Posts Tagged ‘friends’

Jeff and Me

February 12, 2011

Jeff and Me

      He was five days older than me, and my best friend.  Two doors separated our apartments and we came and went as we pleased without knocking.  Our parents worked and we had keys on strings around our necks that let us in after school.  Lemon Cooler cookies and milk didn’t taste the same unless Jeff was sharing them with me at the table.

     We were ten, and planned our lives in a hideout under the steps in the basement storage room of our building.  We stacked milk crates to display our rock collection and kept a paper bag to fill with glass soda bottles. The nickel deposits on each one added up to purchase forbidden bubble gum and chocolate bars. Every day we opened the secret cigar box and selected a treat. Jeff taught me how to blow a bubble. I showed him how to whistle with a blade of grass between his thumbs.

     Our Mamas were friends.  They were both single and went out on Friday nights sometimes. I sat on the corner of my Mama’s bed, watching her at the vanity, applying mascara and lipstick, brushing and curling her hair, fussing over which blouse to wear with what skirt and how high her heels should be.  She twisted and turned at the mirror trying to see all sides, making sure that everything was tucked in and perfect.  It seemed like a lot of work to me. I liked my jeans, t-shirts, sneakers and hair in braids.  It was hard to ride a bicycle in a dress, and I knew I’d poke my eye out with the mascara wand.  

     Jeff and I shared a baby sitter.  It was cheaper that way, and fun for us.  We got to stay up late, and watch cowboy movies on TV.  While Cindy took over Mama’s bedroom, locking the door, to talk to her boyfriend “privately” on the phone, Jeff and I pulled sheets out of the linen closet and draped them over the kitchen chairs we dragged in front of the television, making a tent. We pulled pillows and blankets off my bed to create a prairie pallet, camping out in the open range of my living room, and cooked a cowhand’s meal of popcorn and chips.  We turned off the lights, kept warm by an imaginary fire, star gazed, and listened to the cows in the distance.  We planned to drive our cattle over the plains and through the river the next day. We both knew how to swim.

     We must have fallen asleep before our Mama’s got home because when I woke up the next morning, Jeff was still under the tent, curled in blankets beside me.  I poked him in the ribs before turning the TV to cartoons.  He sat up blinking and rubbing his eyes.  His hair stuck up all over his head and I laughed at him.  He punched me in the arm.  Our range breakfast was two bowls of cereal and orange juice.  We sat Indian style and watched the Roadrunner outsmart the Coyote over and over again.

    Jeff went home to brush his teeth and change his clothes.  We met in the storage room where I scratched around and found a piece of rope.  Jeff knotted a loop in its end and we practiced lassoing a broken mule ear chair in the corner.

      Outside on our bicycles, we drove cattle all day, down the grasslands of Berkshire Road and through the river of Cedar creek at the foot of the hill. I slipped climbing the creek bank  and Jeff caught me by the arm, pulling me up onto the grass.  We reached the apartment building patch-of-grass-Ranch  by late afternoon.  We were tired, having driven five hundred head a hundred miles in one day. Our knees were grass stained and scraped. Our sneakers were muddy.   The saddle packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from lunch were long gone and our stomachs grumbled.

     We flopped down in the grass and stared up at the clouds waiting for our Mamas to call us for supper.  

“Look at that one,” I said. “It’s a turtle.  See his shell, and his little tail?”

“Where?” Jeff asked, putting his head closer to mine.

“Right there,” I said, pointing. “See?”

“That’s not a turtle,” he argued. “That’s a heart.”

“How does that look like a heart?” I asked him, turning my head closer to his angle.

Then he sat up, leaned over and kissed me on the mouth, just like that, right on the mouth.  My eyes opened wide and I sat straight up.  “What did you do that for?” I asked, pushing his shoulder so hard he fell over.  I jumped up, wiped my mouth on my sleeve, and stomped home.  Jeff Hentslie sure did know how to ruin a perfectly good day.

New Year’s Eve 2009

January 1, 2010

     New year’s eve, the day I throw away the trash collected in the pockets of last year, and admire the shiny treasures worth keeping.  At midnight, I start new, donning stiff jeans, starched shirt, a strong leather belt, no holes in my socks and the brim of my hat will point forward to 2010.

      I’ve lost some dear friends this year.  Vicki, was fifty. She died of pneumonia.  No one dies from pneumonia anymore, well, maybe old people with compromised health, but not someone just reaching her stride.  Vicki hadn’t walked the outer banks enough.  She was the most honest person I ever knew. She fought for the independence and rights of old folks, offered marital counseling, sticks of gum, and recipes as she cut and styled hair.  She called me when I was sick and paid for a pedicure and massage for me when my grandma died.  She understood my loss and comforted me with touch.  My only solace in losing her, is knowing Vicki was welcomed into heaven by her own Grandmother’s arms.

     Sailing ships, seed catalogues, rooting my Grandma’s French lilac, pruning perennials, plowing the earth, counting inches of rainfall, hugging away hurts and cherry cigar smoke rings are all things that speak to me of Granddad Thomas.  He lived next door and I knew his kindness for forty-eight years. He was almost ninety when he died.  Ryan and I were with him when the rescue squad came. His spirit left him on a clear, dark, November night. I think it slipped quietly from his body and then exited his house through a crack in the window. He is sailing among the constellations now, dipping his net for the stars that are his children David and Judy and his Granddaughter, Monica. He will pull them up into his boat, and the four of them will sail on, waiting for Grammie.

      My step brother, Randy, died December 4.  I met him when I was 21, at my father’s third wedding.  He was four years older than me and already had a wife and two boys who were seven and five.  He laughed hard and often.  He lived life large, smoked three packs of cigarettes a day and downed his struggles with cases of Budweiser. His daring always skimmed the surface of foolish, like he understood he’d leave the game at half-time.  Off shore oil rigs let him smell the salt air, feel the power of God’s hands in the crashing waves and glimpse the brushstrokes of uninterrupted sunrises in the Gulf.   He made the trip to Virginia in September to gift us with a tight squeeze and one last look into his blue eyes.  He didn’t tell anyone, but he knew.

     I have plans for the new year.  Some will work out.  If I write them down, they’ll feel more real to me, but in feeling real, I have to own them.  I’m not sure I’m ready to do that yet.  It’s only 2:18 on New Year’s Eve. I’m warm and comfortable in my patched and faded jeans of 2009. My soft sweatshirt has a hole in the elbow and a vegetable soup stain running down its front, my belt is cinched just right and my big toe peeks out of my sock.  I lost my hat to the wind in June.  I still have almost ten hours to sort through what is left of this year, to revel in its comfort and decide what I keep, what I toss, and what I add to my new pockets for 2010.  
  The countdown has begun. Why do we hear the ticking so clearly on Dec. 31st and not so much the rest of the year?
     Happy New Year.