"Friendship Doubles My Universe--A Memoir”
Excerpted from Friendship Doubles My Universe: A Memoir , a memoir that follows a life through a series of friendships, some lost, some lasting a lifetime, exploring how and why we attach to others. Available for submission.
Friendship Doubles My Universe: A Memoir
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” Anais Nin
Friendship, just what is it and what makes it happen? We are all familiar with the mystical force that comes with romantic love: Love at first sight. Falling in love. Carl Jung said when we fall in with the “other”, with the feeling of being felled, this is a projection of the anima. We instantly get a seizure and have no choice, we’ve been captured. Then, a little while later, we begin to see who we have landed as we take back the projection and begin to reintegrate it. If neither of the parties run away, we discover what we have for the relationship--either nothing or a whole lot. Doesn’t something like this also happen in friendships, on a slower and less intense basis? Through the friend, we identify some aspect of who we’d like to be. Since the friend has something that we want, we may well encounter jealousy and envy. And, once we develop that aspect in ourselves, our relationship may lose its sizzle.
My mother collected friends like trinkets, giving me the impression that you did not lose a friend, ever, except to death; rather as you grew older, you simply had to start earlier in December to write Christmas cards to all the friends you had accumulated over the years. My father didn’t seem to make friends. He had some drinking buddies, with whom he had rip roaring times down at the bar, but I did not get up close enough to see whether there was real substance in these relationships. “You can’t trust anyone,” was his overarching refrain, said in a voice gruff enough to keep anyone from challenging him. I absorbed enough from each of them to become a person who valued friendship highly, yet rarely managed to shake off the tentative stance inspired by my father’s voice.
As I entered my sixties, the desire to look back arrived unannounced and unsolicited, much as, at sixteen, I was overcome with the desire to see into the future. Perhaps both impulses are hormonally driven. But my intent in writing a memoir about friendship grew from the impulse to chart the peaks and valleys of a life’s course through important personal connections made along the way.
Contrary to my mother’s teaching, friendships enter and exit as life flows through its decades. Some last a long time, a few perhaps a lifetime, but not with the intensity with which they began. Other’s fall off completely or end in acrimonious, irresolvable conflict or irritation. And sometimes one gets dropped by a friend, with utterly no choice in the matter. There are friends we find totally compelling at one time and ten years later, the juice is all gone. All those subtle, invisible radio waves that once whispered yes, now whisper no. And we are lucky if we can determine what transpired to cause this shift
Much of my life, I felt maligned or offended when a friendship waned, even if I was able to see my own part in the growing distance within it, but charting the course here of some of my most significant friendships has convinced me there was a natural progression to each of their rises and falls, even when I couldn’t see one.
Carol: Friendship Doubles My Universe
My first best friend was Carol Coulter. She lived across and down the road from our chicken farm, the “new start” place in the Catskills my folks purchased at the end of the war, when my father finished his service in the Merchant Marines. Carol lived in an ugly, block-shaped house covered in reddish-brown shingles, some of which had blown off to leave tar paper scars. The only positive impression it made on me came of its being three stories high and filled up in a way that brought to mind The Old Woman and The Shoe, one of my favorite childhood tales. Carol was the eldest of nine children, who appeared on an average of one a year. They had not all yet been born when we started our friendship in kindergarten, but eventually they were all packed into that accommodating building that looked more like a warehouse of children than a home.
Carol was smart, blonde, a little chunky, but seemingly self-assured. Perhaps the self-assurance was a trait common to the eldest girl, as it also fit my sister, who had beat me out of the womb by a year and a half. I was, by contrast, hesitant, shy, hyper-vigilant, putting my powers of observation to work to track and record all that happened around me.
My sister Peggy often held my hand to lead me out into the world, which seemed only right, since she was my older sister, but my mother seemed to think she was all I would ever need and that she could and should be my best friend, too. Yet, even at five or six, I knew better. Knew how special it was to establish a friend who was for you and who absolutely did not belong to your family. Did not have to be your friend but was, just because she chose to be, and by being your friend could take you into an alternate universe.
