Photo by Antonio Visalli on Unsplash
By Marilyn Pellini
I can still picture my childhood friends as if I had left them just yesterday.
The little boy who lived downstairs in our tenement house, Johnny, had red hair and a face full of freckles. Although he was two years younger than I, he was very fond of me and often invited me down to his flat to watch Howdy Doody (whom he resembled quite a bit). His family had the first television set in the neighborhood, so it was a great thrill and privilege to be Johnny’s friend.
Anne lived just up a small hill across the street from me, and had two younger sisters. The entire neighborhood of kids loved Anne, as her father sold sporting goods, but of course he had no sons. He outfitted Anne with enough equipment for us to play baseball all summer long with whoever showed up for a game. There were a number of bats, plenty of balls, and even bases. Boys especially came from all around the area to play with us, even though we were “only” girls.
And then there was Ginny! Every winter, the kids on my block and those on the next street had a snowball fight. We worked the whole day before the big challenge to build a wall we could hide behind when the first barrage came. As the temperature began to fall and evening approached, we would pour water on this wall so it would freeze solid enough to afford us some protection from the volley of snowballs. One time, my dad brought home some ice cream scoops from his pharmacy, as a few scoops needed to be repaired. I begged my mother to let me take one outside the morning of the fight to help my team make snowballs faster and easier. She agreed, but insisted that I was to be the only one to use the scoop. For the first time ever, we were beginning to have the advantage, when suddenly Ginny appeared on the other side of the street and yelled for someone to “cross her over” because she wanted to come and play with the ice cream scoop. That was the end of our snow wars. Now everyone knew, and all the kids wanted snowballs made with the scoop. It instead became a contest for who could throw snowballs the farthest, and to bombard the fortifications and break them down. Although I was not too happy with Ginny for spoiling our winter snowball competition, she and I became fast friends. We went all through school together until we split up at college age, but since we both attended universities in the same state we were able to continue seeing each other. We remain dear friends to this day.
Anna and I met in the fourth grade and became especially close because our families had summer cottages in the same area, and it was not difficult for us to visit back and forth. Little did we know during our high school years together that we were destined to have our friendship turn into a family relationship. After nursing school, Anna met the man of her dreams and was planning a summer wedding. Since I was going into teaching, I had that whole summer free and was thinking of taking a job at a resort many miles away. I had no serious boyfriend at the time and thought this might be an opportunity to meet some new and interesting people my own age. Anna was very upset when she heard that I might not be able to attend her wedding. With that somewhat in mind, I changed plans and decided to attend an extensive education program at the local teacher’s college. Since I had not been an education major, I thought this could be helpful when I began teaching kindergarten in the fall.
I took a male friend with me to Anna’s wedding. After the beautiful ceremony, delicious dinner, and dancing, all the guests were invited back to the bride’s parents’ home. My date had to attend a family function that evening, so I went to the after-wedding party alone. Most of the other guests were relatives, so I hung out with Anna’s brother, Al, who was two years younger than me. Now that we were both out of college, he didn’t seem that much younger anymore.
We chatted well into the night, and I was bemoaning the fact that his sister was my last female friend in our summer colony who had still been single. Perhaps feeling sorry for me, Al offered to go to the beach at the lake with me the next day. I now decided that not only was he not too young, but he was really fun and quite cute too. The following day was spent swimming and sunning; we later went home, changed our clothes, went out to dinner and took in a movie. We saw each other every day during his sister’s honeymoon. We were both a bit afraid to tell her that we were obviously dating. There was no need to worry, however, as both she and her new husband were very thrilled for us. Not many months passed before we knew that we were also on our way to the altar. Anna and I then became sisters-in-law.
I made some wonderful new friends during my teaching career, too. On the day before school was to open that first fall, there was a meeting for all new teachers. Most of these gals had gone to the local teacher’s college together and knew each other well. When I entered the meeting I didn’t want to sit among them, but neither did I want to sit too far away. I didn’t want to sit in the first seat along the aisle either, because then it would be obvious I was there alone. Suddenly, another woman came up and asked if the seat beside me was taken. I was so happy to have someone to sit and talk with. She too was to be a kindergarten teacher, and at the very same school. Neither of us could believe that coincidence. We became such dear friends, and even our parents got to know each other well and would often go out to dinner together. Never did a Christmas go by that we didn’t catch up in our holiday card, although we lived on opposite sides of the country once we had both married.
My newest friends are a couple I met down in Florida while I was stuck there during the outbreak of the coronavirus. Most people had gone home; there were only a total of seven left in the four buildings, mostly those with health issues. One day, I was alone in the pool area with this couple I had never seen before. I introduced myself, but explained that I couldn’t chat for long because I needed to call my son.
I was beginning to run out of money and my bank didn’t have a branch in that area, so I needed a suggestion from my son. If I ever had one of those cards for the ATM, I now couldn’t find it. The front desk would only cash a check for $50 or less, and I only had three checks left. This would not buy very many groceries; though I was lucky enough to have some young people who were willing to go to the supermarket for me, I would need to reimburse them.
As I told the couple this saga, the gentleman pulled out his wallet and fished around a bit. He held up a crisp $100 bill and said, “Will this help you out?” I actually felt my eyes well up with tears. We made arrangements to meet in the lobby of my building, where I handed him one of my three checks in exchange for the money. He had actually gone out somewhere and gotten the $100 changed into five $20 bills, as he thought that might be easier for me to manage.
New friends, old friends, and our relatives too are such an intricate and important part of our existence. They weave into and out of our lives unpredictably and serendipitously. Whatever you need — whether it’s a snowball fight ally or a sister-in-law or a companion during a pandemic — somebody is there for you. What we would we ever do without them!
Marilyn Pellini has recently published a grief book entitled Dear Al, A Widow’s Struggles and Remembrances. It has been selling quite well. Her other credits as a writer include a recent article in Brick Magazine entitled “Memories in My Button Jar,” pieces in Westchester Parent Magazine, Bay State Parent Magazine, On The Water, Balanced Rock, and others which she would be happy to provide copies of upon request. In May of 2018, she took the first place prize in the N.Y. State Federation of Women’s Clubs writing contest.