Tales of a 5th Grade Someone

So part of the reason I’m returning to this blog (aside from having been inspired by my friend Paige’s blog; check out Paige in the Shed (I wonder if she realizes the acronym there is PITS . . . a huge irony, because both she and her blog are friggin’ awesome . . . but I digress) when you have a minute) is because I kinda left y’all hangin’ right? I mean, five years ago, I went and told the world (or at least the seven people who read this blog sometimes) that I was a middle-aged woman about to have a BABY, and then . . . crickets.

Sorry about that. I’ve been busy raising a child. A child who is now five, and ohhhhh, ya gotta meet him. He’s a real butthole, but he is worth every bit of pain in my old ass.

But more on him (and my other pain in the ass, who is now 13) later, because my third impetus for returning to this blog is that earlier this week, I found out that my best friend from 5th grade (and part of 6th) passed away last month. After I got the news, I spent the afternoon feeling sadder than I had any right to be, given that, aside from the occasional thumb or emoji or birthday wish (her birthday—November 18—has remained emblazoned in my brain) on Facebook, I was not really in touch with her (although I really wanted to be better at that, because based on her Facebook presence and a couple of private messages, she seemed like she’d somehow become an even better person than she was before we had armpit hair—and the two years (TWO YEARS; how did I miss this?) of Caring Bridge posts she wrote during her epic battle with cancer (which I spent an evening reading) support this theory; she is going to leave a huge gap in the good around here).

But I remember her. I remember so many things about her that fall into the category of Why do I remember THIS so clearly, but routinely forget that my poor dogs are outside in the rain??? that my spouse suggested I compile some of those memories, in case someday her husband might want to share them with their four perfect-faced children.

So I’m gonna do that here. You’re welcome to come along for the ride (I’ll drive and deejay). Here goes . . .

“Four days later, floatin’ down the Delaware, chewin’ on his underwear, lookin’ for another pair . . . “

I remember, before we were friends, seeing her with her best friend at the time—a spindly, petite girl named Diana. When I left school to walk the single block home to my house, they’d be walking to the bus together; sometimes she carried Diana piggy-back, and they’d be singing scandalous kid versions of “Row Row Row Your Boat” and cracking up. I was so jealous of a friendship that seemed like so much fun (and of kids who got to ride the bus, but that was just my own weirdness).

“Shinin’, gleamin’, streamin’, flaxen, waxen . . . “

Also, she had amazing hair. She wore it daily parted down the middle, and held back on either side with those little metal barrettes—the kind some girls (including Yours Truly) wove ribbon through, and attached beads to the dangling ribbon ends, which resulted in an attention-grabbing, beaded-curtain-type clacking sound at the flip of a head; but this girl kept it humble and simple, and let her lovely, thick, long hair do the talking. Sometimes, she’d bump it up a notch and do a side part with a single barrette on the more voluminous side, which I always thought made her look amazing, like a stewardess or a waitress (occupations which, in my little 10-year-old mind, were about as glamorous as you could get if you lacked the chops to become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader). But later—after we’d become friends—when she got a haircut and got it FEATHERED?

Done. I was done. I would never have hair that amazing.

“I feel like bustin’ loose, bustin’ loose . . . “

What really made me want to be a part of her life though, was that she had boobs. I mean, not that I could see, exactly—but I took her word for it. I remember being a part of a circle of girls, huddled together in conversation on our classroom floor (our school was incredibly groovy; 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms were all together in what was called “The Big Room”: one huge, orange-carpeted open space that had pillows, beanbags, and three-dimensional x-shaped nooks strewn about in common areas for reading and hanging out, and what basically amounted to a sunken living room—called the Drama Pit—in one corner (there was no furniture, but it boasted a few levels of steps for sitting and lounging) . . . but I digress). The topic of discussion (on which not one of us was anything even close to an expert) was bras and bra sizes. I remember her complaining that her parents wouldn’t get her a bra, but declaring that she needed one; gesturing towards the western-style brown plaid shirt she wore that day, she insisted: “I have boobs! You just can’t see them, because this material is pressing down on them.”