Carol’s family ate at a huge table that took up nearly the entire dining room. It was so wide food had to be passed around, not across the table. The children were allowed to have Kool-Aid with their meals, after they’d each downed one small juice glass of milk set out before the meal. Although I knew the reason for the Kool-Aid was poverty, I secretly thrilled at getting a glimpse of the advantages of poverty. My mother was a nurse and, despite lean times, force fed us milk as the healthy choice and harped on Kool-Aid rotting our teeth.
Carol’s father drove a delivery truck, a big, boxy thing which rolled into the driveway every evening at exactly 5 o’clock. He expected supper within a half hour of his arrival, but for that short window of time before it was served, he’d sit in an easy chair with his feet up on the ottoman, and all the Coulter children would ascend upon him, hiking themselves up onto his jutting belly or bouncing on his legs while he cuffed, squeezed and teased them. Except on the nights when Mrs. Coulter told him one of the children had misbehaved and he would take out the strap and drag the offender out to the garage, I watched wistfully from the doorway, wishing he were my father so that I could crawl into his lap, too.
Mrs. Coulter would be sashaying back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, acting as if she’d had nothing to do with the squeals we could all hear coming from behind the closed door, calling Carol and me to her side to help her get the food on the table. She, too, had a protuberant belly, because if she wasn’t pregnant, she was just getting over having had the last child and could never get the weight off before the next one.
Carol’s brother Billy, the oldest boy, in an unspoken way, became my first boyfriend. He was too young for me, two years younger, the same age as my brother Tommy, but took my heart by having a vulnerability that showed--a large dark birthmark plastered smack across one otherwise soft, pinkish cheek. Gary, the next boy down the ladder of Coulter children, had one as well, but Billy bore his with such dignity, it seemed as if Gary could be almost glad to have one too. Carol bossed us all around, and I didn’t mind as much as I would have, had I not been so well-trained in being boss-aroundable by my sister. I had found a niche where the dynamics were similar to my family’s--an older female to boss me around and a younger male who was fun to be with--but I didn’t see or feel this at the time. I only felt the expansion of how my friendship with Carol provided an open window into another family, which served to double my world view.
I spent overnights in Carol’s room, (as the oldest she had a room of her own on the third floor), giggling, playing Parcheesi, arriving and departing with my folded up rubber sheet tucked as inconspicuously as I could make it under my arm. My mother insisted I take this with me, for at home I was a bed wetter. And although I never wet the bed away from home, I slept in dread of doing that.
Was there something particular about Carol that drew me to her, or was it simply that she was there and chose me? We walked to school and back every day for years, compared the number of ‘highly satisfactory’s’ on our report cards. Her family showed me that my family’s way was not the only way, for instance, that bad grammar could go uncorrected and be worn almost like a badge. The down to earth, unselfconscious working class atmosphere that permeated the Coulter home had an enormous appeal to me, living as I was on the turf of a class war, in which my mother, coming from a more refined background, was always dueling to out-influence my father, who came from rural, working class people.
When I was eleven, my mother moved us to Florida, in part because she was convinced we would not have much of a chance to escape Carol’s fate--early pregnancy and forced young marriage--if we stayed there, in part because my father had declared our farm bankrupt and was going back to the merchant marines, where he’d been before and during the war. Though I railed about the loss of my first real home on the farm and was filled with notions of abandonment by my father going back to sea, and resisted being dislodged with every ounce of my fiber, I owe her a debt for that foresight.
I don’t know what became of Carol but suspect she married early, had a ton of children and bossed them all around, and that, despite her sterling report cards, she still says ‘ain’t’ without flinching. .
