My trusty red Jeep Renegade Roxanne carted my two youngest children and I to southern Indiana this weekend for the wedding of two beautiful young people, the bride being the daughter of a life-long friend of mine. My spouse and oldest kid had marching band duties and couldn’t join us for the celebration. When your husband is part of the administration responsible for enforcing attendance at band competitions, you can’t very well kidnap him and your band kid for a wedding, no matter how good of friends they may be.
It was a long drive, six hours away from my home. I’ve made this trip only two other times before. We drove down Friday night after work let out and got in past midnight. I don’t remember the last two hours of the drive all that well. Both kids had passed out in the back seat in an Oreo coma right before Louisville. It was dark, and I was slapping my cheeks, drinking cold water, and singing to stay awake. So dangerous! I know I should have pulled over to rest, but I figured I would then wind up sleeping for hours on some random interstate rest stop with two kids in tow. I really didn’t want to do that and be a mess the entire next day, if not the whole weekend. Because, let’s be honest: six hours down meant six hours back.
We three got a good night’s rest and it was time to get ready for the ceremony so I suited up the kids. My daughter chose a tasteful preteen black dress with matching flats. We had to curl her very long hair for effect. I let her wear nude eye shadow, mascara, and a hint of lipstick. To top it off, I let her wear some dangly earrings I brought along. Not overdone but subtle and pretty.
That afternoon I learned that my son outgrew his first holy communion suit in just six months’ time. I just assumed it would fit. The jacket did, but we could barely snap the pants which were almost a full two inches too short. Say what? I whispered to myself he was going for the Brooks Brothers look with no break in the pant leg. Or maybe he was super stylish with a LeBron James capri-length suit. Uh huh. Whatever. I topped off his look with suspenders and a bow tie, and let me tell ya: he was a tiny little stud when it was all said and done. We even put a little gel in his hair to get it to stay put.
I debated between the three dresses I brought, waiting for inspiration to hit me in terms of what look to shoot for. I finally chose a black and white geometric print maxi dress, flat sandals, and bright red lips. The red lips were not subtle. The flats were for dancing. I intended to celebrate.
Much to everyone’s surprise, it was 87 degrees this first October weekend in Indiana but there was virtually no humidity (also surprising), and as we pulled up to the venue, I discovered it was an outdoor wedding. A lovely, flower-laiden arbor was placed beside a small, pretty lake with white folding chairs assembled for those congregated. Afraid we might melt a little, I learned we didn’t have to worry too much. It didn’t feel that hot and a little breeze blew now and then to make the afternoon perfectly pleasant. Correction: picture-perfect.
Right away, I searched the crowd for my friend Stephanie, and found her at the edge of the gathering, working through logistics of the venue.
Mother of the bride! I have a friend who is mother of the bride! She was absolutely gorgeous in a brownish taupe dress with beading, her mid-length blond hair pulled back in curls and waves. Her large, light blue eyes were sparkling. It struck me how beautiful she is and always has been, and the joy on her face made it clear how happy she was that her only daughter was getting married.
Steph had kids when she was younger, and in contrast, I had mine when I was much older. I got to meet her little girl for the first time when I came to visit their home as a single woman. I distinctly recall this beaming, bouncy little 3 or 4-year-old brunette with large, brown, shiny eyes. We bonded. I painted her toes and fingers a sparkly orange while she sat transfixed. She was absolutely adorable and one of the prettiest little girls I had ever seen. I was so happy that my friend had two wonderful kids.
I had only seen this daughter one other time, at the high school graduation party of her older brother. Over the years though, I felt I knew her because I watched her mother recount her life in Facebook pictures. What a joy to watch her achievements over the years in softball, to marvel at her senior pictures, and to monitor her college years and dating life from afar…always with admiration.
At some point her daughter friended me online. I was completely tickled to have her friendship. Even though her family and I have always lived far apart, she knew enough about me to befriend me, and I was touched by the gesture.
My friendship with Stephanie is over four decades long, and dates back to kindergarten. She grew up a block away from me, across the street from our elementary school. For years, we played together almost every day, and fought like cats and dogs, kinda like sisters would but I never did with my own because they were so much older than me.
Monday I would drag my baby doll and crib over to her home to “play house” in her basement. She had, hands down, THE COOLEST play kitchen set. Her pretend husband was Donny Osmond (in retrospect, an admirable choice) and mine was Tony Orlando (really? OMG). The next day, she’d drag her stuff over my house to play “Little House on the Prairie”, “Happy Days”, Wonder Woman & Isis, or Barbies. Our days would end in a fight or tears or both…yet the next day we’d start all over again, ad infinitum. Our mothers would roll their eyes.
I was terrified of her terrier and her older sister. She was terrified of her older sister, for that matter. At some point her sister warmed up to me and started to call me her “little sister” too. That felt really nice, to think I had won her over.
Somewhere around 5th grade Steph and I grew apart. I had become best friends with another girl in our class. Actually the three of us were known as the Three Muskateers…we lived in the same neighborhood and hung out together but at any given time any two of us got along better than all three simultaneously.
