Saturday, April 18, 2020

Donica And Me
I honestly can't remember a single thing about what's going on in this photo of Donica (left) and me, but in terms of background, I can provide an ocean. 

Once upon a time, I was six years old.

I know. We're deep diving into the past but stick with me and I'll eventually bring us back to the modern era.

It was a morning in the early summer between first and second grade. I heard a knock at the door (no one had doorbells in that place and time) and my mom called to me.

There at my front door stood Donica.

Of course I knew her name. She lived in my neighborhood, though a bit beyond my usually traveled circles. All during the past school year, we had waited at the bus stop together with the neighborhood kids and rode on the same bus to West Elementary. But she was assigned to the other first grade teacher, so even though her classroom was just one door down the hall from mine, we might as well have been on different planets.

In many ways, we were different species, Donica and me. I'd mostly ever played with boys - my brothers and their rough and tumble friends - or my special forest friend, Marilyn. But I knew from afar that Donica lived in a different world. She had sisters, and even more so, Older Sisters and I was in proper awe.

Nonetheless, there she stood at my front door, bold as brass and ready to play. And so play we did.

I can't begin to recount all of our crazy adventures over the years.

There were endless hours of swimming, including underwater handstands, diving for clay scratched from the lake bed, and one highly impactful lesson on why one might feel free to go Number One in the lake, but never, ever Number Two. Winters were a blur of sledding, skating across the frozen lake, and nearly frostbitten fingers. One fall, when the men of the neighborhood lit a smoldering fire in the stump of an old willow, we'd spend the afternoons feeding and fanning the coals back up into a proper flame.

We alternatively made fun of the neighborhood boys and played with them, riding bikes, squirting hoses, sledding until our toes froze. We mastered their games of nighttime spear fishing, make-up-your-own-words Scrabble, and catching frogs and crayfish. There were countless games of spoons, a dare that involved sending a comrade to a neighbor's house to ask for white raisins, and then the infamous evening in which I spouted orange pop out my nose.

Donica's house was a source of fascination for me. There were three bedrooms for the four girls, and to my utter amazement, they often switched around who stayed where. We played endless Barbies, watched Bonanza on her family's new-fangled color TV, and listened to her sister's Beatle albums. Freshly released Beatles albums. Quite the gourmet in the kitchen, Donica taught me the magic of tomato sandwiches, and even more exotic, radish sandwiches. 

At some point, Donica’s parents split up and got divorced, just like mine. This was the first time I’d had friend go through what I’d been through, and while I didn’t wish upon her the shame and stigma that came upon so-called broken families back in that time, I was so relieved to know that someone else understood   

Years sailed by. Middle school and then high school happened, and though we both made other friends and swam in other circles, our lives never drifted too far apart. After graduation, I settled into a university routine and Donica set off to Denver to join her oldest and most mysterious sister. It seemed our anchors to one another had finally been cut, and we were moving away at last.

But there was one surprise left to come.

The summer of '79.

It was a morning in the early summer between my junior and senior years of college. I heard the phone ring (no one had cell phones in that place and time) and my mom called to me.

There on the phone was Donica.

She'd come home for the summer, she said, and wondered what I was up to. And thus began what could be considered, I suppose, the last summer of my childhood. Donica was with me every step of the way as we pursued more adventures, crazier than ever before. Somehow we both made to September in one piece (and with no arrests!) and with a fresh new crop of memories, we parted ways.

Since then, life has taken us in different directions, Donica and me. I settled first in Chicago and then up here in the Pacific Northwest as she has ping-ponged back and forth between coasts, ending up back in our home state of Michigan. It's fair to say, I suppose, that our lives have gone in different directions.

Yesterday brought us right back together again.

After a good dig through her vintage photo archives, a third member of our Ore Lake friendship club texted the above photo to me and apparently to Donica too. I really have no clue what's going on in this photo, and I'm not even sure when it took place, though based on my haircut, I"d lay my bets on that summer of '79.

But what's most important about this photo is that in a flash, it brought back a childhood crammed full of hilarious memories of time spent with a true friend, a friendship that's held us together for over a half-century. And I don't think that anything will ever pull us apart.

P.S. The day we tried to make blue pancakes at my house but they actually turned out green.

P.P.S. Try saying "comb" but do NOT laugh.

P.P.P.S. When we both said, "Eat it, Ronald, eat it," to the weirdo kid on the bus and the creepy bus driver told us we had to write that out 100 times and give it to him the next day. And after you wrote that all out, you cut every one of the hundred sentences up into a separate strip of paper and delivered them all to the bus driver in a handful of confetti.

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