My father lived in dread of debt; he didn’t like to purchase things “on time.” In the den behind the living room, he had a large desk, where he paid the bills and worked out his taxes once a year. We weren’t allowed in that room so naturally we entered it whenever we could, only to emerge confused by the anxious vibes he seemed to leave behind even when he was far away, out in the barn or down at the American Legion Bar. Papers were stacked neatly; there were no grand messes. The late afternoon light came in slant through the Venetian blinds over the back window and you could see dust motes bouncing in the shaft of light just like I imagined the brain cells bounced about erratically in his head whenever he was in there, his pencil tap tap tapping on the hard wooden desk and a foggy steam coming out of his ears, it seemed to me, as he fumed about how to make the figures work.
It was the fifties and farms were being bought up and made into big businesses and, so what, let them do that, but why did we have to be affected by that when we had a perfectly good family farm? Several thousand chickens in two barns, hatching equipment that sat idle all year until spring, when we got to turn the eggs every couple of hours and watch the gooey chicks burst out of them, an egg grader in the cellar and enough children to man it, standing at our stations to pack the eggs into large, medium or small crates. Mother washed the eggs while they were still in their baskets in a deep sink, with lye and hot water that steamed up so strongly it made her face disappear for a minute. Dad stood at the head of the grader, candled the eggs and then placed them on the merry go round which dropped them off according to size.
But then suddenly, or not so suddenly, despite Dad’s dread of debt, we were in it. He’d struggle with papers in the den, shuffling them, cursing in loud whispers, stamping a paperweight down hard on them, as if they were going to get up and move around of their own accord, before roaring off to the bar to drink himself into oblivion and be brought home by a kindly neighbor or fetched home by our mother, to scare us all to death with a menacing lurch and cloudy eyes that said, “Don’t you dare look at me like that.” But how could we look at him with anything less than panic? The feeling that a monster had been let out of its cage, and how and when could we get to the other side of this and breathe again? Which happened only when we heard his large frame collapse on the bed. His snores traveled across the open center hall, and the next day, all of us experienced his morning heaves as if they were our own.
Did Carol know about any of this? Surely, I never breathed a word of it, yet I surmised so much about her family’s secrets merely by crossing the threshold of their house. And certainly all the adult neighbors knew that my dad was not one of those who could make it back home from the bar on his own.
I don’t remember Carol coming to sleep over at my house. My sister and I shared a room. So there would have been room for an overnight guest for me when Peggy spent the night with one of her friends, but my overall impression was this: We had a smaller family than the Coulters, but they had more room. Always space to add another chair at that huge rectangle of a dining table, always an extra bed for me, whereas we had just enough for ourselves.
When we got ready to move away, I only wanted to stay behind. It felt like death, the demand to leave my only known world behind. I thought of asking the Coulters if I could move in with them. They all seemed to like me well enough. I would be no problem. After all, I was skilled at making myself nearly invisible, and I would bask in that attitude of theirs that there was always enough to go around, even if it were only Kool-Aid instead of milk. Although my mother’s values had penetrated me deeply enough by then that I worried about my teeth and bones.
In the end they never invited me to stay behind. And I lost heart and didn’t ask the day before the auction, when I went down to tell them we were leaving. Mrs. Coulter yelled out her usual “C’mon in,” when I rapped at the side door. I entered with my head down, deadly quiet, but she kept up her cheery greeting, telling me to go on up to Carol’s room, acting as if nothing could ever disrupt our life-as-usual homework routine, and I allowed myself to fall under her spell. I only deviated from it once, when I was parting from Carol’s room and I’ll never see this room again kept spinning through my mind. My eyes dashed about, taking in the cracked plaster on the back wall, Carol’s slant closet, built into where the roof came down, in which we sprawled out on old clothes that had fallen to the floor when playing hide and seek.
“I guess we’re going after tomorrow,“ I said.
“To Fla-di-da,“ she said.
I swallowed hard and nodded.
She made a funny motion with her arms, as if she planned to fly down alongside us rather than say good-bye.
“Mommy says we can come back to visit next summer.“
“Oh, goody,“ she said to that.
