Total Magic

Oh you guys: as I mentioned in Eternal Memory this past week, we celebrated Dia de los Muertos at our house Friday night. Yeah, yeah…we’re not Mexican. I know. My oldest kinda rolled his eyes and said the same thing. The teenager in him was skeptical about my plans at first but since it involved doing something together as a family, he was game.

jarl-schmidt-557318-unsplashWe gathered in our family room, brought a bunch of candles in and lit them. Three on the fireplace, three near the fireplace, and three more scattered throughout the room. I love candlelight and it made our little gathering feel sacred.

We really didn’t know how to begin so my husband Ryun started off with a brief prayer. I made a comment about how those we know in heaven are gathered around us, at which point our oldest remarked that if he saw an extra face in the TV or in the corner of the room, he was outta there, which made us all laugh.

I didn’t know where to start, but I brought in several picture albums that my sister made for us siblings, copies of the photos my mom had in her stash. And then I started to talk about my dad, how he was one of seven kids who made it to adulthood, and how three had died as babies. I talked about his character, his parents, who he was close to, what he did in WWII, what he did for a living, and his courtship with my mom. How he had a booming, nasally singing voice such that I felt bad for the woman who sat in front of him in church as her ears had to be ringing by the end of service! How I’d stand next to him in church every Sunday, not much taller than his kneecap, and he’d peer down at me during the sung responses to say, “I can’t hear you”. Dad was the one who expected me to sing from the moment I could.

I told of how he was indebted to his older sister Sue for getting him his job at the local steel plant, a job he kept for 40+ years, and he repaid her year after year for decades by spending his vacation time traveling to Cleveland and working on whatever needed done at her house – like tiling the bathrooms. How he was laid off for a time before I was born and painted houses to get by and provide for his family of four at home. How he never advanced to foreman despite his obvious intelligence and work ethic, because he made the bold mistake of telling his boss that he was a liar….and I have no doubt his supervisor must have been all that and more for my dad to say so to his face. How proud he was to get a watch from the company upon his retirement.

I told our kids how dad broke his collarbone in his early 50s before there was physical therapy and had a hard time getting his arm above his head ever since. How much he hustled and worked hard. If something broke in our house he was ON IT immediately, tearing apart an entire washing machine, for example, until he could find the mechanical piece that wore out so he could run to the store for its replacement. My dad had a work ethic like NOBODY I’ve ever seen.

He was strong, quiet, sensitive, stubborn as hell, smart, hard-working, but a big old softie too. The first time I ever remember seeing him cry was my aunt’s funeral where he broke down sobbing. He had a genuine soft spot for kids too. He preferred to rent the little house behind our home to single mothers as he knew they’d be safe under his watch and they’d take good care of the place. He always kept the cookie jar in our kitchen filled to the brim and the kitchen door unlocked during the day so little kids could help themselves any time they wanted.

I told our kids that once dad made up his mind, you would not change it no matter how compelling your case. How he really disliked conflict but he would still make effort to right a wrong. How when he was in the hospital for the final time, he was unfailingly kind and grateful for the care he received.

Telling these stories was so cool.

Then I did the same for mom, who was one of eight kids. I talked about her twin sisters, her divorced, unapologetically bachelor, gambling, drinking brother Andy with the jet black hair who everyone called Blackie, her adored kid brother named Louis (Louie), a guy who loved to draw, who died way too young at 32…and it’s not lost on me what my last name is. How all her siblings were good-looking, well-groomed, and well dressed even though they didn’t have a lot of money to their name.

I talked about the Cut N Curl beauty shop that my Aunt Mary operated with her twin Nancy and mom during the war. Three tiny, drop-dead gorgeous, oh-so-feisty, lively women engaged in riotous laughter with the customers/friends – how that salon had to be THE place to be. Women worked in the factories while the men were gone off to war but the women didn’t sacrifice beauty: they got their hair done every week no matter what. How my beloved Aunt Nancy would squeeze my cheeks to give me a kiss followed immediately by a full-on bite, leaving a big old wet imprint of teeth marks that would hurt for a full minute after. So gross. Our kids begged me to demonstrate so I did, and they were as horrified as I always was when I was done. We broke down in a fit of giggles.

