Thursday, March 9, 2017

Summer Meetings

May 1984-zooming along I 696 in my mother’s dirt brown Buick. Bob Marley and the Whalers were wailin’ on the cassette player. The windows were all open, letting in the much anticipated spring air. I was enjoying how the wind was playing in my hair, causing it to whip wildly in the air above my head and brushing the ceiling of the car. The frantic energy of the wind matched the mix of excited emotions inside me.

I was going to see my best sisters. 

Sarah and Rosie....

I came up in the bourgeois public school system of Birmingham Michigan, and coming there from a once rural, and extremely counter culture farm life... needless to say kids thought I was quirky at best. To say that I had crowds of friends would just be a lie....but that was ok, because I always knew that I had Sarah and Rosie. I looked forward to their letters filled with stories about their dogs, and chickens....fantastic tales of imaginary characters (based mostly on the misadventures of their chicken population). I loved hearing about the exotic fruits and plants that they had where they lived. 

There is a fruit there called Craboo. I always wanted to know what it tasted like, because my sisters insisted that the taste defied description. It all seemed very exciting to me to live in the jungle. I had lived in the northern woods in a cabin and tents during my earliest years, and missed the life of nature and endless play that I had become accustomed to. The banal suburban existence that was placed in my path was mild at best in my mind compared to the extraordinary life in which my dearest friends still lived.

My partners in crime lived in Belize Central America for the majority of the time. While they enjoyed themselves because, of course, they were children, and children find any way to entertain themselves in any situation, it was a very difficult life for them sometimes. There were many times that Charles, their father would disappear for days with the understanding that he was going to get much needed provisions. Sometimes he came back with food, but it was hardly ever enough to feed their growing family. 

I was never sheltered from the knowledge of how difficult their life was. Nor was I ever allowed to take for granted all of the privileges that I had been given. While most children were being told "Eat that broccoli, there are starving children in Africa who would LOVE to have that!" I was being told "Eat that broccoli, your best friends are starving in Belize and would LOVE to have that." Even as a small child, I knew that it was true.

Even so...I fantasized about climbing trees, swimming in the clear blue pools of the river, visiting Mayan ruins, and talking to fairies in the jungle with them...This is where they lived. It was another world from me....seemingly a fantasy land, filled with magical creatures and fascinating mysteries.

But...when reality reared its ugly head, and somebody needed a dentist or, Na, their mother and my mother’s best friend, would need to see a Doctor. They would come to the States and stay in Northville with their grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Burr. I was closer with them than I ever had been to my own biological grandparents. They were wonderful yet strict and structured people. When I went there, I would have to make sure to "be a good guest". 

No problem!
This is where we were driving now! I was 8 years old, Sarah almost 10, and Rosie 7. The three of us together spun stories that defy understanding to anyone but ourselves. We had our own language (still do, we call it gypsy). When they were here, my life was my world with them.

A magical place where everything was possible. We would lose ourselves in the intricate characters that we would invent. Sometimes we were wandering orphans, fending for ourselves in abandoned buildings....many times in actual abandoned buildings that we would claim as a temporary club house. Then we could be mermaids escaping from a hungry giant, who wanted nothing better than to tuck in to some good ole mermaid stew. Other times we were wolves, searching for the perfect spot to build our den for our new litters of pups. Then there were....the Barbie games! They were by far better than any soap opera that anybody had ever seen.

This is who my mother was taking me to see today! 
It had been easily a year since we had seen each other last...maybe longer. 
It hadn't occurred to me that my mother may be just as excited as I was to see her best friend as well. 

I was wearing an orange and white striped pinafore with my favorite white patent leather shoes and white tights. My hair was down and long. The wind had formed it into a "devil may care" sort of style, and I was ready! I was ready to see my friends! 
As the car pulled into the large immaculate driveway, suddenly an emotion came over me that I wasn't prepared for. 

The emotion was fear. 

What if they didn't like me anymore? What if they were better friends with each other and I wouldn't fit into their games anymore? How would we greet each other? Would we hug? Would we squeal and jump around each other and grab and clutch and hug and kiss and be excited (like we do now)? Or would we stay calm and feel each other out?

It had been easily a year since we had seen each other. So much can change.

I realized that I had actually been biting the back of the head rest of the driver side seat in front of me, leaving dozens of little dimples in the upholstery behind my mother’s head. My dad would not be happy....oh well.

We walked up the flower lined walkway towards the wooden door of the condo where Grandma and Grandpa lived. My heart started beating faster and faster. 

This was it. I was going to play with my friends!

The door opened and Grandma Burr smiled down at me warmly. She grabbed me and hug me tight, as though she had seen and granddaughter that she hadn't seen for years. I felt so welcomed by her.  I still didn't see my friends though. Suddenly, I heard thundering footsteps! My sister Sarah came bounding down the stairs followed very quickly by little Rosie, but stopped before they reached the bottom of the stairs.

I looked at Sarah and recognized the outfit she had on. Pink shorts that were once mine before my well-fed body grew out of them, and a white T shirt that we had painted together with glitter and puff WAS the 80's after all. I loved those shorts but, as usual my clothes looked better on her than they did on me. I noticed that they DID look like they had been going hungry. Skinny legs and arms. Clothing fell loose on Rosie’s tiny frame.

Sarah stood looking at me with what I'm sure were the same fears that I had about our reunion. They both seemed nervous, but ecstatic at the same time. Who knows how long they were going to be here this time, or how long they would be gone once they inevitably were taken away again.

They were here! Now! I was looking at them! My life had begun again! I got to be a mermaid again! Sarah would of course control the games, being the oldest, but I never minded. She always came up with the greatest games. My sisters were home!

I would spend every weekend with them until school let out, and then once summer vacation began, we would be together for at least the next 2 months straight. Standing in the middle of the stairs with giant beaming smiles on their faces, Rosie and Sarah peered at me between the rungs of the bannister.  Sarah looked at me. With an excited, smiling ring to her voice, that still makes my heart smile to this day, she said with ultimate joy, "HI RACHEL!"

Every summer that my sisters were with me was the greatest summer of my life.

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