We played together as babies. We must have, because i simply don’t remember meeting them. TAB and JLB were the two girls across the street. Age-wise, they were snuggled neatly between me and my sister, T, making for perfect playmates. TAB and i were in the same grade at school, with my sister, T, two years ahead, and JLB a year behind.
We became ‘blood sisters’ somewhere about eight years old, using a Boy Scout knife we hijacked from an older brother.
It was the era of “Lord of the Flies” parenting. Once we reached school-age, we ran wild. Dads went to work in the morning, and Moms booted us outside in the summer, expecting us to stay gone until lunch time or injury, whichever came first.
In addition to the four of us, there were five other girls of similar age in our pack. There were also several boys in the neighborhood, but they were clustered at the end of the street, and we only connected with them for “Girls vs. Boys” games of Capture the Flag, or the big neighborhood wiffleball and football games*.
Adventures? All the damn time! Tree forts were made with construction lumber and supplies swiped** from construction sites. We’d camp out in sleeping bags at least once a week during summer – often doing a bit of backyard pool hopping on the hottest nights.
Winter months forced the adventures indoors. The younger years involved hours of “playing Barbie”, where we’d transport suitcases full of Barbie gear to an empty garage or basement. We’d set up complex scenarios, our Barbie dolls living out our projected lives as adults. Oh, there were Ken dolls, too, but they were mostly used as props, or torture victims.
Rather than the four of us descending upon one household for sleepovers, we did something called “trading sisters” – asking parents if we could swap out a sister for the night. This way, no parent had to deal with more than two squealing girls at a time. The logistics were nearly perfect.
The four of us stayed pretty close until my sister hit high school and some of her friends had cars. By the end of her freshman year in high school she’d moved on. The remaining trio remained close for a couple more years, but over time, we found other friends, got our own cars, and our connectivity naturally declined.
TAB got married right out of high school. i remember going to her wedding – to a guy she’d been dating for over a year, but i’d never met. Having left town for school, i felt a little out of place. JLB went to nursing school in town. The next time i saw either of them was six years later, at their mother’s funeral. After that? Three years later when one of their brothers died.
We vowed to stop meeting up only at funerals – and did manage a few fun gatherings of the old neighborhood gang. But life, babies, jobs and the universe colluded to make such events rare. TAB and JLB were both at Dad’s funeral. When JLB, who remained single, adopted a son four years ago, i brought Mom with me to the baby shower.
Last weekend, i was a little surprised to find TAB at the high school reunion – she was always shy in crowds. As i fluttered around the room – mixing up visits with pleasant people and dodging a few whack jobs – i’d find myself seeking refuge in the corner, where TAB and another shy friend were hiding. Snippets of conversation, family updates, pictures of kids…. But not much time to really talk.
Yesterday, i got an e-mail from TAB: “It was so nice to see you at the reunion. I’m a fish out of water at those kind of things but you made me feel more at ease. Wish we could have chatted a little more… maybe next time we see each other.”
The memories i acquired with TAB and JLB are the ones that made my childhood idyllic. In fact, it’s that idyllic part of my childhood that probably kept me from noticing that i lived in a trailer park. The more i think about it, TAB and JLB may have provided the foundation that got me out of there, reasonably intact.
It is my hope that my final words can echo those of my father – “I have no regrets. No unfinished business. I can go now.” If there was someone you grew up with that got away from you? That’s the stuff regrets are made of…
We’re looking for a free weekend in October…
* Tackle. Flag football was for girls…
** The ONLY word for this is “swiped”. Not “stolen”, “misappropriated” or “purloined”. There are a few other words that come close, such as “pinched”, “filched” or “ripped off”, but in the world of my childhood, the word was “swiped”.