I told them how the best memories of my mom were when somebody would grab her at a wedding to polka. She loved to dance but dad didn’t know how. How I can still picture Sundays in our house, the sun pouring through the windows, and mom in our big kitchen heating up dinner in the early afternoon after church with the Polka Party blaring on the radio and the Steelers playing on TV in the living room. She’d walk in to tell my dad something and stop right in front of the TV, blocking the view every single time, and we’d all have to yell at her good-naturedly to move since she was completely oblivious to the game unfolding behind her. I can still picture her with a bandanna on her head and a giant heavy ceramic bowl on a chair while she bent over and kneaded dough for nut roll or pierogies a couple of times a year. It was always an all-day endeavor but these specialties of hers were delicious.

Unfortunately with mom comes very sad memories, like the time her sister Nancy died when I was all of ten years old. My mom never overcame her grief. So many of her siblings died too young. They had made it through the Depression, through life with a violent, alcoholic father, through the war, through weddings for most of them, and through an accident that left their mother invalid and wheelchair bound with my mother as her caretaker until grandma died. After making it through all of that, life was supposed to be grand but then tuberculosis, heart attacks, cancer, and cirrhosis took her siblings one by one.

My mother spent the last 10 years of her life crying virtually non-stop, head in hands at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee before her, or laying on the sofa, trying to sleep her life away. Society didn’t talk about mental illness or depression then in any sort of positive way – there was such a stigma – and the only sort of treatment for her condition was Valium, which I am pretty sure she took. She couldn’t focus on her husband, her kids including me, or her grandkids no matter how much joy they inherently brought. Her mother and her siblings were the most important part of her life and the joy of that life fizzled out for good when her best friend, my Aunt Nancy, died. In a year’s time, I was the only child left at home, with my brother off to college and my older two sisters married adults on their own at that point.

I told the story about how my grandfather ran a still during Prohibition, had horrific anger issues, and tried to kill his wife and kids on Christmas day with a shotgun, leaving them all to hide in a barn for their lives. The only reason I even know that story is because my godmother, his youngest daughter, shared that news in a rare moment of honesty in her elder years. Over the years in hushed tones, I learned how he ran off to New Jersey where he may have done something unspeakable. Who really knows.

My other grandfather hurt himself in the mines and couldn’t work after that; he couldn’t walk without the aid of a cane. There was no rehabilitation or social security at the time. He asked to borrow money from my dad under the premise it was needed for the family, and then used it to buy alcohol. My dad really never forgave him for it.

Not surprisingly, neither of my parents drank a sip of alcohol, and neither one ever spoke of their fathers. It was only at the end of my father’s 80-year-old life that I got him to tell that story of his own father, and he had a difficult time sharing even that tiny bit about him.

Their mothers, on the other hand, were revered, absolutely adored, practically worshiped. I told the kids how my grandmothers couldn’t have been more than 4′ 9″ tall. Our 10-year-old daughter is probably taller than they ever were and yet these women popped out how many kids? There’s a picture of maternal grandmother with a twinkle in her eye, one kid hitched to her hip, and a few of the others gathered around her, the oldest maybe 13 and as tall as she is. My dad is positioned in front in shorts, maybe three years old, and he looks antsy. This photo astonishes me and makes me laugh whenever I look at it. It is so unlike other photos of the time, nearly 100 years old at this point, taken outside, in a very candid and casual pose. Who would have taken this photo and under what circumstances?

