I wrote this story about twelve years ago. I am posting it here today in honor of my childhood friends Marci and Diane. This is their Birthday weekend. This is My Birthday gift to you. With Love, from your forever silly childhood pal, K.
I was 14 when I took my first taxi ride. I wasn’t in a big city and the ride was not to any place glamorous. In fact, it was quite the opposite however, I never knew that part..
Diane walked the two blocks from her front door to Mildred’s corner store. “Mildred’s” was a little white cracker style building with wood floors and glass jars on the counter that held pickled sausages, pickled eggs and giant dill pickles. Penny candies and small brown bags were my temptation for spending my milk money there when I was in elementary school. There was a phone booth that stood in the white sugar sand parking area. Diane’s family didn’t have a telephone, so this was her link to Marci and I.
It was grocery day at the Lynch household. Diane made the call to rally her cohorts. I answered from the black rotary dial phone that hung in my Mam-Maws tiny kitchen, accepting the invitation to accompany Diane on the bi-weekly food gathering extravaganza. I moved on the phone chain to call my bosom buddy since first grade, Marci.
Marci was fair with blonde hair just past her shoulders. She was thin, with little freckles across the bridge of her nose. We were quite a contrast together. My brown hair streaked red by the sun, usually cut in a pixie, (there was that time Diane cut my hair, but that's another story..) Marci was quiet and easy going. We joined forces when we were seven. I was the leader in our duo, loud and silly, always coming up with schemes that landed us in a heap of trouble. Like the time I tried to revive our dead goldfish and he got stuck to the inside of Marci’s Moms freezer, but that’s another story...
We met Diane and we became a trio when we entered “Golfview Junior High School”. She was a northerner, but we didn’t hold that against her. She was new to the area and we decided she needed us, to teach her the ways of Southern girls. Diane was a beauty, with the darkest brown hair, it was nearly black, and beautiful brown eyes. She was a first born daughter like me. Don’t ask me why, but somehow this all worked out. Often, when it’s three girls in a friendship things don’t go well, but the deal was sealed and we were locked in for the majority of our teenage years.
Back to the Grocery Store trip!
After conferring with Marci on the phone about what we should wear, our usual summer getup was decided upon. Levi’s cut off to the pockets and made into VERY short shorts, which were worn down on our hips as far as we could get them. A Halter Top made of Calico fabric, with Indian beads or leather strung through the neckline and fastened. We sported flip-flops or the latest leather sandals from India. Marci always carried her favorite rat-tail comb. My back pocket held our stash of Virginia Slims Menthols. I snuck out the back porch door before Mam-Maw saw me and tried to haul me back in for a make-over.
Off we went in the hot Florida sun for the trek down West Gate Avenue to Diane’s. We all walked together to the “Westward Shopping Center” the local Plaza that was our go-to for everything you needed. It was the home of “J.M.FIELDS cheapies” (as my Mother called it) sort of the Walmart of our day. Pantry Pride was the Grocery Store located in the Plaza. (or was it Food Fair then? ) We had this trip down to a routine. Diane had the list her Mother had provided and began the grocery shopping. Marci and I would go over to the drug store lunch counter and ask for a cup of ice. We would then join our friend back at the grocery store. A particular isle held the nectar of the gods, MANISCHEWITZ Blackberry Wine, which we would open and sneak a little bit into our cup of ice. Next stop the cookie isle, to purchase a box of LITTLE DEBBIE SWISS CAKE ROLLS (my mouth waters as I type). Perhaps Diane’s Mom would not notice if we swiped a couple ? After all, I was the professional gift un-wrapper-re-wrapper at Christmas time right?
As we cruised the isles of the grocery store picking up the essentials for Diane’s family’s pantry, we snacked, drank and got a little buzz from the wine and the thrill of being intoxicated in a grocery store and not getting caught.
We would get all silly and I recall reaching over and untying the leather strap at the neck of Marci’s halter top. This sent her shrieking into the ladies room, cursing me under her breath and promising to kick my butt. This was a scary thing to me, even slightly drunk because I knew she could do it, and I had the bruises on my arm to prove it ! (She always seemed so much taller than me!) I would follow her into the bathroom which was through a door in the produce department and at the top of a flight of stairs. Sometimes I would shut the light off when she was in the stall. Or, stand on the toilet seat in the next stall, looking down on her over the top of the stall and scare her to death ! Then, we’d run like heck back to the safety of Diane and the shopping cart, resuming our domestic duties. Yes, we needed Diane.
At the check out counter it was always fun to watch the face of the cashier as we pulled up that grocery cart packed to the gills and Diane whipped out the cash to pay for it. Marci and I would wait with the groceries while Diane went to the pay phone and called for a Cab. Shortly, a nice boxy bright “Yellow Cab” would arrive curbside and the driver would place all the brown paper bags of groceries on the floor of the back seat. We’d climb in with them for the quarter of a mile ride back to Diane’s house. Her Mother would greet us, inspecting the bags as we unpacked them, ticking off the list she’d given Diane. At this point we would generally eat our favorite sandwich, which was currently bacon on toast with Miracle Whip. Diane’s Dad Matt would breeze in for lunch and say, “Now what kind of trouble are you girls going to get into today?” Of course this would set my mind running in a million different directions…the possibilities were endless!
During the weekend of our 25th class reunion, Marci and I were out shopping and I saw a small replica of a yellow cab in a collectors box. I purchased it and gave it to Diane. “Thanks for my first cab ride” I told her. I will never forget our adventures, and now it’s on paper just incase I do.
NOW ON A MORE SERIOUS NOTE…
I never thought anything about my friends family not having a car or a phone. It seemed perfectly normal to me. She had a stay home Mom and a real Dad. Marci’s Dad wasn’t her “real” Dad, he was her step-dad. Her parents both worked full time, but she had a bigger house. My family on the other hand had no Dad, a working Mom and a stay home grandmother (or Mam-Maw). We had a beautifully manicured lawn, filled with crepe myrtle, hibiscus and rose bushes and the cutest little pink cracker style cottage you’ve ever seen. (HOW we all fit in there, I still can’t figure out !)
What’s “normal” to one family isn’t normal to the next one, that is for sure. Knowing all of this and growing up the way we did, why is it that I still strove to make things “normal” for my kids? The thought occurs to me that I often have tried to make up for what I didn’t have in my childhood. In all I have to say, that I wouldn’t change much. The tiny little house on the white shell rock road in West Gate. Where my own Mother tried to make my life as “normal” as possible for her divorced children. That’s where the greatest girls in the world lived. Wether we were running through the woods behind Mama-Maws house or laying on Diane’s bed that she shared with her little sister, on hot summer afternoons, or playing “D.O.A.” much too loud on Marci’s Mom’s stereo when her folks were at work. We were WEST GATE GIRLS and somewhere inside us, we always will be. Here, in our “normal” lives.