Do you remember how easy it was to make friends when you were a kid? Today in honor of Throwback Thursday, I started thinking about childhood friendships. At first I was going to share stories of some of those friendships, but then I realized that I still am friends with most of the people from my childhood! I thank my parents for that. My mother’s best friend, Norma, kept in touch with her for her entire life, and after my mom died, Norma sent me this wonderful envelope full of photos and a long letter sharing some funny stories about their antics as girls growing up in Floral Park. Apparently, Mr. Dalton of Dalton’s Funeral Home used to lend them winding sheets (big sheets used to wrap bodies!) as a curtain for their home theater productions of famous plays. They used to play at Dalton’s too, and Norma had funny stories to share. My mom had never told me any of those stories, and receiving such an envelope, with photos of my mom in her bobby socks and saddle shoes back in the 1940s, hanging out with her best buddy Norma was just priceless. I think my sister has those photos now; she’s our official family archivist.
On Sunday after church this past weekend, I drove to the library to borrow more books. Our library shares its parking lot with the children’s playground, and there are always little ones between the ages of 2 and 7 or so playing on the jungle gym and slide. I love to watch them. They bring back so many happy memories of playgrounds at that age. There’s something magical about playgrounds when you are six years old. Climbing the bars of the jungle gym is a major accomplishment, and in a heartbeat your imagination can soar into a story. I remember the jungle gym at the Floral Park playground. It had these odd quatrefoil-shaped towers of bars on either end, and we would climb to the top and hold on as if we were in the tube of a rocket ship. We would chant the countdown, and blast off! In our imaginations, we’d be riding a rocket into space for the next grand adventure.
Making friends at the playground was as simple as saying hi. I made friends wherever I went. One day on line at Grand Value, I started talking to a nice girl around my age. She lived just up the street in Stewart Manor, and so we made plans to meet the next day. And the next. I tried to make friends with her, but her mother was super cautious and didn’t want us being friends because she didn’t know my family. My parents, on the other hand, were just like, “Yeah, sure go play.” I’m not sure why they were so laissez-faire, but they were, and for the most part that was a blessing.
I made friends with new kids who moved in. There was Kim, whose mother kept their house like a palace but who wouldn’t let the kids play anywhere except the basement and their odd, unfinished attic bedroom. The living room was chock full of French and Italian Provencal antiques, with a velvet rope across the entrance like a museum, and everything was quiet and dusted about sixty times a day, but the girls’ bedroom (Kim had a younger sister) was cold and drafty. It was the weirdest household I’ve ever been in. Kim’s family moved away just a few years after she and I became friends, but I think of her every so often. She was a friend I wished I had stayed in touch with.
Then there were the kids your parents said you “had” to play with. Do you remember them? It was always the kid who picked her nose and ate it, or the kid with weird allergies, or the kid who snorted and made weird jokes that didn’t make sense. We had one of those. “Play with Yves,” my mother would say, and yes, Yves is a made-up name to protect an innocent. And Yves and I would troop down dutifully to the basement playroom where she would bore me to tears. And I think I bored Yves to death, too.
Oh yes, in addition to making friends easily, kids also have a no-bullshit approach to life that we lose as adults. We are told to play nice with everyone when in fact the Yves of this world drive us nuts. While I would never be mean to an Yves-type as an adult, I’m relieved I don’t have to pretend to like them, or befriend them.
Watching the kids at the playground this past weekend, I’m reminded of how open and easy children are with one another. A new child scampered from the car to the jungle gym; in a few minutes, he said to another little boy, “Want to play hunting?” I live in rural Virginia, so the boys are hunters for the most part, and the other boy was up for it. Soon they were clamoring to the top of the jungle gym, aiming pretend riffles at the ducks bobbing in the nearby lake. They were sliding down the slide and inventing all sorts of games when five minutes before they had been total strangers.
We lose that ability as adults, and it’s a shame. We gain the ability to turn people away, like the Yves of this world, but I think we lose more than we gain.
Childhood friendships. Do you stay in touch with any of your childhood friends?
Jeanne Grunert is an award-winning writer and content marketing expert. She lives and works at Seven Oaks Farm, her small hobby farm in Virginia, alongside her husband, John, German shepherd dog Zeke, and seven cats.