Bactine, Barbies and BFFs
“Audrey, Yakub and Isabel,” Margot said to me on Monday in a cool, business-as-usual tone while pointing to each of her held up fingers like she was making out a grocery list. “Those are my three best friends.”
I’d never heard my daughter use the term “best friend” before. And, quite frankly, it annoyed me that she had not one but three. Does the word “best” not mean anything anymore? Later that afternoon, I couldn’t help but think back to my own first best friend – “best,” as in just one – Katie.
Ours wasn’t a friendship formed through a mommy-arranged playdate at the park. No, ours was the good old fashioned sort, organically created on the basis of one important thing. Proximity. She resided just one house away from me. The year before I started kindergarten, my family had moved into her neighborhood. And from the get-go, we had all the makings of a classic childhood friendship. Giggling. Tears. Giggling. More tears. Biting. Lots of tears. Possibly Bactine. More tears. And then, fifteen minutes later, giggling once again.
Katie was smack dab in the middle of a family of five kids. Which made her life an incredible fascination to someone like me whose family could still travel in a sedan without a single person having to straddle the center hump. Her house had action and excitement. Things always going on. And hanging around her family every day – and I mean every day – I was like Cousin Oliver in the Brady household. I didn’t belong, but at the same time, no one seemed to notice this. In fact, they made it all the more comfortable for me to loiter about.
For one, Katie’s mom made the best baloney and cheese sandwiches on the planet. Her secret was she used cookie-cutters to fashion the cheese into lucky charm shapes. Her mom also introduced me to Twinkies – something my mom would never buy, though something every kid should have the chance to enjoy once. Maybe not twice. For all this, I can absolutely forgive Katie’s mom for once yelling at me for not eating my ice cream cone. At the time, I didn’t have the verbiage or tenacity to defend myself. But now that I do, I have to say, with all due respect, Jean, the cone is just the delivery mechanism.
Katie had not one but three sisters who owned matching green and pink floral swimsuits. I’d never had matching anything with anyone. With four girls running around her house, there was never a lack of Barbies at hand. Barbie houses. Barbie cars. Barbie dresses and hair care. Whereas I came from simple farm stock people who hardly believed in toys. I am not kidding. My mom told me about growing-up with dolls made from hollyhocks. Later she showed me how to make my own. Which is perhaps why I felt such a kinship to the Ingalls.
If my Pink & Pretty Barbie was ever going to get a decent night’s rest, drive a decent set of wheels, or meet a real man – one who wasn’t green, two-inches tall and clutching an M-16 – she’d have to make her way across to Katie’s cul-de-sac. Of course, Katie knew exactly what she had going for herself. And her solemn promise of unlimited Barbie playtime ensured she got to be the boss of me. Then, less than twenty-four hours later, she’d claim amnesia. The injustice of this forever cycle of bait-and-switch would torture me to no end.
But there were plenty of good times when we were not manipulating one another. Such as when we were manipulating other people. We once convinced our younger neighbor friend Joe to go door-to-door with us asking for candy. In June. The first house we hit was a retired elderly couple. They pleasantly welcomed us inside – yes, of course you may have some candy! – and then brought down from on top of the refrigerator their tin canister of deluxe bridge mix. It was probably stored there for occasions just like this. With that, we unknowingly grabbed a handful of one of five candy varieties most likely to ward off evil children – namely, 1.) butterscotch discs, 2.) peppermint chalk, 3.) black licorice, 4.) saltwater taffy, or 5.) anything oozing syrupy fruit liquor. I’m sorry to report the neighborhood candy raid was declared a bust.
You should also know, Katie once famously saved me from a tragic injury involving a bunk bed. Not what you think. The bunk bed belonged to my brother who was conveniently away. And I got “trapped” up there while boldly attempting to nab his stash of liquefied Mr. Freeze pops, among other enticing items. I seem to recall a miniature plastic armadillo and a few wayward Chiclets were also involved. Phew! Let’s just say, thank goodness Katie was there to save the day and run for help when I was unable to get down. Mr. Freeze pops would not have been worth the beating I’d have endured. Not even including the armadillo.
In third grade, when I sadly announced that my family was moving to another town, Katie pretended not to care one bit. She acted perfectly bored whenever the subject came up. “Oh, really? When is it you’re moving again?” On my last night in the neighborhood, she casually waved goodbye – over a shoulder without so much as a blink of an eye. Later, as I walked home, she chased me through the neighbors’ yard, sobbing through inaudible gibberish. We promised to keep in touch, but, of course, that never goes according to plan when you can barely operate a rotary dial.
In seventh grade I spotted Katie at a track meet and pretended not to notice her. I didn’t want to cause an abnormal disruption that might disturb my protective force field. Fortunately, I’ve since run into her again, thanks to that trusty legal stalking device called Facebook. She contacted me recently with this to say:
Good luck with the blog. I very much enjoyed the FAQs, but of course have deep concerns (regarding) the one about (defaming) childhood playmates. As I have on more than one occasion attempted to bite you and played ridiculous amounts of Strawberry Shortcake with you, I feel that I may actually be defamed. Wait, I forget, can you be defamed if it’s true?
To this, I promised Katie I would not make an embarrassing reference to her. Not to her and not to her biting me. Of course I won’t do that! No, instead I’ll write an entire post about her. Did I mention how she’d bite me?