August 27, 2006

Since kindergarten

We've been friends for almost exactly forty years, since the beginning of kindergarten. I explained that to my kids as we drove to Kindergarten Friend's house for dinner on Saturday, but they have heard the story before so they weren't really listening. Such friendships are pretty common here in Snowstorm region; it's only my blog friends who are impressed. And actually, Kindergarten Friend's husband went to school with us, too, so I guess I've known him almost as long, but he doesn't count because he's a boy so I was too shy to talk to him until at least tenth grade or so.

Kindergarten Friend had invited my parents and her mother, a retired fourth grade teacher. I've know her mother since I was in kindergarten; she taught my siblings and then years later, my two oldest children. Boy in Black used to say she was his favorite teacher because she told stories about the "old days." She retired from teaching a few years back, so she never had a chance to teach Shaggy Hair or With-a-Why, but she still knows everything that goes on in the school community. And she's got a great story about what happens when you invite a bunch of nuns to your basement and get them drunk.

Kindergarten Friend has this gorgeous house, with a comfy living room that makes you want to curl up near the window with a book. She is the kind of person who actually plans things like wallpaper and paint and curtains, and coordinates things to match or contrast, and puts up shelves with decorative items on them, and walking into her house is like stepping into some kind of magazine. Except of course, she doesn't act at all like someone who lives in such a beautiful home; she didn't even flinch as my kids and her kids and one of her extra kids went tearing around the place, repeatedly knocking over a plant that is not likely to survive the year.

I couldn't help but notice the Snowstorm City china that my friend pulled from her cupboard. Her family must have a million sets of Snowstorm City china; I know the dishes well because I was really shy as a kid so when I ate at Kindergarten Friend's house, I spent most of my time staring down at the plates and eating all the food Kindergarten Friend's mother used to make for me. What's funny is now as an adult, I'll be at a conference in a strange city, and I'll notice that the restaurant is using Snowstorm City china, and suddenly, I'll have a flashback to that dinner table in Kindergarten Friend's house on a Friday evening, that familiar cosy kitchen where I used to sit listening to the family chatter while I ate a big plateful of food.

My father had brought over a CD of music that he, my daughter, and my oldest son recorded this summer -- at trio of clarinet, piano, and guitar. After dinner, we listened to the CD while we sat around the kitchen table and talked, and the little kids ran around as if they were at a playground instead of this perfectly decorated house.

My father, who is 75 years old, has lived in this area for 75 years. Kindergarten Friend's mother has lived here all her life as well; in fact she lives within walking distance of the house she grew up in. They were talking about people they knew in common, and the places that were popular when they were young, and my father started talking about how, as a musician trying to pay his way through college, he played most of the dances in the area in the early 1950s.

"You went to Railroad Village High School? What year did you graduate?" he asked. When Kindergarten Friend's mother answered, he said, "I played at your prom."

"The fellow I was dating didn't like to dance much," Kindergarten Friend's mother recalled. We all smiled. They were talking about an event that took place 56 years ago.

The passage of time is a peculiar thing. It is a jolt to me to watch Kindergarten Friend's daughter, Blonde Ponytail, running around the house. She looks exactly like Kindergarten Friend -- or what Kindergarten Friend looked like when we were in elementary school.

How strange to watch the kids playing, and realize that we, sitting at the table with cups of tea and grown-up talk, are the adults.

18 comments:

RLT said...

I get that feeling a lot whenever I go home to visit. Once, there was something going on at the church and I brought my grandmother. My younger daughter was a toddler then, and my grandmother took her to get something to eat while I was catching up with friends. She ran into all kinds of people that I hadn't seen yet, who exclaimed, "That has to be Rebecca's daughter!" And, at the time, I hadn't lived there for over a dozen years.

Leslee said...

I have a couple of friends that I've known most of my life as well. It's always such a joy and amazement to see them and sit around a table and just talk about this' and that's.

I'm glad you all had a nice evening.

ccw said...

Sounds like such a nice evening.

I love being around my friends that I have none for most of my life. There is such a feeling of comfort being with people who know you so well.

