by Maria Schulz
When you’re a child, you make friends easily. Friends are like a new sweater that you try on for size just to see how they fit. Some of them are too bulky—they make you hot and uncomfortable. Some of them are itchy—and you can’t wait to get rid of them. But sometimes, you find one that is warm, luxurious, and fits you so perfectly that you forget where they begin and you end. That friend is a keeper.
There’s something about this type of friend that makes you remember who you are, where you came from, and where you’re going. Life’s trajectory may separate you, but when you meet again, everything feels just right.
I was reminded of this recently when I saw my childhood friend, Maureen. Reenie and I were completely inseparable until we graduated from St. Robert’s. She went off to Catholic high school and I went off to the big, scary, public high school (P.S. it wasn’t scary at all…I just didn’t know it then).
Reenie was tall and gorgeous, with blonde hair, blue eyes, an easy laugh, a great sense of humor, and a big heart. She knew how to dress (thanks to two older, beautiful sisters with great fashion sense), had hair that was always perfectly cut and feathered, and an easy confidence that I always admired.
I, on the other hand, was short and fat, with a Dorothy Hamill hairstyle that I could never completely get right. I could not put together an outfit to save my life, and was often teased for being dressed badly or for having the “wrong” hairstyle. Girls that age can be pretty cruel.
Two things saved me: I had a sense of humor, and I had a savior: Reenie. I wrote about this in my post, Enemies, Frenemies, and French Cruellers.
That time in your life when you’re too old for dolls and too young for grown up activities can be challenging. Some of your friends may be way ahead of you as far as boys and parties go. I wasn’t ready for any of it yet. My “favorite things to do list” looked something like this:
- Watch Dallas. I even wore an “I Shot JR” tee shirt
- Watch Guiding Light. Would Reva marry Josh…again? Would Nola convince Floyd to sleep with her so she could trap Kelly into marrying her and believing that Floyd’s baby was his? Would Roger Thorpe come back again? These were the burning questions from my youth
- Watch The Rockford Files. Every. Friday. Night. Plus weekdays, when it went into syndication
- Ride my bicycle all over town. I’m so glad I grew up at a time when you could go out to explore—either on your own or with a friend—and not have an adult safeguarding your every move and policing your every thought
- Bowling. Every Wednesday, and sometimes on the weekends
- Go to the movies. The Quartet in Flushing, The Bayside Theater on Bell Blvd., The Bay Terrace Twin, The Fresh Meadows Twin, The RKO Keiths, and The Prospect in Flushing were some of my regular stops. I saw everything from The China Syndrome and Being There to Jaws and The Muppet Movie.
- Baking. I could make a mean brownie, chocolate chip cookie, or crumb cake
- Talk on the phone, sometimes for hours. There was no call waiting and I was glad
- Play a mean game of Life, Battleship, Clue, and Monopoly. Was it Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Candlesticks? You decide.
- Walk and play with our dogs, have sleepovers, and talk, talk, talk. It was a relief to have friends that I could talk to about everything from Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff (no disco was allowed in my house…my rock-n-roll loving brothers would have performed an exorcism on me) to our beloved pets, favorite books, best-loved movies and TV shows, and the always mystifying topic of boys.
I was lucky enough to have Reenie there by my side—at the movies, on the phone, riding bikes, walking the dogs, in front of the TV, and by the stove. We stayed friends even as new experiences took us away from each other.
When my mother died, I called Reenie because I wanted to talk to someone who knew my mother before the Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, her mother just passed away from Alzheimer’s too.
At her mother’s wake, I thought of all the times her mother drove us back and forth, took us to Church carnivals, or dropped us off at a movie theater. I remembered seeing Mrs. R. at school functions, waving and smiling at me. I smiled when I remembered Friday night Lenten meals at Mrs. R.’s house, including Spaghetti and eggs or Mac and Cheese. As I spoke to her beautiful daughters, I thought of her easy laugh and how beautiful she was too.
It made me think of all of the friends I have from that time, and how lucky I was to know each of their families. I hope my children’s friends will look back someday and remember me smiling, welcoming them, and cooking for them too.
Recipe: Mac and Cheese
My mom never made Macaroni and Cheese, but Mrs. R. made it one Friday night in Lent and I was hooked. Here’s a recipe from Alton Brown that looks easy and delicious.
So…do you have an old friend who just “fits?” What’s your favorite comfort food (if you’re not Catholic) or ’Friday night in Lent food’? (if you are)? Which friends have you “kept?” Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!