By Amanda Cleary Eastep
One after the other, the six of us young girls crawl out the second story window of my friend’s apartment and onto the flat, tar paper roof of Wilma’s Cafe where the farmers gather on Saturday mornings to drink coffee and eat Western omelets after milking or plowing or planting, depending on the season.
To me that roof is a wonderland. Forbidden territory.
Only rain and sun touch it and maybe once in a while a man with a bucket of fresh tar.
Now our tender, bare feet run amok.
What I wouldn’t have given for such a sanctuary outside my bedroom window. I would have lain on a blanket under the stars and write secrets in my diary about my love for the boy with the crooked nose.
My friends and I are still in our pajamas, having hardly slept, because sleepovers are contradictions. And flat roofs are not meant to be playgrounds as we find out when the yells of the furious cafe owner reach us from the sidewalk below.
Giggling and guilty–because we go to the same parochial school–we all try to squeeze back through the apartment window at once.
The mom of our slumber party host will take the brunt of the owner’s anger, but she can handle him. She is a waitress at the Ramada Inn. She lets us eat raw cookie dough and call her by her first name, and she knows words my father only says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.
Three of us have remained friends since those days 40 years ago.
One night, we met for Chicago-style pizza, because the friend who had eventually left for college in Florida, fell in love, and stayed there came for a visit craving the food she misses most. A family-size cheese and sausage forced us into a circle where we gorged ourselves on comfort food and conversation.
Why do friends get together after so many years have passed and so many miles have separated and so many experiences have transformed them?
I guess because we are each others’ youth, and children’s friendships should never be underestimated. At our most vulnerable age, we form bonds and little fierce tribes who war on playgrounds. We defend each other against bullies and rally around after boys break our tiny hearts and grandparents die.
You can simply yank on the cord woven early of shared experience and secured with one of those bowline knots farmers use on their animals.
That kind of knot is easy to untie if you want to but doesn’t slip even under extreme tension.
That night in our circle–a circle like the one you make when you play truth or dare at slumber parties–we reminisced. About high school road parties and family campouts. About eight years of Lutheran grade school and our small town upbringing. About how some things, like the Friday night fish fry, have not changed…deep fried, perch, bread slices plastered together with butter, and slices of lemon meringue pie.
A beige diet, kind of like our childhood may have seemed.
But life is never truly beige. We were just naive and innocent then, and now we aren’t.
We realize that raising daughters alone on a waitress’s salary was impossible without the safety net of loving grandparents.
We see that swinging a hammer for years wreaked havoc on shoulders that carried the weight of family responsibilities.
We understand that small towns can resist change but still nurture the spirit of children who will run barefoot right over your head.
We know that young love fades, but true friendships don’t.
A version of this post was first published at Amanda’s blog Living Between the Lines.