Chip said...

yes, time is a very strange thing. I find it so strange that kids I went to kindergarten with are now grandparents, and that, as time goes on, we're becoming the old folks, slowly, inexorably. And it's strange to think that the teachers I had 40 years ago, who were at the time very young (though I only realize that in retrospect) are now in their 60s or 70s...

joanna said...

Chip, I'm with you. I'm amazed when former students have teenaged children, or, as you say, school friends become grandparents. I'm always interested in what j(o)e writes because I don't have that feeling of place and time from my foreign service childhood, and I always envied kids who did.

Psycho Kitty said...

The Chica and I have been friends since we were 12, when I lived out in the country and we spent most of our time on the phone. Now, when I call her house, her daughter sounds just like she did when we were kids, and it is a very odd feeling.

Mother Hen said...

Yes indeed.

YourFireAnt said...

Ah, friends for years. Cradle friends, kindergarten friends, school friends. You never lose them. Gray-haired and wrinkled and pot bellied, they're there. People you first laid eyes on 40 years ago, and then looked at day after day for the next 12 years. Their colors and smells and quirks and idiocies are imprinted on you. They are part of your DNA Decades later at a conference in a distant city you run into one of them and utter the sentence that comes right after the last sentence he spoke to you. And he replies in kind.

There might not have been any interval. The laughter comes just as easily, and you've missed this. You want it back. And you want that time back too, with the friends in it. It's a step away from blood thicker than water. A whole lot of things can be taken for granted. Understandings, jokes and songs, nicknames, teachers and sounds. The friends you've kept all these years are special; they move away but they never disappear. And even if you never lay eyes on them again, they are truly

yours always,


Fire Ant

pPB said...

Sigh. I want your life.

Rana said...

The being adults thing is strange. This year my cousin, who I remember as a toddler eating dog food on the sly, had a baby. It's very odd to think about.

What happens when new people move to your town? Do they fit into the community as well as all the people who've known each other from childhood?

(Most of the places I've lived have been full of "newcomers," like me.)

listmaker said...

I envy you your life-long friendships. I'd love to have a circle of friends who shared a long history together.

I remember Snowstorm City china. Do they still make it?

Jessica said...

I could be double posting here (so sorry if I am):

I find this to be wonderfully rare and I, too, am envious!

Arbitrista (formerly Publius) said...

I had a kindergarten friend up until a few years ago. Then I realized that he was still exactly the same as he'd been in kindergarten, and we had a falling out. It was sad, really.

Yankee, Transferred said...

Sounds great. I have a great-niece who looks EXACTLY the way her mama, my niece, did when she was a baby. It slays me. It's like watching history repeat itself.
What fun.

Erin said...

I have friends who make wide eyed comments about how they can't understand how I still live here in the same town where we all grew up. Perhaps there is something lost in not searching out new adventures, but there is a richness that comes with knowing a place well, and knowing the people there.

jo(e) said...

Listmaker: Yes, they still make Snowstorm City china. I've seen it in restaurants all over the country too.

Rana: That's a good question. And I don't really know the answer. We don't get many newcomers in either Traintrack Village or Railroad Village, which is the area I'm from. The university area and the more affluent areaas in Snowstorm Region get the newcomers. Not many reasons to move to this particular area.

This is not at all a diverse community, and I think it might be difficult to move into this community if you didn't fit the mold -- white, Christian, heterosexual, conservative. I'm tolerated as a feminist, for instance, and an academic only because I have lifelong connections in the area. I'd like to think that any newcomer would be welcomed into the community, but I know how powerful all those ISMs are ....

Homophobia, especially, is still a big problem in this community. Racism and sexism have not disappeared either.

Sigh.

Kristen said...

Wow, I love that you have life-long friendships that you still cultivate. And that there is such family involvement, from the youngest to the oldest. We are sorely lacking that in our community.

iBeth said...

I feel very fortunate that we have relatives living close by, but what we do not have are such life-long friendships. My husband is more in touch with his childhood friends than I am. I wonder what our children's lives will be like?