This was around the same time Stephanie was allowed to go roller skating and hang out with boys on Friday nights at St. Joseph’s Catholic School gymnasium around the bend on Route 40 from our neighborhood. Skating and boys during junior high were strictly disallowed in my house.
This is when she started styling her hair while I hadn’t even figured out how to comb mine consistently. She always had the best clothes. I felt a little jealous about that. Ok, maybe a lot jealous. I had polyester hand-me-downs that were any where from 5-15 years out of style.
You see, Steph and I attended grade school in the 70s. Girls wore blue jeans every day in the 70s, but not me. I was stuck wearing dresses with bobby socks, in the 70s. My mom was 45 years older than me and routinely argued that poor people wore blue jeans in the Depression when they didn’t have two nickels to their name. We didn’t have money for things like clothes as it was, but for sure there was no way she was going to dress me in jeans no matter how much styles had evolved since the Depression. It was brutal.
Finally my mom broke down and bought me my first pair of jeans in the 5th grade. I had one pair, and only one, with red satin bands embroidered on the back pockets. Man, I was so proud of those pants. I wore them weekly until they were at least three inches too short for me.
Stephanie clued me in that the kids at school made fun of how I dressed, at how severe my “floods” were. It hurt like crazy to hear it but I appreciated the honesty so I could figure out a way to manage it in the years to come. I still have hang-ups when it comes to clothes.
In 6th grade, I finally learned to ride a bike so we’d tool around our hamlet of Lansing on our ten-speeds. Once we rode to an abandoned construction site of sorts a couple of blocks from our home. I don’t remember why this field was torn up like it was but a giant pond had formed. We took a bunch of boards and rocks that were laying around and tried to build a bridge across it. Engineers we were not. As we tried to cross the pond, one of the boards flipped and we both fell onto our bottoms into this mucky water, LOADED with tadpoles. Neither of us were really outdoor kids. It was the grossest thing EVER to fall into the Tadpole Hole but we howled about it all the time afterwards. I’ll never forget walking stiff-legged out of that pond, just imagining where we might find tadpoles. Ewww…
By the time high school started, our friendship really blossomed again. One of the days I walked across the alley to the elementary school to catch the bus to the high school. She met me half-way across the alley, with crazy eyes, a distraught look on her face, and her hand thrust before me. I remember thinking it was really strange for her to walk toward my house when the bus stop was across the street from her own house, but then she directed me to look at what was missing: the class ring from her long-time boyfriend no longer on her finger. They had broken up and she was devastated. I remember feeling so badly for her…but I can’t remember if I hugged or tried to console her. Some memories are missing. I can only hope I was a good friend to her in return.
We used to laugh about how her mom would critique her hair, makeup, and clothing for the day before she was excused to leave for school. She called it The Twirl. She had to “twirl” in front of her mom so she could take in the whole ensemble. Her mom was tough on her but it was clear her mother loved her. Over time I grew not so much jealous of their relationship, but certainly wistful. Steph had something with her mom that I never had with mine.
In contrast, she always thought my mom critiqued my grades but I had to explain that my parents didn’t pay a lick of attention to my grades unless they weren’t “As” in which case I would get an earful, like the time my dad berated me for getting a B in art. I made sure crap like that never happened.
Still my mom got a kick out of Stephanie. Steph still recites my mom’s favorite line when she was in a good mood: “Dig, dig, dig….” and we laugh.
Her mom Carol liked me, it seemed, and liked her in return. I remember being blown away by this beautiful portrait of her mom in her late 1950s/early 1960s wedding gown that hung in their living room. I had never really seen a portrait of a bride before, in anyone’s home, so this was unusual, and she was breath-taking.
At some point Steph got a car and then drove us both to school for class. It was awesome. She gave her car a name which I have forgotten…and that’s why I named Roxanne and most of my cars to this day.
Senior year I was named to our homecoming court. Right after school that day, Steph showed up at my house with some other friends to honor me and bring me flowers. I have never forgotten that kindness. It could have been incredibly easy for friends to abandon me – and some did over the years – but she never did.
In the mid-80s, we graduated from high school, and before you knew it, Steph was engaged to be married to a guy that wormed his way into her life. She felt compelled to marry him not because she was in love with him but because he just showed up at her house every single day to visit with her mom, whether or not she was there. He didn’t give her any space to be anywhere but with him.
She asked me to be in her wedding party and I gladly accepted. What did we know? We thought maybe this was how grown up relationships worked. Can you imagine?
I remember coming along to see her getting fitted in her wedding gown and I burst into tears on the spot, seeing a childhood friend all dressed in white.
About a month before the wedding, Stephanie called me in tears to say she was calling it off. She had the guts to admit she didn’t love him but felt coerced by her fiancé into a marriage she never wanted. She was afraid I would be disappointed in her. I couldn’t believe she was worried about me being disappointed. I wasn’t upset. Instead I was incredibly proud of her for being strong and knowing what was right for her. The strength that took! She found it in herself to speak her truth. So incredibly brave of her.