I mean. Undercover boobs, y’all. That right there was enough for me to think she was pure magic.

“Up like a rosebud, high on the vine . . . “

At last—I no longer recall how, but I may have found my foothold when I somehow became a part of the talent show act she and Diana conceived (a group of 4 or 5 girls performing a dance to Hey, Look Me Over; and although Diana (being the only one of us who took dance lessons) was responsible for the choreography, it turned out that it was my future BFF who executed the best leprechaun kicks . . . but I digress again)—I finally worked my way up to inviting her and Diana to my house after school. I wasn’t looking to wreck this girl’s most cherished friendship; rather, just to get a piece of her orbit. As it turned out, though, the two of them got into an argument at my house and, well . . . maybe I used that to my advantage a little.

“Fightin’ the system like two modern-day Robin Hoods . . . “

At some point after that, Diana scooted out of the picture, and I. WAS. IN.

I was now the bestie (a privilege I’d later abuse, but at this point, all was good). What I remember most about those halcyon days are her favorite things:

The Dukes of Hazzard. More than a few sleepover nights at her house—far preferable to sleepovers at my own house, because her room had the coolest feature I’d ever seen: she and her dad had hung her bed from the ceiling of her room (against one wall, with thick ropes run through holes they’d drilled in a wooden base); I had never known such ingenuity in a person my age (but she had it to spare, at one point even making her own braces out of wire, although she got the real deal a couple of years later . . . but again, such digression)—were spent in her basement with the Duke boys*.

The song “Centerfold” by the J.Geils band which, on the occasions when she slept over at my house and my parents took us to the pizza joint I loved, we always played on the jukebox and waited with bated breath for the “ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR!” after the second bridge. Once, we missed it because we’d been playing video games. That was a tough moment for both of us.

Horseback riding, which scares me a little now, but back then, with my preteen sense of invincibility, I was totally game to tag along for the adventure when her parents bought her a horse (what I specifically remember about that, so very clearly, is how she approached me at first recess—with a grin so wide it’s a wonder she made it through the door to get outside—and said, simply and quietly, her eyes lit up like a Christmas display, “I GOT HIM”). I remember his name (but I may butcher the spelling): Prince Charlie Quodiyaque. And I remember how pretty he was, but mostly I remember how in awe I was of her ease with these FLIPPIN’ GIGANTIC CREATURES THAT COULD REALLY JUST FLATTEN YOU IF THEY WANTED TO; she showed me the proper way to walk around the back of a horse in order to avoid getting kicked . . . but in my mind, touching anyone (a horse included) on the butt seemed MORE likely to get you kicked, so instead I just allowed like a city block’s worth of berth each time I had to walk in the vicinity of a horse’s behind. She also tried to teach me how to post, but I sucked at it, so I typically wound up with a sore toot by the time the ride was over (which maybe explained my sensitivity to butt-touching).

* I actually thought of her, years after high school (which was really the last time I ever talked to her until the advent of the interwebs) and before Facebook (which is how I found her again), when I was working as a waitress in Atlanta (funny . . . I enjoyed my job, but waiting tables did not turn out to be nearly as glamorous as I’d anticipated it would, decades earlier) and John Schneider walked in for dinner. I wasn’t his server, but happened to overhear a conversation in the kitchen amongst my coworkers, who were trying to figure out whether he’d played Bo or Luke Duke.

I mean.

HOW DID NOBODY KNOW THIS? This is Early ’80s Television 101, people! I thought, giving silent props to my 5th grade bestie as I put a definitive end to the mystery . . . which resulted in Mr. Schneider’s server writing “BO” in sour cream atop his dinner. So I may have some regrets about sharing that wisdom, but I’ll never regret how I came to have it.

“Wake up, all the teachers, time to teach a new way . . . “

I also remember a few things she taught me (aside from how to do a good leprechaun kick):

What a peppernut was. In the years of worldly wisdom I’d amassed by 5th grade, I’d never heard of them until I met her. As part of a school assignment to write instructional copy, she wrote instructions for making these cookies (which her family did at holidays)—and brought a batch to share with the class. I remember when she received her paper back, the teacher had written “I tried it—it works!” so perhaps she educated him, too.

