It’s funny and strange in a nice way. Over the past month or so, I’ve reconnected with old pals…
I’ll leave tales of ficus trees in an Amsterdam attic and adventures with gaffers tape for a later post. For this one, I wanted to look back over 30 years after reconnecting with my friend Leigh. We’ve known each other since elementary school but lost touch after high school. And I’m glad that we’re back in touch. It always amazes me how people can mean so much to you at a specific time in your life and then disappear altogether from the rest of it. And it amazes me how, for some of those people, you can get get back in touch and then re-establish a new friendship based on who you are now, many decades later.
Here’s a picture of us in 1st grade.
That’s me in the plaid dress at the right end of the second row. I’ll protect Leigh by not identifying her in the picture. Mrs. Wendt was my favorite teacher in elementary school. She taught me how to write in cursive. I loved her. She and my mom stayed in touch for many years.
As you could guess from the mash-up of 70s fashion and Colonial dress, Leigh and I were in 1st grade in 1976: the Bicentennial. It was a big deal. I remember my family walking down our road to see the wagon train heading down Rt. 724 on its way to Valley Forge. We went out to the park to see the encampment.
Every little girl I knew had a mob cap. My sister and I proudly wore ours at one of our Fourth of July pageants. I think the 1976 one featured us as Dolley Madison and Martha Jefferson after extensive research in a Time-Life book on the Presidents. It was a very professional show, complete with hand-colored programs and lawn seats for our full house of five.
The highlight of 1st grade was an assembly celebrating the United States of America. I don’t remember if it was just Mrs. Wendt’s class or if the entire 1st grade participated, but I remember auditions for each of the 50 states (so it had to be more than the 1st grade; maybe my class was states A through F or something). Leigh remembers being some Southern state, maybe Alabama. And I owe her an apology. I thought she got the role of Alaska. I wanted Alaska. Alaska got to bring a stuffed dog on stage and say “Mush.” I wanted to do that. I didn’t get it.
Instead I was the Spirit of Independence. The story my mom told me throughout the years was that I couldn’t be a state because I could read. I stood up with all the 50 states in my finest mom-made blue skirt and red-and-white ruffled top and read the beginning to the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident …” I no longer remember how much of it I read. Probably up to “…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I do remember how the auditorium smelled. Probably the same as every other elementary school room in the 1970s that served as cafeteria, auditorium and gymnasium. I remember all the parents and the other students sitting on the linoleum floor or on cafeteria benches (the kind that attached to the table). I remember seeing my mom and grandmother out there. My sister was probably there, too. She hadn’t started school yet.
I remember my family showing up at that assembly and every school play, handbell choir performance, community theater production … everything I ever did. I remember how they clapped the hardest and always told me it was the best thing I’d done yet. I remember how the Wind Song my grandmother wore smelled. And how the White Linen my nana wore smelled. I remember the scratchy polyester of the outfits my mom made for me. And how my dad would mow the grass with patterns to run the bases in dodgeball. I remember how my sister joined me in our “formal” parties and pageants and how she would always play the roles I wanted her to play in pretend.
Like I said, I’m glad I’ve reconnected with Leigh, not only for the friendship we can build again, but also for all the memories our meeting again stirred up. It’s nice to look at that little girl with red hair and oversize Peter Pan collar and think how much she had ahead of her.