These questions filled me with anxiety as I packed my bag and thought about the days ahead, when I would finally meet up with my long-lost, best friend from elementary school. Long-lost is probably the best way to describe our relationship because that is what it was -- long lost. Fifty years to be exact.
|I THINK THIS WAS FOURTH GRADE. CAN YOU FIND ME?|
Janet and I had deep roots. She and I connected in the sixth grade, although we'd seen each other earlier when her family, who lived a few hundred miles from us, came to visit the Melnicks, their relatives, who lived in our rural town of Littleton. Her uncle, Mr. Melnick, owned the best shoe store in town, and his family lived down the hill from our house. When Janet visited, we would play on the swings in Remich Park and build snow sculptures in the winter. When we were in the sixth grade, her family moved permanently to Littleton, but her teacher was not the same as mine, so we didn't see much of each other that year. She was quiet, timid, and shy, so rather than boldly announcing to me here I am, she stayed in the background and watched me play with other kids. Things changed in seventh grade, and although neither of us remember how it happened, we became best friends. Back then you didn't introduce someone as one of my best friends. You would put your arm around her and say, I want you to meet my best friend. I had only one, and her name was Janet.
I had some anxiety about seeing Janet in person. Last year I wrote about finding her in a post entitled Nostalgia, and since then, we've emailed back and forth, asking and answering questions, and even though I thought we were probably on the same wave length, I didn't know for sure.
On that Friday when my plane landed in Manchester, I called Janet's cell to say I had my bag and would be waiting out in front of the terminal. She giggled when she said she was driving a big black Mercedes, and the giggle I heard sounded like the Janet I used to know. I pushed my way through the double glass doors and spotted the Mercedes. Leaving the motor running, Janet jumped from her car to greet me. I could tell from the red blotches on her face, and the way she gripped me as we hugged, that she was as nervous about seeing me as I was about seeing her. In fact, we decided to find some place to stop, have a cup of coffee and calm down because we both were shaking so much. It didn't take long for us to feel comfortable with one another, almost like teenagers who talked about their future like we used to, but this time, as we stared into each others eyes, the only thing we could talk about was the past.
There are more than memories here, I thought to myself. I looked down and saw that the three silver bracelets Janet was wearing were almost identical to the three silver bracelets I was wearing. I remember when we were kids, we made a tiny cut on each of our fingers so we could rub our blood together and call each other my sister.
It was about a two hour drive from Manchester to Littleton, where we were spending the weekend together and staying at what was once called Perkins Motel. When we arrived in Littleton and checked in to the motel my parents used to own, I thought it was strange that I felt no emotion for a place I had lived from age 11 to 17, and where my memories ran wild. I even wrote about it in a blog post Motel Musings #1. Ironically, the woman who worked the front desk remembered my parents and my sister and brother. "Your parents would cry if they saw this place now," she said. "It's not the same anymore. " She went on to say that the former owners of Perkins Motel fell on hard times and let the place run down so badly that the bank took it over in foreclosure. But there were new owners now.
|PERKINS MOTEL IN THE 50s|
After dinner that evening with two elementary school friends, Cynthia and Karen, who were still living in town, Janet and I returned to our room at the motel, and even though we shut off the light and said goodnight several times, we continued to talk for hours. No matter what we said, we saw the parallels in our lives, not so much in what we did during the last fifty years, but more about how similar our core values were and our mutual desire to grow as human beings. We each turned adversity into a positive force in our lives. Our curious personalities drove us to become readers and world travelers. Having been forced to be financially self sufficient, we realized that we both had a strong inner drive to succeed.
Janet may have been timid and shy as a youngster, but as an adult she is strong, optimistic and courageous. In recent years, the love of her life, David, has developed Parkinson's disease, but yet she and he have done everything they can to remain positive, stay current, and not let this disability affect their love for one another and their family. If anything they love each other more, but have learned to do everything they can now and not take anything for granted. While Bruce and I are fortunate to be reasonably healthy, I share Janet and David's desire to do everything while we still can and not take our good life for granted.
|JANET & HER GRANDDAUGHTER CLEMY & RUBIE, THEIR ANTIQUE TRUCK|
The next morning Janet and I strolled up and down Littleton's Main Street, even visited the new history museum, but I was not as emotional as I thought I would be. Maybe it was because of all the physical changes. With the exception of the iconic town hall, the Littleton Diner, and the old but sturdy brick post office, the place had changed quite a bit. Even a candy store filled the big space where Parker Drugs and soda fountain used to be. I wondered how anyone could, in good conscience, sell tons of sugar to already overweight people, even though the soda fountain where we hung out was famous for their syrupy cherry cokes. Trendy boutiques and an art gallery occupied the space where Melnick's shoe store used to be, and the space that was once McLeod's department store was now called something else. McLeods always held a special place in my heart, especially those few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas when Santa Claus was in town. All of us kids would stand in line in the basement of McLeods waiting to sit on Santa's knee to tell him what a good girl or boy we had been. Meanwhile, our mothers shopped upstairs uninterrupted. Also on Main Street there were small, brightly painted pianos placed on just about every block, and I thought about Mrs. Wright, who for years taught piano lessons to most kids in town. She would have loved those miniature pianos.