What a sequoia was. I believe this was in 4th grade, before we were really friends, but I recall our teacher telling us about huge trees that grew on the west coast, and asked if anyone knew what they were called. As she’d recently moved to Kansas from California, her hand shot up. And, well. How amazing of a new word was “sequoia”? I immediately integrated it into the stage name I had concocted for myself. Now, when I grew up and became famous, I wasn’t just going to change my first name to Raquelle; I was going to change my WHOLE name to Raquelle Sequoia (a plan which is not entirely off the table; watch out!). So really, this lesson wasn’t just about California dendrology; it was also about the beauty of words (which I’ve kinda carried with me since). And on that same note, she also taught me . . .

The classy way to pronounce “Hallelujah.” At Girl Scout camp, we sang “Thank You Lord for Giving Us Food” as grace before a meal. Only we born-and-bred Kansas girls put a midwest twang on that sucker the likes of which her tender west coast ears had probably never heard:

Thaaaaaaaaank yew Lord, for givin’ us fewd,
Thaaaaaaaa-AANK yew Lord, for givin’ us fewd . . .

But it was the “Hallelujahs” that really did her in:

Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaah-luh-lew-yuh, praise thuh Lord,
Haaaaaa-AAAAAAAH-luh-lew-yuh, praise thuh Lord . . .

“It’s ALL-eluia,” she insisted in a whisper, and (I swear) with a slight shudder.

And whoa. That kinda blew my mind. ALLELUIA. So new. So classy. So much more invocational, so much closer to divine than our hick little Hallelujahs.

(She brought the same kind of class to calling people out for saying, “Oh, my God.” Whereas another girl in our class would spit, “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain!” (actually slapping someone for it once), she chastened gently and with humor: she’d drop her voice an octave and pretend to be The Big Guy himself, asking, “Were you calling me?” At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but now it occurs to me as a pretty clever way to call people out without making enemies in the cut-throat world of preteen girls. At any rate, it beats a slap across the face.)

“A present from you . . . strawberry letter 22 . . . “

Because we were in two different classes for at least part of our closest friendship, we were unable to pair up on projects, critique one another’s artwork, or even just sit next to one another and bask in the glow of our friendship. But we were at least able to communicate, because remember how ALL the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classes were in that one giant open room? That stroke of 70s progressivism was a great facilitator of our note-passing.


That and the brass-monkey audacity we both had, because I recall that we’d legit just get up and blatantly walk over to one another’s classrooms/desks to deliver notes (a subsequent bestie, who arrived new to the town and the school sometime during 6th grade, told me years later that she’d been shocked by our chutzpah).

At one point, I do recall both of us being called on the (literal) carpet about our note passing. By that time, however, we’d become so devoted to the art that we (well, SHE, being the brains of the operation) had developed a special, coded alphabet, to prevent nosy would-be interlopers from knowing our deepest thoughts. (I daresay I could still write it today, although I’m less confident in my ability to read it.) And though ultimately we weren’t able to communicate with quite as much impunity as we initially enjoyed, we continued our correspondence—sporadic though it was in later years—through middle and high school.

I’m suddenly stricken by another memory: I was sitting immediately to her left in Mrs. North’s middle school classroom (by then we each had a different best friend, but as I said, we never didn’t get along, due largely to her huge capacity for forgiving asshole behavior . . . but as usual, I digress), and we were passing a note back and forth. I have absolutely NO recollection of what we were writing about (a skinny, awkward boy or two, perhaps), but I remember that as she replied to whatever message I’d just passed her way, she paused mid-written-sentence, looked up at me with a puzzled expression and, when I turned to meet her gaze, asked:

“How do you spell—” and then she puckered up and made a kissing sound.

It took a bit of (written) discussion, but eventually, we agreed that it was spelled, M-B-W-U.

Again: sometimes I accidentally leave the dogs out for HOURS, and I routinely forget to give my 5-year-old a bath, but damn if I don’t distinctly recall the moment I figured out how to spell a kissing sound.

