Childhood …. we have such different experiences of childhood. Even in my family we all see childhood from the same household with such different memories. Barbara Streisand croons about The Way We Were and how things were so simple then. She begs the question Was it really so simple then or is it just the way we remember? This afternoon at my family Christmas Party there was a 15 minute period where the only people in my brother’s living room were my siblings and my parents. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I realized how odd it is now for just the six of us to be together. And, for so many years, that was the way it was. Just us …...
The movie Steel Magnolias paints a beautiful picture of small town life and the adventures of a subset of the characters in a make-believe Natchitoches LA. Shelby’s health issues snuff out her young life, and, in the aftermath, an Easter egg hunt takes place where there is continuing laughter. Shelby’s grieving Mother says, “Life goes on” as the camera pans away to show indeed, life does go on in no uncertain terms. No matter what happens, and so much does happen, life continues to move ahead in unexpected twists. You just can’t make this sh*t up.
I spent a few hours with my friend Jean Ann this evening. I wanted to get some one-on-one time with her because she’s undergoing some major surgery this week. Jean Ann was my neighbor. We lived at the back of a horseshoe shaped subdivision, and Jean Ann and her family lived at the front of it. If we had never moved there when I was about 13, I probably would not have had the opportunity to know Jean Ann as well. I would have known her since we went to a very small school, but our proximity in the subdivision allowed us to be good friends. Short and curvy, I was always jealous of her lanky height and her beautiful long hair. We played together in the summer talking about boys, doing each other’s hair and makeup and complaining about our little sisters. She and her sister, Dena, even went with us one time to our camp in Henderson where we swam in the Atchafalaya Swamp. We laughed today about that. She said when she drivers over it now, she always thinks about that summer and can’t believe we swam in that gator-infested water with all of those dead trees. But we did. Somewhere I have a picture of the four of us in our pre-teen bikinis, heads poking up out of the water in the center of orange life jackets. We are looking up at my Dad in the boat, a bunch of country hicks in the middle of a Louisiana swamp.
Last night, I had a chance to hang out with my friends Rhonda and Tammie. I lived in the same subdivision as Tammie at one time, too. We played together and shared our first cigarettes in the woods between our houses. Rhonda and I were best friends for a really long time. We played basketball together, craw-fished in the ditches behind her house and complained about our curly hair in the muggy Louisiana climate. In our little town, everybody knows everybody, and we caught up on all the local news as the cover band crooned away songs from our childhood like Ride Sally Ride. I can distinctly remember dancing to that song with these same women. We talked about our friends Denise and Mark who were secretly getting married this morning. And, we talked about Jean Ann’s surgery.
Tammie, Jean Ann, Denise and I were all in the Eaglettes together. In the picture below, Tammie stands next to me, and Jean Ann sits right below Denise. I remember all of those girls. We were smart. In fact, Mark – Denise’s new husband – has said that we were some of the “untouchables.” It’s interesting to note that most of our personalities have stayed the same. Yes, our maturity level is different, and we are concerned with broader and more important subjects than if our thighs are fat and if our hair looks good. But, we actually still care about those things on some level, too. I asked last night if my curly hair was getting too big, and they assured me it was just fine. Some things never change.
Jean Ann and I laughed about our first criminal activity in high school. We were part of the Beta Club, and a group of about five of us went on a field trip to New Orleans. We went for a riverboat ride. We were playing around, and wondered if they would sell us beer on a school field trip. I, of course, Miss Brass Balls, asked for the beer, and, sure enough, they sold it to us. We didn’t know what to do with it after that. That was before any of us drank. So, a couple of us tasted it and thought it was nasty. Finally, we poured it on an ice cream cone to see what would happen. We finally threw the can overboard. We got busted when one of our classmates decided to tell his parents, and it became a major event in our school history. Jean Ann and I still talk about how we’d like to kick Dana for busting us when we just being so silly. Besides, now that I think about it, that boat should have been the criminal – not us. But, at any rate, for a bunch of smart kids, we got in a whole lot of trouble over that one silly little incident.
Daddy brought some old pictures to Sammy’s today. A picture of me in my Junior Bridesmaid’s dress for my cousin Marilyn’s wedding was in the stack. My 13 year old face looks so out of place in a grown-up flashy evening gown that Momma made. Momma had so many problems with that dress. The pattern was cut too short even for a midget like me. We barely had enough material to cover my ankles. The fabric shop had shorted her fabric and then had none left when she went back to get more. She killed herself trying to make that dress work. My brother Terry was the ring bearer. The day of the wedding, she told Terry to bath and she would lay out his tux for him. She couldn’t find the tux. She went into the bathroom and Terry had rolled it up and stuffed it between the toilet and the wall so it would be there for him when he got out of the tub. She brought me and that beautiful dress to the church and dropped it in the mud. She was in tears. Somebody told her to just throw it in the washing machine and dryer. There was nothing else she could do. It turned out fine. We laughed about us being a bunch of country hicks trying to pull it together for the highest class wedding Watson had ever seen.
Among the other pics were one of my brother Sammy with Pistol Pete Maravich. Bryce, my nephew, said, “Dad, did you know your pants are unzipped in this picture?” None of us had ever noticed it, and that picture has been in books and newspapers and on our wall forever. My brother Sammy … our family Ph.D. …. in his most famous picture ever … with his fly undone. Priceless. It’s the laughter … we will remember ... the scattered pictures ….. of dresses ….and dogs ….. and girls in their sparkly Eaglette outfits … and beer sundaes … and sunny days in swimming holes. It’s those things we remember. It’s fun to remember.
When I look at this Eaglette picture today, I still see those smiles. I see those homemade glittery skirts swirling over our young legs as we carry top hats and canes or maybe even pom poms onto the field at halftime. I can still see those pretty girls standing under the Live Oak tree by the bench by the cafeteria. I can see Denise in her glasses with her perky little walk and that cute feathered blonde do. I see Jean Ann laughing with her sister Dena standing by her side brushing her long hair back out of her face. I see Tammie driving up in her Camaro with one of her young sidekicks and taking charge in her no nonsense way. I see Rhonda, young and athletic, in her basketball uniform with her curly hair straightened after sleeping all night in orange juice cans. They were the girls I knew back then. Now, they are Moms and teachers and business owners and executives for the FDIC. Who would have known? For a bunch of small town hicks, we’ve done well for ourselves. As M’Lynn said, no matter what happens, Life goes on ….
Congratulations to Denise and Mark on their wedding today! I hope it was as beautiful as you are together. I know you will have no trouble making beautiful music for the rest of your years.
Jean Ann, you are going to come out of this surgery with flying colors and with many more stories to tell. I’m looking forward to sharing many more memories from our childhood and making new memories for our old age. I’m also hoping to learn the hula hoop so that we can share some more girlish laughter. I love you.
Note to my readers and friends: Please send up prayers for Jean Ann on January 9 and for the surgeon and his team that will be working with her to restore her health. This is a serious surgery, and she needs us all to send prayers her way. She’s got a beautiful family that is waiting for her to get back on track.