I would much rather remember my mother in happier times, so I mimicked how my mom would hop on my dad’s lap, hug him, rub her hand on his face and bald head, and say “oh honey”, and dad would shake his head and admonish her, “You’re gonna break the chair!” but he wouldn’t push her off, and our kids giggled in fits. How I found my dad’s WWII love letters to mom one holiday gathering. My dad threatened to ground 10-year-old me if I read them, and I defied him by saying, “It’s worth it” and proceeded to do so so my sisters and brothers-in-law would hear. He was so mad he gathered up every last letter and burnt them! This was the same dad who crouched in the back of a car to surprise my mom who was asked to go on a car ride. He presented her with a rose-gold watch…one I believe I still have. This is the same man who wrecked his car for the first of only two times in his 80-year-long life, when he craned his neck to look at a pretty woman and hit a parked car. He was staring, apparently gobsmacked, at my mother.

We then started flipping through the albums. And the pictures came to life. My dad in his Army uniform, wearing an apron, drying dishes at my grandmother’s house while my mom, his girlfriend, washed. Mom is standing at the sink with long, wavy brown hair casting a silhouette that could just as easily been me. The pictures show that same house, the one I grew up in, before and after my dad remodeled it with his own hands, as well as the little house behind our house that my parents lived in at first. The pictures show my kitchen growing up, my grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, my parents, and my siblings and I when we were younger. Uncle Andy, or Blackie as they called him because of his jet black hair, dressed to the nines. My grandmothers side by side at my parents’ wedding. Our yard when it was my grandmother’s house and she made it into a huge flower garden. My mom, with her giant smile and dimples, and how much she looks like my sister and my niece today. Mom and Dad’s wedding day, kissing in front of the church.

The kids ate it up. Every last bit. But one of our kids had returned from an overnight camp and slowly began to drift off, so we had to call it quits for the night and resume later in the weekend when we could celebrate my husband’s family later on this weekend. We had planned to watch Coco… to cap off the night because it’s about music, and family, and well, that’s us too. We ended up watching it later that weekend as well. Next year we’ll build up it more, prepare some ancestral foods like Eastern European kielbasa and pierogies, or maybe some Chinese and Hawaiian food to celebrate.

As we wrapped things up, our youngest suggested we close with a prayer so Ryun asked him to do it. He didn’t want to at first, being unsure of what to do. But instead of succumbing to embarrassment, he gave it a go. That little heart inside of him thanked God for all that we have and then he closed the prayer by asking God to bless “all the souls in the world”. OMG. The tears. The pride inside my heart. He’s EIGHT. He gets it.

We don’t know what we’re doing as parents but we’re gonna keep doing it.

This was, hands down, the coolest thing we’ve done in a long time. I suggest you give it a whirl. You see, we pray for the dead all the time at church, but we don’t often celebrate them. And we Louies don’t live around a lot of family here in our part of Ohio, so the stories my husband and I tell are one of the only ways our kids will ever know about their family history. Ryun and I had huge extended families, and certainly on my end, there are so many stories that make me chuckle, and cry, and everything in between.

I plan to do it again this coming July, but focus entirely on my dad as this coming July would have been his 100th birthday.

There’s another reason I wanted to celebrate Dias de los Muertos. I’ve watched Mexicans get a bad rap in this country with this ridiculous political climate we’ve been in these last two+ years, the whole “they’re rapists, murders, etc.” claim which is false. My friends know how much that ticks me off but you, this blog audience of mine don’t necessarily know that.

I think what Mexicans do with this holiday is amazing. I have always thought we can learn from each other and borrow the best of what each of us has. For heaven’s sake, we turned St. Patrick’s Day into its own thing that even the Irish don’t recognize! We’ve hijacked Cinco de Mayo too and we Americans don’t even know what that’s supposed to be. Maybe I can be accused of cultural misappropriation here, but I think what our neighbors to the south do is remarkable. It reminds me of when we visited my mother in law’s hometown cemetery in Hawaii right after Memorial Day. The Hawaiians set up lawn chairs and flowers on the graves and hang out there all day, eating and telling stories about their loved ones who died.

Let’s embrace beautiful traditions we have and the stories about our loved ones on the other side of the veil. One day we just may learn that the thinnest of matter in the universe actually separates us from them at this moment in time.







Women, Weddings, Friendships, and Homecomings

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.

43274533_10216882941967198_2431152004379181056_nYes, 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.