“But I don’t know where we’ll stay.“
“You can stay right here,“ she said definitively, and patted the twin bed I often slept in.
And then I whirled around and waved, see you, and headed down the stairs and out the door, before anyone could see my tears.
The next day our side yard was filled up with neighbors and strangers and the incessant bark of the auctioneer, while inside the house grew emptier and emptier as our belongings disappeared out the door. Peggy and I crouched down and peered out our low bedroom window, ducking whenever someone looked up at us with what we imagined must be pity. We had to hold back from shouting: “No, you can’t take that, it’s mine,” when the gavel struck and the man declared SOLD. We had been told it all had to go, and we’d be rewarded by getting new things at the other end. Our mother tried to be Pollyanna about how she was looking forward to this, but we knew she had favored hiring a moving van. This auction was our father’s idea, to strip down to what would fit into or on top of our 1954 Nash Rambler Station Wagon, along with all of us. When it was time for Mother’s baby grand piano to be auctioned off, Mother disappeared, and the next time I saw her, she looked blanched and pale and unsteady, as if she might faint.
There was no such significant loss among my belongings; for me it was the land. The great garden where our vegetables grew large and colorful, much more so than in the hard backyard plot of the Coutlers, fed as ours was from the generous pile of chicken manure which got regularly shoveled out the back windows of the big five story barn until it mounded up into a pile a couple of stories high. The path at the side of the field up to the first barn, the low door that my father had to stoop to pass through but which was just right for me. The second barn farther up the driveway, where we kept the brooder hens under large circular lights, that provided the heat that kept them from bunching up to stay warm and smothering each other in a corner. Then the tamped down grass path up to the high back field, where stood the summer coops for the hens who roamed free all day but came in at night to lay their eggs.
The crab apple orchard lined the back of the field. Carol and Billy and Tommy and I often played there, dividing off into friends and enemies, honing a point on a green stick, then hurling all the dropped crabapples across the field at each other. They stung like bullets when they hit you. You fell to the ground, grasping your stung arm and rolling about like a soldier you’d seen on the front page of the newspaper during the Korean war. But then, as the enemy prepared to charge upon the person who was your partner, you’d rise up, miraculously recharged with energy, grab the nearest apples you could find and begin a fresh assault on the others, spitting mad and trying to make your hurl accurate enough to sting back the shooter who had gotten you.
There were memories too in this field, of picking butter cups, of Carol holding one under my chin to see if it turned my chin yellow for yes as she said, “He loves you, he loves you not,” not knowing it was her brother Billy I had in mind to ask the question about. There were times of being chased by the rooster, screaming and running wildly with my arms flapping, as if I were of the chicken species, running backwards out of fear the rooster would take a peck at my butt. And there were masses of wild flowers here in the tall grass from May until the snow came down and blanketed it and let us know we were done for winter and wouldn’t be back until the next year.
I loved the snow, too, the perfection of it when we woke in the morning and no one had yet been out to shovel or play in it. Freezing rain on top of it only made it all the more like icing on a just frosted cake, it glistened and enveloped the world. My brother couldn’t wait to get his snowsuit on, to go out and spring though the crust, breaking up the perfect surface it made to our wide front yard; he had no reverence. But I preferred to sit in the window longer, just looking at it, enjoying its flawless character, seeing how nature was always giving things a chance to start over.
I must have been hoping mother nature would give the same to me--a chance to cover up the jagged edges, to smooth out the rumpled feelings I carried within me, as I clung to some measure of my own reality as it differed from my mother’s reality, as she spouted off that we were going to be oh so happy in Florida, although no one in the family had ever set a foot in that state before and it was all a gamble, and my father’s reality, as he denied he’d gotten drunk the night before and said or done this or that shameful thing. “I don’t remember a thing,” he’d say heartily, and it seemed as though there was no holding him down to tell him he was still the daddy and was supposed to be responsible for all of us.
