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Friends

I had few friends as a child. I think they became my friends mainly because they lived near me.

Candy - Candace LaBlue - was my first friend. I was in the habit of jumping our back fence and cutting through back yards to get to the little neighborhood store a block over. This little store had comics, sodas (at a soda fountain; I could buy a drink in a bottle - eight ounces - or drink it there), candy, and staples like sanitary napkins and toilet paper and odds and ends. I bought all my comics there: Superman, Batman, The Fantastic Four, Spiderman, and more. Oh, and I liked Archie comics too. This is where my allowance went much of the time.

One day I met Candy there. She lived across the street, a bit of an angle, from the store, even closer than I was. We somehow hit it off. I think she invited me in and I went. Hers was a traditional middle-western household, neat and orderly, and Candy was a fairly typical child, liking what others liked at the time. Later the family moved to another house, right across the street from me, so it was even easier for us to get together. Candy and I were the jacks queens - not that there were ever any competitions. We just played jacks a lot. We also sometimes made those coconut-chocolate no-bake cookies and brownies and we went to the lake together, in our swim suits. The lake was just a few blocks downhill from where we lived.

When we entered seventh grade Candy went to public school, which was the converted Froebel school we had attended as elementary students, and I entered J. D. Pierce, the laboratory school associated with Northern Michigan College (now University). We had started to part ways in the sixth grade in any case, as Candy "developed" early and took an early interest in boys and in particular men - sailors in particular. She brought me along on a sailor quest one night and we ended up with one each and I hated it. That probably wound down whatever we two had in common.

Candy was normal weight, normal size, and pretty in her way. I was not. I was tall and fat and still sloppy. It isnt too surprising that my sailor mate was not happy with the girl he had gotten (ie me). As I recall, he left me to join Candy and her guy, which was fine with me.

In junior high school I made friends with another new student, Richard Merry, whose family had moved into town recently. His father taught biology at the college and as an experiment let the front yard of his home grow whatever it wanted to. Many botanical specimens there, native and non. Richard became a friend of our family, something of an adoptee of my mom's. My mother took in people who tended not to fit in elsewhere. She enjoyed Richard, particularly his skill at putting together sound systems. He was still installing different ones for her up into her late old age.

Richard and I went to see Carmen, the opera, together. It was quite the event. Operas did not normally come to our town. Richard and I hung out together but we never dated. I am not sure I would have understood what a date was anyway.

Later in high school I became friends with Jane Morrison. She lived across the street, next door to Candy. By this time I was not seeing Candy at all. Jane was a horse girl. Little statues of horses lined the windows in the basement rec room, where we usually hung out. Jane lived in a newer home, very very neat, and talked a lot about Humphrey Bogart. I had no idea who he was. In tenth grade we had biology together. Every friday we had to turn in a drawing from our biology text book. Essentially we copied drawings in the book, at a larger size. I drew them easily and then Jane traced mine. Her drawings always got A+s while mine got Bs or below because they were messier. I turned in my original drawings. It wasn't until the final grading period that I caught on and started tracing my own drawings. I am supposed to be a bright person but things like this really escaped me.

In the summer two sisters came to visit their grandmother for the summer. I can't remember their names. They lived up the street a bit from Jane, that side of the street. My sister Mary and I made friends with them and we were inseparable each summer. The four of us formed the WITH Club. We never told anyone what WITH stood for. But I will tell you.

We knew about acronyms. I was under the impression that the letters did not have to be in the order of the words. You could mix them up. So WITH stands for "We Think Hugeo is an Idiot". Hugeo was our name for my brother Michael, also a fat kid, older than I by four years, and of course a pain in the ass as all older brothers tend to be. Mike pressed us for the meaning of the name for years and we never told him, except I do think I told him when we were adults, not very long ago.

Now here's the clever thing. Our little club made field trips. We went to the water station down by the lake and asked for a tour. We went to the bread bakery and the bottling plant and asked for tours. We told them we were the WITH club and they never asked what that was. We also went more than once to the same places and they always brought us through. We always got samples - bread and sodas and whatever else there was. I don't know whose idea this was but you've got to admit it was pretty good. Those girls, those sisters, we loved, but they did have a bit of the anarchist in them both. They were always ready to stretch rules. So chances are it was their idea.

In my formative years, those early elementary school years, whoever was on the street tended to get together to play games. Mostly kick ball. We played in the street as well as in a vacant lot on the street, and everybody automatically got to play. I never felt left out in these games. It just didn't come up. Discrimination was much more present at school, in the gym classes, on the playground. On our street it just didn't seem to come up. With other girls I also played hopscotch. I loved hopscotch and was on the lookout for the treasured chains that made such great tokens. Little chains like you see with keys on, not very long (or they'd go over lines) but good for throwing and they'd stay where thrown. I played jumprope games as well but wasn't very good at them. Bad coordination. I am sorry I never see anyone playing these games any more, any of them.

It wasn't all dreadful, my childhood. But there was one time...and one group...

I joined the girl scouts early on, as a brownie. I rose in the ranks through eighth grade, earning badges, sewing them on (badly). In the earlier years the meetings were at the houses of the leaders. These houses were always neat and clean. I didn't always feel like much of a part of things yet I went anyway. I had no friends in there but I wanted to earn those badges.

One time our troop went on some kind of field trip in the middle of the winter. Maybe we were sledding. Possible. We made our way up our street on the way back to the leader's house. As we got near my house the leader said let's stop at Judy's place, maybe we can have some hot chocolate, it's so cold. I tried to discourage her but she was insistent. I didn't know what to say. Finally I led the gang to the back door, the entrance to the laundry room. I think I thought it was less dirty? I opened the door and I think I arranged to bring cups of hot chocolate out to the gang. I honestly do not remember details. I don't think the troop got past the door but they certainly saw inside. A highlight of my childhood, to be sure. Laundry in piles everywhere, dirty floor, clothes hanging haphazardly. I think I may have led us there because it was next to the kitchen so we could avoid going any further into the house than necessary. But I cannot for the life of me recall exactly how far the troop got inside.

It's some kind of tribute to something inside me that I stuck it out with that troop and the next and the next, until my mother took over the troop in seventh and eighth grade. She was the best leader we ever had, hands down. We always did things, went places, and it was ambitious. We earned badges at breakneck speed and I proudly earned the Curved Bar, the farthest I could go at that point. My mother and I prepared what we called Girl Scout Punch when we went on field trips (and we always went on field trips - I realize now my mother was just like me, at a loss to occupy a bunch of girls inside a room; we had to go somewhere and do something). The punch: frozen grape juice, frozen lemonade, and bottles of seven up to dilute. Quite delish, trust me.

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