Downtown Littleton was a buzz with energy on Saturday morning. Tourists were playing on the miniature pianos, and a beer fest and art fair were being set up near the dilapidated grist mill on the edge of the Ammonoosuc River. I was happy to see Lahouts Country Clothing and Ski Shop still in its original location up on Union Street in Apthorp, a section of town some called the other side of the tracks. But today Lahouts has more than just the Apthorp store. They have several retail operations in other parts of town, proving what my Mother said was true. "The Lahouts are a hard working family and, like us, work 24/7 in the family business.
I asked Janet if we could stop at Lahouts and check out the place. While she amused herself inside, I talked to Joe Jr., who remembered my family and told me that his dad, Joe, Sr. still lived upstairs over the store, where he was born 94 years ago. For as long as I can remember, Joe Sr. ran the store with his colorful sister, Gladys. While Mom would kibitz with Joe, Sr. about stuff I didn't understand, Gladys would take me in the back and dress me up in a latest ski outfit and try to talk me into a new pair of boots. As we walked up the back stairs, Joe Jr. warned me that his Dad might not be as sharp as he used to be but that he had aged well. "Don't be surprised if he doesn't remember you," Joe Jr. said. I didn't care. I just wanted to see him again because he and his sister made a big impression on me as a kid, and I used to love hearing him and my mother talk about life in the old country. You see, the Lahouts were Lebanese and my parents were Greek, and although Lebanon and Greece don't share a common border, their cultures are similar enough, so their relationship was special. Not many people in Littleton could or would eat kibbeh.
When Joe Sr. shuffled out into the kitchen holding on to his son's strong arm, I was surprised at how emotional I became, and I found myself choking back some tears that I didn't want old Joe to see. I was so happy that he was still a handsome looking man, but his son was right, he didn't remember me or my Mom. Instead, he surprised me by saying he remembered old Mr. Perkins, how shrewd a business man he was, and how much he admired him. I was surprised because I don't remember my Dad ever shopping in Lahouts, only my Mother and I, but obviously my father's strong business sense and outgoing personality carved a groove in Joe's brain, so he remembered my Dad after all these years. He and I were very chatty. He reminded me of the good old days, and how life in Littleton used to be when I was growing up. He cautioned me to be careful riding my bike and also urged me to stretch every day to keep my body limber and strong. I didn't stay long, but seeing Joe again at 94 was like going back in time, when my Mom and I would shop at his store.
Our childhood friends Cynthia and Karen's participation in Janet's and my weekend was very meaningful and emotional. On Saturday evening, while we were talking together over dinner, several facts emerged that made us question the concept of randomness and coincidence in our lives. It certainly begged asking questions about why I came to Littleton that particular weekend, and why Janet and I sought them out as people to confide in. Some might call it coincidence. Some might say it's the way the universe works. I don't know what to call it, but here's the thing. When a few people from my past, with whom I've had no connection with for the last fifty years, suddenly come into my life and become very connected to me, it does make me wonder. I think my three childhood friends will agree that some things in life are too strong and too strange to be called a coincidence.
Sunday came way too quickly and it was time to leave. Our last few hours were enjoyed with a $5.95 bacon and eggs special at Topic of the Town Restaurant with our friends, their spouses and others we knew from the good old days. Having Sunday breakfast together may be a ritual for some of the Littleton crowd, but for me the gathering was something much more symbolic. It was the culmination of a sentimental weekend in Littleton with my best friend Janet, and a reawakening of a friendship that will last forever. It was also a reaffirmation that I have a special bond with my childhood friends that goes beyond description. My three days with them closes the circle of a friendship that began many, many years ago. In closing I want to send a public message to my dear friends -- Janet, Cynthia and Karen. You have enriched my life by helping me remember the fond memories of our childhood. I will always feel close to you for reasons you will understand.
|(L-R) PAM, CYNTHIA, JANET, & KAREN|