“It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” ~John Leonard
I first met Shelley when we were both in Mrs. S’s fourth grade class at Fifth Street School, in Juneau. That school building no longer stands (it burned down some years ago), unlike our friendship, which has survived, despite time and distance.
What I remember first noticing about Shelley was her very long, blondish-brown hair that she wore down her back in a thick braid. Shelley once told me that what she remembers about me was that I made good cursive “f”s when we were practicing penmanship on the blackboard. Shelley no longer has her long hair, and I no longer make good cursive “f”s. But we are still friends.
Shelley and I were both a bit eccentric (sorry, Shelley, but you know we were). We both excelled in school, and liked nothing more than reading and writing. The beginning of our friendship could have been dubbed “The Club Years.” I remember the Poetry Club, the Capital Citizens’ Club, and the No Name Club, to name a few. The No Name Club conveniently evolved into any kind of club we wanted, so we didn't have to start new ones so often.
By seventh grade our friendship had moved into the “fast friends” category. We walked home from school together every day – or at least we walked to Shelley’s home after school every day. Shelley’s house was about a mile away from the school, and was on my path home. I lived another mile or more from her house, and up a steep hill. So the habit of stopping at Shelley’s before going the rest of the way home was an easy one to fall into.
I guess you could call us both “latchkey” kids, since our parents were all working out of the home. (But don't feel sorry for us. We were happy with our after-school situation.) We were “latchkey,” that is, except when Shelley occasionally forgot her key. Then we were “climb-up-a-ladder-and-in-through-the-bedroom-window” kids. I was an only child, and Shelley was the “baby” of the family. Her two sisters were a lot older, so we really did become “sisters” to each other, in many ways. Her house, after school, became the stage for rich conversation, creative thinking and lots of laughter. Shelley and I became the kind of friends who knew what the other one was thinking and could finish sentences for each other.
Once in the house, we usually fixed an after-school snack (thank you Mr. and Mrs. W. for feeding me all those years). I guess I can attribute my continuing love of popcorn with a little cheese melted over it to Shelley, who introduced me to that delicacy. And, being the studious and responsible kids that we really were, we always worked on homework together . . . sometimes up in her attic, accessed only by a pull-down stairwell. I remember taking turns reading, out loud, our daily assignments in Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, up there in the attic. And, when the homework was done, there were lots of things to explore up there – very carefully, because there was not a real floor, just some joists with a few scattered pieces of plywood. One of our discoveries was a phonograph and a crate of old LP records. That’s when we became acquainted with the brassy voice of Ethyl Merman, as she sang her heart out in “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” which sort of became a theme song for us.
Shelley graduated from high school as our well-deserved valedictorian. A good friend of ours, named Pat, was salutatorian, and I was third in the class (and very grateful not to have to make a speech). [edit: Just heard from Shelley, and she corrected me - Pat was valedictorian, Shelley was salutatorian. She was still brilliant!] After high school, Shelley and I went our separate ways. We both went to college, but I married early. Shelley stayed single awhile, and had some memory-making years, teaching school at logging camps. Her Prince Charming was out there, however, and she married a few years later, as well.
We seldom get to see each other any more. Shelley lives in Washington, and I live in New Mexico. But whenever we do get together, it seems as if no time has passed. We’re right back to the spirited and quirky conversations we were known for, so many years ago. We can still finish each other’s sentences. And our husbands look on with amusement (and amazement).
Shelley, I sure do miss you!