I helped Daddy pack the little two-tone green Nash Rambler station wagon the morning of our departure. He was sober then and careful to make every fold neat as he slipped in the smaller bags and objects around the larger ones and tied special ship’s knots to secure the suitcases that were in the roof rack, grunting now and again as he pulled hard, patting and shaking to make sure everything was tight. I admired him no end then, as he protected our scant remaining belongings. The car sagged lower and lower and he checked that, too, how much clearance we might have going over a bump.
“All set,” he finally said to me. “Now we just have to wait for your mother.” I knew what he meant by that. She was always slow to leave a place. He lit a Raleigh and looked up at the barns. I followed his eyes and a huge lump started to build in my throat. How could we possibly leave this place? I wanted to suggest we start unpacking, but, of course, someone had bought the farm. Whoever they were, they didn’t seem real, I had never seen them, and yet they had been given the keys and might be moving in any day now.
Finally, Mother came with the baby Patti in tow, Peggy and Tommy running out ahead of her, Tommy arguing that he needed a window seat or he’d puke. I countered that I’d been first to the car so got first choice but, in the end, I settled for the middle seat when Daddy told me he might need me to move around the things we’d packed so he could see out of the rear view mirror. As we pulled away, I was up on my knees, glancing down the road to the Coulter’s house, then getting a final look at our house and barns and yard as I patted down the thing Daddy said was blocking his view, and my tears streamed down without being seen by the rest of them and loosed that big lump in my throat, though I had no idea how I would go on living, without this place and Carol to define me.
Helen: What Planet is This?
In Florida, we were to undergo a complete renewal by spending the money we’d gotten from selling our house and belongings to build a new house and furnish it afresh. Meanwhile, we lived in a cheap motel, nothing but sand and sand spurs in the patch of dirt outside our door. So how was I to make new friends when we didn’t even have a home?
It was both exhilarating and frightening to visit the construction site and be within the container of our future house, and look up and see the sky, since the roof had not yet gone on. It gave me an airy sense of freedom, but too much of it, which created something like vertigo. The farm in upstate New York, our two-story wooden 1850’s house with its grand central hall, the memory of my parents peeling off layers and layers of ancient wall paper to make it ours when we’d first moved there, the hundred year old maples in the front yard, me running down the road to play with Carol and Billy: these pictures took up strong residence in my mind as if to shelter me while we lived in the funky motel room. “The new… The new…” my mother kept saying. “The new house will have all new appliances. The new house will have a brand new washing machine with a spin cycle. No more wasting time putting the clothes through the wringer.” I wanted to counter, “But what about the old baby grand?” I didn’t say it out loud but she must have heard my thoughts. “I’ll get a new piano, just you wait and see. It’ll have to be an upright, but you watch.”
The only thing about Florida that impressed me was the beach. Miles of white sand, strong surf, and a fishing pier where pelicans lit on every post. Sometimes my father snuck away in the early mornings to fish on the pier and brought back sunfish, which he’d fillet and fry up for breakfast. Before then my sole exposure to fish had been fish sticks, and at first I hesitated to test out the real thing, but when I did, I discovered the fish was so delicate it nearly melted in my mouth.
I went to the last five weeks of sixth grade at Dunedin Elementary School before school let out for summer. Introduced as “the new girl,” I shriveled up and disappeared and didn’t make a single friend. Peggy went to Clearwater Junior High and came home to the motel each day to report on all her new friends, which only collapsed me further into my wrinkled and crumpled feeling of inadequacy. I had never had to make friends from scratch before, to choose from the many, and I didn’t seem able to do anything but yearn for the life I’d left behind up North.
