As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.
Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…
Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast. Email me for more info: Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com
As a fellow North Shore Chicago girl, this piece spoke to me in spades. The shores of Lake Michigan are calling me out of this winter of writing retreat to do three events in March and I cannot wait! Thanks, Kim for this lovely reminder of home and community. Please enjoy, everybody! yrs. Laura
The Girls from Wilmette, by Kim Smith
Forty-nine years. It hardly seems possible, but we’ve been friends for forty-nine years. We met in kindergarten, and we ten are friends to this day. Forty-nine years later, we share a kinship, a connection that has somehow survived the visissitudes of life. We’re a cohort, a gang, a community of friends for whom time and distance mean nothing, and history and laughter mean everything.
The Wilmette (Illinois) of our collective childhood, back in the Pleistocene Era, also known as the 1960’s and 1970’s, was an idyllic place to grow up. The main east-west thoroughfare, Lake Avenue, was lined with trees so mature and majestic, that they reached across the sky to meet and form a canopy, a lush, green cathedral of sorts, all the way from Green Bay Road to the lake. Streets paved with brick, ancient and hand-laid, that made your teeth chatter as you rode your bike to get to Peggy’s house or to school or to the beach, or one of the myriad other places that you visited on your trusty Schwinn. There were corner bakeries and neighborhood drugstores where your folks ran a tab, and dimestores where you could actually buy things, lots of things, for a dime. And there was Parker’s, the diner that made the best chocolate shakes and cherry phosphates, and that served french fries with an addictive orange salt called Lawry’s. No shakes or fries would ever taste as good.
And there were families…families with children. Scores of children. Heaps of children. Oh yes, a healthy Catholic population (and the rhythm method) ensured that there were plenty of kids. And all those Catholic offspring went, of course, to Catholic school – St. Joe’s or St. Francis in Wilmette, Faith Hope & Charity or Sacred Heart in Winnetka – and there they stayed, at least through the eighth grade. Plaid skirts and saddle shoes, confession and communion, reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. All God’s children, all on the same righteous path. These things bound us together, and bind us still.
Of course, friendships lasting almost five decades don’t come without hiccups, and we’ve had our share. I’ve come to know that, much like a successful marriage, lifelong friendships require a “for better or worse” philosophy; with age comes the realization that the value of this circle of friends far outweighs our individual failings. As one of the girls who moved away, and who often yearned for contact with my friends that was not forthcoming, I have, at times, come very close to “divorcing” them, only to think “How do I divorce a piece of myself?”
Put another way, with the exception of my parents and my sister, no one else in my life today knows what I was like back then, except “the girls.” No one else remembers the tiny townhouse in which I grew up, or the twelve Girl Scout badges we earned in one year, or how Sister Loretta Marie would make you write out a dictionary page if you were naughty…but they do. Neither my co-workers, nor my clients (thank god!), are aware that I affected a British accent for a time in third grade, thanks to my infatuation with Davy Jones, but “the girls” remember. They remember hiding in my closet to surprise me on my 15th birthday, and they remember getting me pulled over by one of Wilmette’s finest, one hot August Friday night, by hanging out of all the windows of my car. They were there, so they remember. First Communion, confirmation, Scouts, braces, dating, driving, birthday parties, first jobs – we did it all together. How could I possibly leave that shared history behind? Well, I couldn’t, of course. I can’t.
That’s not to say that our shared childhood memories are all that keep us together. As adults, we’ve been in one another’s weddings, mourned the passing of parents, and watched children grow up, in Christmas cards, if not in person. In fact, Madeleine was there when my son came into the world, taking him from the nurse and handing him to me. Despite the time and distance often separating us, moving through life’s stages and phases somehow only served to deepen our bond. Two moments, in particular, both when I was in my 20’s, remind me of the powerful and enduring nature of these friendships.
When I was 23, in the depths of post-collegiate penury, and in despair that I would ever figure out what to do with my life, I realized I needed to join the rest of my family, since relocated to Seattle. (Note to 2013 self: Please figure out what to do with your life.) I arranged for my belongings to be shipped, and booked my flight out of O’Hare; one of the girls, Mary, offered to drive me to the airport. We pulled up to the curb outside of Departures, and got out of the car; I went around to the trunk to retrieve my suitcase. Glum does not begin to describe my mien that day – I didn’t want to leave, and my friend knew it. Now, I’m not a huge fan of emotion, especially tears; I’m old school…to me, they’re a sign of weakness, and they make me terrifically uncomfortable. (Yes, of course, I know I’m horribly repressed and completely wrong to feel this way. I understand. Please just don’t cry in my presence. Please. Don’t.) So it’s possible that I cried that day, but if I did, I appear to have blocked out that particular detail. I can tell you that, as we stood there saying goodbye, neither of us knowing when I might return, Mary shed a tear. And it touched me deeply that she was so sad that I was leaving, deeply enough that I remember, and treasure, that moment to this day. Not despite the tears, as one would think, but because of them.
A short four years later, my mother had a nasty run in with a brain tumor. There were weeks in the hospital, followed by months of recovery and rehabilitation; she made it all the way back, but it was tough. By this time, my sister and I were living in Chicago, so we alternated spending time in Seattle caring for Mom. During one of the periods that I was at home, one of the girls was visiting from out-of-town, so we all got together for Mexican food and margaritas. Kathi and I were friends, good friends, but, as I’m not one to share my emotions (pesky things), we had never had that kind of moment. As we left the restaurant though, she asked me about my mother, and I told her about the stress, the anxiety, and the fear that were constant companions throughout the journey with Mom. And Kathi took my hand as we walked, and squeezed it. I was moved by a gesture so simple, yet so kind and so compassionate. It moves me still.
The idea of friendship sometimes seems like the topic du jour…books are written about how to make them, how to keep them, how to end them. Be they new friendships or old, they are often fraught affairs, with the demands of modern life taking a toll. There are people for whom a handful of good friends is enough, and people who seem to require a veritable village of friends. We lose touch, we reconnect. Or perhaps we don’t. Some friendships evolve, some endure, and some die. If you’re lucky enough to have made it through forty-nine years with the same group of friends, you know that it’s a special thing, a great thing really, a thing worth celebrating. This, then, is my tribute to friendships forged in childhood, but maintained through the years by MIller Lite and margaritas, by Hackney Burgers and barbecues, by the squeeze of a hand, by hugs that last just a little bit longer and are just a little bit tighter than hugs from anyone else, by laughter and tears, by sheer force of will, and, dare I say it…by love.
Bio: Kim Smith is a Chicago girl who resides, reluctantly, in Western Washington. She’s a writer, but has a day job as a sales assistant to pay the bills. She spends her free time tapping into the zeitgeist and making snarky observations about the world around her, although, thanks to Laura Munson’s workshop, she throws in an honest, emotional bit every now and then. Just for giggles. You can find her blog, KimSmith/WordSmith, at www.kimwordsmith.com.