I; always We.
One of our parents still lives. Magdalena was my mother’s best friend. She is claimed by Kenny, Mag, & Gerard. But that’s just biology; we all know she belongs to the lot of us. Our mother. Our matriarch. The only one left who remembers what we were too young to retain. And she’s more than happy to share those memories with us any time at all.
How I love these people...
and when we all reach the other side, we’ll find each other when Kenny, the oldest of us kids, calls, "Olly olly oxen free!”