But houses went up fast in Florida in the 1950’s and within three months, we moved into our new home, the smell of damp concrete still permeating the air. The heat and humidity of our first summer in Florida bore down upon us, but at least I had a room again, albeit one shared with Peggy. Our room was on the left on the way down the hall to the master bedroom, while Patti and Tommy were in bunk beds in the smaller bedroom on the right. Mother claimed the concrete walls and floors kept things cooled down, but I didn’t think so. We padded around in bare feet, wearing nothing but shorts and tank tops and still the heat was like a spell that enveloped me, making me want to lie down and sleep all the time. At night, when I succumbed to this desire, the bed sheets were damp even before I climbed in between them, making me yearn again for The North, for the house I knew so well, for the Coulters with their wide-armed generosity, for Carol’s bossy selection of me-- “You’re my best friend, whether you like it or not!” And for watching Billy’s bravery at living with his birthmark.
But then, finally, school started again and I made a new friend--Helen--who lived in the middle of her daddy’s orange grove at the end of our street. We got off the bus at the same stop and I started walking her part way home--past our house and down the street until we came to the place where the road turned to dirt and there was a big NO TRESPASSING sign, which meant that we were entering Helen’s daddy’s land. Helen had a nice coppery brown skin that tanned, brown hair and brown eyes set in a squarish face. She was smart but knew how to hide it. She didn’t have to flaunt anything, brains or looks, because she had that aura of self containment, which teenagers automatically know to envy.
Helen had a straight forward calm about her that reassured me she was not going to ask me any trick questions. She didn’t expect me to be clever, neither did she mock me if something went over my head, and a lot did. I was still getting over the shock of moving and my feet were not too firmly planted on the sandy Florida soil, which gave way so easily. She seemed to know her strengths would be enough to get her by for what she wanted.
We sat together in seventh grade Civics class and both adored the teacher, Mr. Jones, whose stated purpose was to get us to think for ourselves. He claimed Shetland ponies could fly and challenged us to prove they couldn’t or else to agree with him. I kept begging him to admit he was kidding, but Helen didn’t bother. Just told me to stop beating my head into that wall and go look them up in the encyclopedia, which is exactly what Mr. Jones had been after. We happened to have a set of encyclopedias, only because my dad had tried out his knack for selling them during the time we’d been staying in the motel, when Mother had begged him to get a stay-at-home job instead of going back to sea. When he’d failed miserably as a salesman, Mother insisted upon being his one successful customer, and now we were stuck paying for this encyclopedia for life. Helen looked up Shetland ponies, too, and we compared notes, revealing we had not been able to locate any such flying species. “You’re wrong,” we adamantly scolded Mr. Jones, though I secretly admired the things he had made up about them and couldn’t get it out of my head that somewhere, in some century, there might have been flying horses and they would have made a nice sight.
Mr. Jones did other things to make us think about life outside of books. He took us on a tour of the country jail, where the women screamed at us like banshees when we peeked between the bars, desperate to see if they looked anything like any woman we had ever known. Only Helen covered her ears and hung behind me, giving me the funny feeling she might have known someone who’d gone to jail. One of her scary brothers, for instance.
Our subdivision was named Citrus Lake Estates to honor its origin as a citrus grove, and, in fact, even though Helen’s daddy was totally secretive, we suspected it had once been owned by him. Continuing in a straight shot past the NO TRESPASSING sign a half mile between the rows of citrus trees, one came to a parking lot and Helen’s house, a rarity in Florida because it was considered old. It was a wood frame single story structure built upon a concrete basement which sat on top of the ground, so you had to climb up a flight of stairs to the front porch to enter. At the end of the parking lot was a three car garage, over which sprawled one huge room, housing the pool table of her quite a bit older brothers.
In all the years of our friendship, I only got into the house once. “Just holler from out front,” Helen would tell me when I phoned to say I was about to come down to see her, and she’d come running out within seconds. Her father had a reputation for scaring off people with a shotgun, when they mistakenly drove down the dirt road and loitered to eye the fecund orange, grapefruit and kumquat trees hanging with fruit that could be seen from all directions about his large, turnaround parking lot, and I always worried he might take me for one of them. Her brothers took after their father and, like him, were highly non-verbal and friendly only with their guns. If they came to play pool in the room over the garage, we scattered or huddled in the far corner, turning the couch around so that the high back was toward them, a sort of bullet proof shield. They called Helen ‘Sis’ in a way that seemed affectionate but never acknowledged my presence, and I never got to the point of even calling them by their names.
