And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Wednesdays are a particularly busy day of the week for me. I have clients in the morning at 9:00, 10:00, and 11:00, I teach a class from 1:00 – 3:00, and then I have evening clients at 4:30, 5:30, 7:00 and 8:00. In that 3:00 to 4:30 break time yesterday, I quickly grabbed some books I needed to mail and headed off for the post office.
An online book club is discussing my novel, If You Tame Me, on October 4th, and I’ve agreed to Zoom in to the meeting. Several of the members requested signed books, which, of course, I was more than happy to provide. I wanted to give them as much time as possible to read, so while a trip to the post office would have been easier on another day, I kept my eye on the clock and zoomed off to the post office.
I rarely ever go all the way inside the post office anymore. They have a do-it-yourself machine in the lobby and I’ve become quite proficient. So I was tapping away at the screen when I heard someone behind me call my name, her voice lilting up into a question.
I turned and found Brenda, someone I’d gone to middle school and high school with!
Now school always requires a trip through my mental Rolodex. I went to three different high schools. Because my father worked for the Small Business Administration, he was transferred frequently as he traveled up the government ladder. I went to kindergarten in Berkeley, Missouri. Grades 1 – 5 were in Esko, Minnesota, way up north between Duluth and Cloquet. Grades 6 – sophomore year were in Stoughton, Wisconsin, a town outside of Madison. First semester junior year was in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Second semester junior year through my senior year were here, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Amazingly, thanks to the miracle that is the internet, I am actually still in contact with people from each school, with the exception of my kindergarten class. And that’s mainly because I only remember my teacher, an awful woman named Miss Wise who was anything but. She yelled at me once for coloring a tree blue instead of green. I responded by poking the corner of my crayon box into her eye.
I doubt that she was very fond of me either.
Brenda was from my time in Stoughton, and somehow, we’re both now in Waukesha. We also both have adult kids and a younger kid who is still in college, though Brenda, brave woman, went on to have younger kids yet. We’re also both grandparents.
But standing there, in the post office, we both became 12 years old again.
We talked about what we remembered. For me, there is one clear memory of Brenda, which includes a memory of a bruise that spanned my entire left thigh and was every color of the rainbow.
It was a winter day, and we were all outside for recess. Fifth and sixth grades were housed in a building called Central School, which is no longer there today. Across a large parking lot was the junior high, where we would go next year. Central was a sort of no-man’s land, a limbo, between elementary school and what was still called junior high then. We had a fabulous field to play in, surrounded by a low stone fence. There was an opening in that fence, and we could look down a steep hill to a river, if I remember right. We had a fresh snow that day, and ice as well. I don’t remember why a bunch of us were standing at that break in the fence, but Brenda took a step, and down, down, down she went. She couldn’t climb back up, it was too slippery, and the bell was about to ring.
Ignorant hero that I was, I shouted, “I’ll help you!” and then I slid down too, hitting every tree along the way. Hence the major bruise. Of course, this meant we were both stuck. But hey, she wasn’t alone anymore.
The bell rang.
Behind the school building was a set of stairs that led down to this lower area, and we decided to walk there to see if we could climb the stairs back up. But no, they were covered with snow and ice too.
Eventually, at the top of the hill, a few of the boys from our class stared down at us. Our teacher, informed of our predicament, sent out the boys to help. “Climb up!” they shouted.
Yes, that was oh so helpful.
We began the long climb up, grabbing onto tree limbs and trunks, slip-sliding the whole way. We did make it, obviously, since we were standing in the post office some 50 years later. The boys didn’t have anything to do with it, though. Neither did our teacher.
We did it.
In the post office, we laughed.
And then, as we were saying goodbye, Brenda said, “Your books really are amazing, Kathie.”
Spontaneous, unexpected comments about my work are rare. I’m pretty sure I glowed.
And then we parted, with promises to get together.
Like those comments, it’s also rare to have a moment where you get to catch a glimpse of who you once were, and a glimpse of who you are now. I was the girl who once leapt, without thinking, down an icy hill to help a friend. We were both girls who solved a tricky problem ourselves, without the help of boys or teachers. And now, we’re fully immersed in family, kids, grandkids, and on and on.
And I write really good books.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.