Friday, May 13, 2011

Summer 1977, and gifts in little boxes

I spent time yesterday with one of my oldest friends. My sister has always said there’s a certain comfort in spending time with people who know your story—ones who were with you when you were forming the life that’s now your background, ones who know your family, what kind of car you drove, maybe even the name of your dog. There’s nothing magical in having that kind of knowledge, per se, but it allows you to relax and know you can skip ahead to what’s happening now. It’s relationship shorthand.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I see on a regular basis now who knew me well then. The funny thing, I think, is that we humans continue to be attracted during our lives to the same type of person we were drawn to in our childhoods, but as we grow older, the traits we look for tend to be buried under “professional” personas and loads of other baggage. So we ended up missing people whose paths perhaps should intersect with our own.

My oldest friends, then, possess the qualities I loved before I knew that you’re “supposed” to be attracted to a certain kind of person. It really doesn’t matter what any of these friends happen to be doing now, because I remember them in their purest form. That’s why it’s so easy now, when I’m with any of them, to zero in on the things about them that have always made me smile.

I was a pretty serious little girl. I’m not sure if my early life experiences formed me or whether I’m simply made the way I’m made, but I’ve also grown into—most of the time—a relatively serious adult. The friend I was with yesterday, although he inarguably possesses a serious side, has always made me laugh. Not just laugh politely, but laugh until my eyes are so wet that I’m in danger of losing a contact lens or two. Yesterday was no exception, and after we parted, I realized I was walking with a certain lightness that I don’t always allow in my life.

I’m driven and goal-oriented and fairly productive, and on most days, I do what I’m supposed to do to be the person I’ve made myself into. I don’t, however, always remember to have fun. I often justify that by telling people that my idea of fun may not be the same as theirs; for me, it's fun to feel the adrenaline rush that comes with covering a meeting, then beginning to write at 8:40 the story that's due at 9.

Yesterday, though, I stopped thinking about work and just had fun -- the kind most people would recognize as actual fun, not the check-out-10-books-from-the-library kind. And as I laughed, I was transported back to 1977; it was summer, and I was sitting on my front porch on Sylvania Drive, or maybe on the big rock in my front yard. I was a kid, 14, and life was wide open. I don’t remember what my friend and I talked about back then, but I do remember the way the air felt, and I remember throwing back my head and laughing hard.

Summer nights smelled a certain way back then. I don’t know what the smell was, or why it’s different now. I’d be interested to know if today’s kids perceive the “smell” of summer the same way – if it’s not actually the smell that takes you back, but a sweet mishmash of where you were, what you were doing and the way you were feeling. The summer of 1977 was a long time ago, but yesterday, I could smell the air and hear my own teenage laughter. I could remember the girl I was, and when I re-entered my own world, it was with a conviction to add a little more lightness to it.

My grandmother used to use Hallmark cards to write me “life lessons.” In one of them, she talked about cultivating friends (little nerd girl that I was, I’m sure she was a tad worried). She wrote something about, “Family is everything, but friends are a gift in a beautiful box that you can wrap up and open again and again.” I’m lucky enough to have some of those friendships, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to unwrap them when I need them – especially on a day like yesterday, when I had no idea how much I needed some extra levity in my life.

I don’t want to go back to 1977; I like now just fine. But a hint of remembrance, wrapped and unwrapped like those boxes my grandma talked about, is a gift indeed.

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