Mrs. Whitehead, Helen’s mother, was the fattest woman I had ever seen. She was not very tall but must have weighted well over 300 pounds and, despite two canes, she walked with a lumbering waddle. My eyes followed her with some fascination when Helen and I accompanied her to the grocery store. If you walked behind her, you saw that when she stepped on one leg, the other cheek dimpled dramatically and then dropped its great mass downward, then the other cheek rolled into action, holding itself up for a split second before it took its downward dive. Getting in the car was a major production. She kept the seat all the way back. For a good five minutes she had to handle her flesh, move it over and under the steering wheel, then finally pull the whole seat forward again so that her feet could reach the petals. My mother told me there must be something medically wrong with her. I waited for Helen to tell me what but she never did. Instead, one Christmas she let me go into the house and we scampered by her mother into Helen’s room to check out her presents.
Mrs. Whitehead sat in an old green velvet-covered chair with wide arms, magazines all around her, stacked up higher than the arms of the chair. Stacks of dishes sat in the sink and every inch of the kitchen table was covered with boxes of cereal, dishes, condiments, papers. In my mind’s eye I saw a picture of Helen’s notebook, which she always kept so neat, her script with its rounded letters, so readable. I saw her wavy brown hair, always combed so neatly into place, her blouses tucked so tidily into her skirts. How could she come from this? I tried to keep a blank face, to hide my shock, my horrification, but I must have failed, because she never let me in again. She went back to dashing out front to meet me, then taking me up to the pool room where we perched on the old falling-apart stuffed sofa and did our homework.
We played pool, too. I always wanted to more than she did. I felt I could be good at it, if only I could get enough practice, and sometimes I had a run of luck and sunk a whole series of stripes or solids, building a beautiful sense of confidence, but more often I was too tight and overshot or undershot.
Helen and I went through eleven, twelve, thirteen together. Sprouting hair under our arms and down there, small delicate breasts. She had a cherubic face, which matured into a kind of perfection, lit up by those brown eyes which were both soft and intelligent. She had that skin that tanned, for which I would have given anything, as mine only burned and freckled beyond measure. As her femininity emerged, I watched closely, aware of her potential as a role model. But I wasn’t ready to relinquish my tom- boyhood. She had never been that crazy about playing pool, now she didn’t even want to hang out at her place or mine, only at the soda fountain on Main Street, or the youth center, where we went for dances. Helen was always first to be chosen, leaving me to hold up the wall, bouncing my foot into it to release some of my pent up humiliation at not being chosen.
For a short while I did have a boyfriend, Wayne, a baseball player, cute, with a dirty-blonde crew cut, a tan face, and a motor scooter. When it came time for baseball season, he went a couple of weeks without calling me. Helen kept closer track of this than I did, as she bounced around with her boyfriend who was already old enough to have a driver’s license. Eventually, I succumbed to her advice that I needed to give Wayne an ultimatum: Either me or baseball if he couldn’ t make enough time for both of us. Even as I delivered the ultimatum, I knew that, even if it would have been right for Helen, it was wrong for me. And of course Wayne chose baseball. So I was back to being a wall flower at the dances. And Helen was off with her “older guy.”
Then, before we finished high school, she got pregnant. When I visited her once while home from college, she had one child in the playpen, another sucking on the breast that not so long ago had grown from a flat pancake into a graceful curve with a generous brown nipple. It was shocking to witness this so newly grown breast being put into the service of her family.
My mother didn’t sit leafing through stacks of magazines, and my father didn’t go out on the porch with a gun, yet Helen and I had both discovered learning as a way to make order out of life. That had been our common bond and why we liked Mr. Jones. We told each other about any book we found that turned us on. Mostly, these were novels, such as Sayonara, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Sibyl. Occasionally, they were the more direct teachings set down in non fiction.