“Right smack dab in the middle of town, I’ve found a paradise that’s trouble proof . . . “

So although I didn’t have a bed that hung from the ceiling, one of the cool features of my house was the back patio. My dad had poured the concrete, added a roof over it, and adorned it with a barbecue pit he built out of bricks. And WOO-WEE, his ribs were mama-slappin’ good. But that’s not the point; what really made the back patio cool was that once you got tall enough, you could hoist your way up onto its roof by standing on an adjacent retaining wall that separated the patio from the rest of the back yard.

One day, when she was over, my brother (13 years my senior) took us to the public library and checked out books for us. Once we returned home, I—in the vain hope that I and my house could offer her even a shred of the amazement she offered me at her house—showed her how to get up on the patio roof. She hadn’t had as much practice as I had, so I had to give her a boost, but once we got up there with our library books, we huddled up (I remember it was cold and overcast) in the wedge-shaped nook where the roof over the middle level of our side-to-side split met the upper level roof, and tucked into an afternoon of reading.

I remember that I had chosen And This is Laura from the library, and she was reading The Pistachio Prescription. (Seriously, don’t ever tell my dogs about this.)

Eventually, we got cold, or hungry, or maybe had to pee, and so decided to climb down and go inside. Again, lacking the experience I had at getting onto and off of the roof swiftly, she got stuck trying to get down; her feet couldn’t find the retaining wall, and she clung, frightened, to the edge of the patio roof, the gutter digging into her gut. And my mom just happened to peer out the kitchen window at the PERFECT moment to see our guest’s legs dangling helplessly in the air.

I pretty much caught pure hell after she left. But it was worth it for what I remember as just the most glorious afternoon.

It just so happens that my childhood home has been on the market recently, with concomitant real estate photos; and although the patio roof and the barbecue pit are long gone, and the patio is now a deck, I can still offer a visual of where we huddled with our books that day 40 years ago. I remember it as delightfully cozy, but boy, does it look uncomfortable now:

“Now, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend . . . when people can be so cold?”

So I’ve hinted a couple of times that I wasn’t the kindest BFF a gal could have had in my younger years (or hell, even now, although these days it’s more a function of forgetfulness and time (or lack thereof) than of pre-teen hormones and the thrill of cruelty and drama). And really, it’s the same boring story that has played out in multiple 6th grade classrooms, between countless girls (and a buncha boys, too) forever: I met her openness, kindness, authenticity, and generosity with insecurity, pettiness, and power plays. Sometimes I hurt her feelings just because I could. Eventually, she sought greener pastures in a fellow horseback rider named Elizabeth (they got matching Sasson t-shirts and jeans, AND a set of those heart-puzzle “Best Friends” necklaces . . . this was the real deal), and I became part of a friendship trio with The New Girl at school and another girl I’d envied for years on account of her role as Suzy Snowflake in our 2nd grade Christmas program. I mean, that costume . . .

BUT. The point is that my sweet 5th grade bestie was unfailingly kind and forgiving, and continued to be a friend to me until we both ran off to college.

We didn’t hang out or talk a whole lot in high school, but despite that, she was more than willing to help out when my mom charged me with corralling volunteers among my friends to sell toffee at a pop-up booth in the mall to raise money for a non-profit my family staunchly supported.

I also remember that she led our high school’s Christian club . . . and although I attended her church (where her dad was the pastor) regularly as a kid (I was agog that people wore JEANS to her church . . . so flippin’ cool, as the women at my own church wouldn’t even wear PANTS in the house of the Lord), I never took part in the high school Christian club (having started inching down the path toward agnosticism); however, I somehow remember that the meetings were held at 7:17 p.m. And to this day, I consider it a little wink from the universe if I happen to glance at a clock that reads 7:17. Hey, agnosticism doesn’t preclude the HOPE for the existence of a little magic . . .

And I can’t think of better magic than the fact that I saved my first draft of this blog post at 7:17 p.m. That little sparkle, of course, has been slightly squandered by the hours of obsessive editing and such . . . but I kinda think there’s still a little wink in there.

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