She and I went on vacation to Florida together within the year, visiting Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, and Disney. It was awesome to hang, just the two of us as adult women. And when we landed in the Columbus airport after the end of this trip, her then new boyfriend, now husband, was slated to pick her up. It was the first time I met him.
She and I lost touch shortly after this. They married in a quiet ceremony on New Year’s Day at some point. Who knows where I was then…in Columbus, traveling like crazy for work? Maybe I had moved to Pittsburgh by then. Hard to say. Distance and work demands got in the way.
I remember arriving for our 10-year high school class reunion, and as I walked in the door, she was the one to grab me in the biggest bear hug, the most thrilled to see me. Honestly, hugs from Stephanie are my homecoming. I can always count on a bear hug from her. Her love and kindness are genuine.
So much has changed from the time we grew up. We both moved far away from little Lansing. They closed our elementary school, tore down our old high school, and replaced it with a new one in an entirely different location. My mother died, too young. Her sister became ill. Her father passed away far too young himself, shortly after my mom. She moved to Indiana with her husband, and her mother soon followed after selling her family and grandmother’s houses. They moved her sister out to Indiana too, so they could all be together. Her mom eventually remarried. My father died 11 years after my mom. We sold our family home to a family member 20 years ago and I haven’t stepped inside since.
I almost never visit Lansing now. Our little neighborhood isn’t the same, especially since our beautiful little houses have lost the pride and love that cared for them and the people inside. The corner candy and ice cream store we used to visit is torn down. The Tadpole Hole is long gone. Nearly every single thing that was my home and my memories of growing up, are, in a sense, completely destroyed. I almost feel like an Ohio Valley refugee, still wandering and trying to find a home 30 years later except I no longer have a physical home to go back to.
But Stephanie? Steph is home to me. And this is where my memory fails me….kinda like that Maya Angelou quote. I often forget what people say or do – shoot, I often forget what I say and do – but I never forget how someone makes me feel. Stephanie and her hugs – her warmth – is home personified no matter where we are when I see her.
So I drove six hours to witness the vows her gorgeous daughter made beside the love of her life. I took pictures, not so much of the bride and groom but of my beautiful, lifelong friend who was radiant. She has maintained a fantastic relationship with her own mother 30 years longer than I ever got with mine, and for 20-25 of those years, she has fostered the same kind of love and devotion with her own beautiful daughter. She clearly adores her daughter and it’s mutual. I got to witness this family and generations of this love pour forth as Buppa (grandma) Carol proudly walked down the aisle, followed by elegant daughter Stephanie, and then finally by their equally lovely granddaughter Cadie. And while this was happening, I blew silent kisses to Steph’s grandma Mary in heaven as she too had to be bubbling over to witness the beauty of the day, this long line of incredible women.
Yes, there I was, taking pictures of my beautiful friend, who had the kind of joy beaming from her face that I can only hope other parents experience when they see their precious children get married to the love of their life. I watched Stephanie Jo in a quiet joy of my own, gripping the arm of her handsome husband, a good man who is her equal, watching her face smile as it changed through several stages of emotion with elegance and poise, and then finally resting her head on her husband’s strong shoulder knowing their work in raising their daughter, into the confident woman she is today, was done. With overwhelming happiness and content, they witnessed their handsome new son-in-law walk arm in arm with his gorgeous bride on a sunny, warm, October afternoon, taking their first few steps as husband and wife.
That is a happy memory I will carry in my heart forever.
She and I danced a polka at the reception. I meant to tell her I discovered after all these years that I am technically half-Polish to her 100% Polish. Maybe we are related after all! Yes, we did the polka, not the easy, cheating way where you dance side by side one another but the kind where you dance as a couple and swing around. Then I dragged my own daughter out to the dance floor and the two of us old friends tried to snap her out of her pre-teen moodiness with Uptown Funk dance moves. My daughter was close to pulling a muscle with her eye rolls. She almost started laughing at us but the pre-teen attitude within her was too strong. Her arms stayed crossed, and she issued the standard, “Moooooooom….” that comes out in two syllables, not one.
Stephanie cupped my daughter’s face in her hands more than a few times and planted a couple of kisses on her cheek. My girl didn’t know what to make of it. I tried and tried and tried to explain to her who this cherished friend was to me, but I don’t think it really sunk in. I told her that when she marries, hopefully no less than twelve years from now, Stephanie and her husband are invited. Who knows if they’ll be able to come? Who really knows what the future holds? It’s nice to imagine it, though.
Time passes so incredibly fast and simultaneously slow, but in the span of a single day, I lived almost all 50 of my years over again, remarking over a friendship that has endured all this time despite the distance of many miles and the challenges of raising kids in wholly different generations from each other. She still loves me, despite the crazy, often annoying political stance I’ve recently taken that’s very different from her own. She still loves me even though we don’t get to talk or see one another that often. She still loves me, despite our daily cat fights over Barbies and baby dolls once upon a time.
And I still love her. I always will. She is my warmest reminder of home. She is my homecoming.