Now, with her toddler in the playpen behind me, yelling and socking me in the back with sticky fingers every time I opened my mouth to utter a word, and her tiny baby draped to burp or spit up on a rag flung over her shoulder, I tried to relate to her my experience of reading Karl Marx and discovering that socialism was inherently more fair than the system we lived under. But her eyes glazed and I could see that she was miles away and not getting it. I explained the book was short enough that one could read it within a few hours. She nodded agreeably, but I knew she never would.
Sweet as it was to hold her babies and smell that special baby smell, I couldn’t wait to leave. As I walked home from where Helen and her “older guy“ husband had built new at the upper end of Citrus Lake Estates, on a piece of the orange grove her daddy must have given her before he sold the next parcel off, I felt sad and solitary, yet thankful that I had not moved out from my mother’s house only to set up a new version of it. For Helen had already begun to accumulate stacks of magazines and newspapers beside a chair like her mother’s, her sink was chockfull of what looked like days and days worth of dishes, and all the orderliness she had made of her schoolbooks had disappeared.
I went home and tried to read my book but kept on reading the same page over and over. She had a husband and those babies and a whole adult life, I thought, and all that made my life as an individual seem small. But then I shook myself out of my reverie and remembered that my little blue desk in my dorm room awaited me, stacks of books on each corner beckoning to impart the knowledge contained in them, and I’d be going back there in a few days. Suddenly, it came to me that I didn’t know where I was going yet or what I might develop an ambition or a passion for, but I’d made a great leap by getting out of Citrus Lake Estates and, while she seemed to have the bigger life there in Dunedin, the world I had entered was huge.
Ginger's Fire tells the story of one woman's painful but necessary rebirth and awakening. Ginger and Nellie have finally realized their dream: after years of hard work, they have completely restored a beautiful old farmhouse in the Catskill Mountains. But as the house has come together, their relationship has been silently slipping away. When, after all their labors, their beloved home is destroyed in a catastrophic fire, Ginger and Nellie begin to move apart, and Ginger must begin an arduous journey to discover her own long absent passion and inner fire.
Jenifer Levin calls it, "A FINE PIECE OF WORK, written with the compression of poetry."
When a factory worker's baby dies because there are no health benefits at the textile mill where she works, Cora's co-workers decide to strike. Set in the factory town of Victory, North Carolina in the 1970's, Folly records the winning of the strike, and, at the same time, decribes the inner lives of the strike leaders, Folly and Martha, and of all the women and children who depend on the factory for their livelihood. It is an optimistic, witty and dramatic book, rare in depicting black and white women working as peers together and rare in its portrayal of the love that develops between Folly and Martha.
Give Me Your Good Ear
Three generations of women-grandmother, mother, and daughter-share a literal hearing impairment, perhaps inherited. Or perhaps a figurative deafness is being passed down, a silence that comes from words not spoken, questions not confronted, relationships not named.
Alice Walker said of it: "The writing is so good, I heard it all."
This is the first meditation book to address all of women's joys and concerns as they encounter the challenges of midlife. It includes daily affirmations and sage advice on hot flashes, mood swings, wisdom gained, and innocence lost.
"I have found that a daily dose of Maureen Brady's Midlife: Meditations for Women has made me feel better than most of my prescription medications. It should be sold in drugstores as well as bookstores." Gayle Sand, author of Is It Hot in Here or Is It Me?
Daybreak *** Now available as an ebook!***
Unknown numbers of women have suffered sexual abuse in childhood. Acknowledging the abuse after years of silence and secrecy and beginning a healing journey require support and encouragement. Long after the abuse is in the past, negative internal messages can invade and linger. Daybreak's positive statements intercept self-defeating messages, guiding readers toward new and healthy ways of thinking feeling, and behaving.