Friday, March 29, 2013

A Time of Innocence

“Time it was and what a time it was, it was

A time of innocence, a time of confidences…”

                I reconnected on Facebook yesterday with my first best friend. My friend for life. Say what you will about social networking-and it definitely has a downside-but it has enabled me to keep in touch with many people with whom I share a bond. Some of these connections go back to high school or middle school, some back even further. And then there is Lynn. She has known me since I was born. Yes, actually since I was born. She was just a toddler herself then and I doubt she remembers much about my earliest years, but I do not recall a life without my Lynnie-Pooh. Through the years we would sometimes lose touch, but we always found each other again.

                Lynn’s actual first name is Patricia and she is Trish to most of the world. Lynn is her middle name and it was what her family always called her. Thus, so did my family. She lived across the street from my grandparents and our families were friends when we lived in Jacksonville. We moved away from there when I was two, but we would visit my grandparents several times a year and Lynn and I would pick up right where we left off. In between we wrote letters, and I still had those letters up until the day my mom’s house burned. Letters filled with little-girl confidences and, as we grew older, more serious secrets.

                We had so much fun together and could make each other laugh like no one else could. We were nothing alike physically-me with my chubby body and wild red hair; she with her impossibly skinny legs and straight blonde hair-but our hearts were the same. We didn’t share everything, since she loved to cook and sew and I couldn’t do either (still can’t), and I was always writing in my journal. But we were alike in nearly every other way, with an uncanny love for animals and nature and a desire to imagine and create and Do Things. When we weren’t Making Something or Building Something, we were Pretending Something. Countless reenactments of Old Yeller took place in my grandmother’s front yard, with dramatic weeping and sobbing in the final scenes. Sometimes we actually made ourselves cry.

                We adored playing school. Lynn was the teacher, and she had this giant pair of glasses that dwarfed her small face. She would put her hair in a bun and look for all the world like an old schoolmarm. “Now, class,” she would say in a nasally voice to me and the assembly of stuffed animals, “Today we will study MES-O-PO-TA-ME-UH. Can you say MES-O-PO-TA-ME- UH?”  This never failed to send me into hysterics. She made report cards for me and the stuffed animals, and I always got a D in conduct.

                We also played Barbies, which I absolutely abhorred when playing with anyone else. It was different with Lynn, because we made up very tragic stories that we acted out with the dolls, plus we made them some pretty cool outfits. Lynn seemed to have an endless supply of fabric scraps, which we would also use to decorate our shoebox “houses”.  Tiny toy animals purchased at the local dime store lived in the houses, and they had pretty adventurous lives. We made furniture for them, and itty bitty books and food and dishes from pieces of cardboard. Sometimes we would have tea parties on Lynn’s front porch, with all of our stuffed animals in attendance. Or we would play house in my grandma’s sunroom, and she would let us use her collection of salt and pepper shakers as long as we were careful. We never broke anything.

                Our favorite and most special thing to do, though, was The Trading Game. I’m not sure how it began, but it started with just a few cereal and Crackerjack prizes (back when Crackerjack prizes were actually cool as opposed to the junky little paper deals they have now) and eventually morphed into an entire elaborate system. We would save, in between the times we got to see each other, not only cereal and Crackerjack and gum machine prizes, but any small junk we could lay hands on. Mini notebooks and pencil sets, plastic rings that turned our fingers green, miniscule plastic dogs and horses, mini card decks and domino sets, and so on. Any party favors or prizes we got went into our respective boxes; every trinket we purchased or were given or found was saved until we saw each other again.

                We had a few rules for our game, one of which caused our first and only fight. Unlike most little girls, we rarely even had the slightest argument, perhaps because our time together was so limited that it would be pointless to waste it on girl drama and cattiness. Living so far apart, we didn’t have any mutual friends or boyfriends to come between us. The Trading Game was something we did exclusively with each other. It was one of the hallmarks of our special connection, a connection we never wanted to lose or mess up. But on this day…she tried to break one of our Rules. I was a stickler for Rules. Every game has them, and I was a game fanatic. In Scrabble, you can only make certain kinds of words. In Clue, you can’t look at the other person’s cards. In The Trading Game, once you put down an item to trade, and took your hand off of it, you HAD to trade if the other person wanted it. You could make the deal as tough as you wanted, but you had to trade for something.

                The culprit was a small red plastic canteen from a toy camping set. I desperately wanted that canteen. I loved to play Explorers and Prairie Girls and Cowboys and Army and Backyard Fort With Mud Wars, and that canteen would be perfect. Lynn set it down on the porch step…and removed her hand. I then began to bargain. She refused every offer. “Come on,” I said finally, exasperated. “I’m offering you the best stuff I have.”

                Then she said it. “No. I changed my mind.


                She shrugged. “ I decided I want to keep it. I can. It’s mine, you know.”

                “You can’t do that.”

                A defiant lift of her chin. “I can too.”

                “No. You took your hand off. It’s the Rules.”

                “You made the Rules, I didn’t.”

                “We BOTH made the Rules.”

                “No, we didn’t.” She was annoyingly calm. I was getting flustered.

                “I ‘ll throw it into that tree over there, “ I threatened, “and then come back for it later.” I said this because I knew Lynn would never climb a tree.

                Then she got mad. “Well, FINE.” She practically threw the canteen at me. “TAKE it. And fill it with Clorox bleach liquid, and DRINK it, and DIE.” With that, she snatched up four or five of my items and flounced off into the house.

                I was stunned, but got in a parting shot. “You’re a CHEATER. You cheated me out of my Snoopy pencil set with that picture of your brother, and I don’t even LIKE him anymore. I think he’s UGLY.”

                She stuck her head out the door. “Just take the stupid canteen and LEAVE.” SLAM.

                I grabbed my box and the canteen and stomped back across the street to my Nonny’s house, where I proceeded to throw myself down on the wicker sofa and wail. Fifteen minutes later, I heard the door open and Lynn came running in, her faced streaked with tears. “I’m sorry,” we both cried at the same time. We hugged. Then we went back and forth about who should have the canteen, since neither of us really wanted it anymore. We finally compromised-it would live in my Nonny’s toy closet, and we would both play with it when I came to visit. Lynn also insisted on giving back most of the stuff I had traded to her for the canteen.

                You see, things are just things, but a good friend is a rarity. We both instinctively knew that. So the Trading Game went on for several more years, long after we were really too old for it, just as we continued to play with dolls and stuffed animals into our teens-but only when we were together. No one else had to know. We are both married now, and in our forties, with children nearly grown, but yesterday confessed to each other via Facebook that we have taken a vow to never really grow up. I still play with toys and color and watch Disney movies and I don’t really care who knows it. Most people don’t understand, but Lynn does. She understands everything.

                In the movie “Beaches”, Hilary and CeCe have very different lives, yet through the decades they remain steadfast friends. They know that no matter how long or how far they are separated, by years or miles, they will be there for one another.  They will always be friends-no, more than friends. Soulmates. Kindred spirits. So will Lynn and I. If we should happen to get together sometime in the future-the last time we saw each other was in 2000, 13 years ago-I know that once again, we will pick up right where we left off. If we don’t see each other face to face again until eternity, I know we will still recognize each other. Maybe we’ll trade some heavenly trinkets. Who knows? I just know that I have been blessed to have so much love in my life, to know so many amazing people .Lynn is one of God’s greatest gifts to me.

                I love you, Lynn!

“Long ago it must be, I have a photograph

Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”

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