Saturday, September 9, 2006

The Little Red Haired Girl

She arrived in the middle of my fourth grade year and I held my breath as she walked into the room. I had started into the new school at the beginning of the year and still felt like the odd man out. The other kids already had friendships going and I desperately needed a best friend to feel as though I were at home in this strange place. She was beautiful --- long red finger curls bobbed about her freckled face. I knew --- I just knew, she had to be the friend I needed. I, too, had finger curls, but I didn't have naturally curly bright red hair. She was a little Shirley Temple dropped right into our classroom. Perhaps she felt that she was the strange one in this new place, but somehow we gravitated towards each other and started a friendship that was to grow and continue through many decades of our lives. Our school was a little country school, without enough kids in any one grade to make up a class. The whole school, at that time, consisted of four classrooms with two grades in each room. There were empty rooms for want of children to fill them. The third/fourth grade teacher had a peculiar practice. Talking, gum chewing, fidgeting --- just about any infraction of her rules led to being summoned to the front of the room and being seated in the reading circle chairs. With the advent of "The Nanny", I like to think of those chairs as "The Naughty Chairs". Once six children were in the circle, she took us to an empty room and paddled us with a large wooden paddle. My only turn in the chairs came about when the person behind me asked me for the answer to a test question and I shook my head to keep the dreaded Miss Bourn's eyes from lighting upon me. The look and the nod came and I went to the reading circle, not knowing how long it would take to accumulate five more recalcitrant fourth graders. As we finally arrived in the empty room, she asked me if I had ever been spanked before. Are you kidding? I was the youngest of five kids! You betcha I had been spanked. Most of the children stumbled back into the classroom with tears streaking down their cheeks, but I gritted my teeth, set my jaw and willed myself not to cry. Instead, I waltzed back into the room and actually giggled out loud (because the teacher was still whipping the others in the spare room). Suddenly, I was a class bad girl and a folk hero among ten year olds. My little red haired girl stuck steadfastly by me, even if I were becoming not quite the model of decorum that her mother would have liked for her. I don't think Elaine ever met with the humiliation of that dreaded paddle, but I would have taken it for her. You can't hit a delicate little red haired girl with all those lovely freckles. We did all the things little girls do from the fourth grade through the eighth grade. We played jacks indoors at recess and baseball outdoors in the sunshine. There were wonderfully tall swings and tetter-totters for us in the younger grades. Sometimes, we just sat and talked through recess or the end of lunch hour. We stayed at each other's homes for overnights, but mostly it was at her house. I know her mom didn't trust me to keep her safe and innocent ---after all, I had all those older brothers and sisters. Her house was an absolute wonder to me. We (a family of seven) lived in a four bedroom, one bathroom home and I was the only child with a room to myself. But, her house had a little, narrow staircase leading upstairs, with only her room, her sister's room , a huge empty room, a bathroom and a storage room up there. I loved her room. The windows were low and seemed to me to be under the eaves and there were lots of them. Her parents never bothered us up there and we talked for hours, did homework, gossiped about the other kids and exchanged secrets never to be divulged to another soul. We told each other whom we liked and whom we hated. When we liked a boy, we practiced writing our names as they would be if we were to marry the boy. We had many crushes and did much speculating, but it was harmless fun. Her mother made the greatest chocolate cakes with marshmallow frosting in the world---oh, how loved them. She seemed to be the perfect mother, but I knew she didn't like me very much---- tough---we were best friends! Elaine seemed to have everything I every wanted. She actually had a huge collection of Nancy Drew books. I never knew until recently that Millie Benson from right here in Toledo, Ohio wrote those books and people came from all over to get them signed and have Nancy Drew gatherings. But, you can see how I loved her---red ringlets, chocolate cake and Nancy Drew books--- I hit the trifecta! Many teachers never understood what sort of problems I had. They were not big problems, but being the last of the Mohecians, my parents didn't pay much attention to my needs or lists of supplies needed for school. I just struggled along doing what I could. On the other hand, the little red haired girl had a mom who sewed and understood that children need help from their parents, if they are to succeed in life. By the eighth grade, we had sewing class from Miss Kitzmiller and I could tell that she thought me to be a total loss. We were to make a simple straight skirt or blouse. I picked a complicated pattern and my mom popped for some cheap colored cotton. Elaine's mom was a sewer and knew how to help her at home without making it look as though she had actually done the project for her, Our second item was to be of our own choosing. Elaine choose to make a stuffed lamb, so I made one, too. Why buy another pattern? Her's was adorable,(it was white with little flowers all over)---- mine was just okay. I had no sewing machine at home and had to make seams by hand with backstitch. The one thing I had going for me was an abiding interest in sewing that started in the sixth grade and continues to this day. (I can finally buy beautiful fabrics.) The thing I admired the most about my friend was her ability with the piano and the flute. She was good! Really good! I took one year of piano and gave it up ---I was tired of paying for the lessons out of my babysitting money. Armed with a bit of musical ability on my part and a bunch on her part, we started off to high school --- she to the marching band and I to the choir. This quickly changed when the band director asked who could actually read music. I raised my hand and he stuck a baritone horn in it. I was in the band with the little red haired girl!
This meant that I had to take a crash course in how to play a brass instrument, but I was in the band and on the band bus with some really cute guys. We each picked out people we thought were worth a second look and set about making them like us. Those band bus trips were so much fun ---singing ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, munching apples, flirting, et cetera. We were freshman riding to football games on the bus with juniors and seniors! Woo Hoo!
High school meant sharing a locker with another person--- guess who? Right you are --- the little red haired girl. We kept this up all the way through high school, even as seniors when we were allowed to fly alone at long last. Staying together in a locker meant that we would be certain to see each other between classes and and at the beginning and ending of the day ---before we would go home and call each other. (Times when we could talk about how we felt we would die if that certain someone should notice us) Sometimes, we even liked the same guy and wanted at least one of us to be the chosen one. We took the same college prep classes and were in many of the same rooms at the same time. We always got to be in homeroom together.
Then, I did something that changed it all for a while, I ran away and got married. She loaned me her good navy blue suit to be married in, because I had nothing suitable. This was the worst I had ever felt about her mother. Even though I always wanted her to like me --- she wanted to burn that suit, because I had worn it for a nice legal Lutheran ceremony an illicit runaway ceremony. I always wanted her to know that I went down that aisle as pure as the driven snow and would never have done anything to hurt her daughter ---she was my Best friend!
Today, I drove from Northwestern Ohio to Southwestern Ohio to celebrate the little red haired girl's 70th birthday! I remember seeing it written on the mirror of her compact in the 9th grade in lipstick. 9/11 She had no way of knowing that her birthday would go down in infamy. I haven't mentioned a couple of things that are really important in her life. The first is her marriage to a great looking guy from our class after she had been to college. The second thing of importance are the births of her three babies,---Sandy, Bobby and Cheri. The third event was a devastating sadness that should never come to a mother. Their only son died a sudden and confusing death at an early age. (in his twenties) And, something that should never happen to a family---My Little Red Haired Girl developed Multiple Sclerosis when she was 28 and carrying her last baby. The progression of this disease put too much strain on the marriage and it broke up after many happy years together and now her daughter is devoted to the care of my Little Red Haired Girl. I wish you could have seen the many family members and others who gathered to share with her, a Happy Birthday. No one wishes her happiness more fervently then I. You go girl --- race along on your scooter, knowing that a lot of love goes with you. I still love you, Elaine.


Summer said...

Kacey, very nice post...rally touching..this is a great friendship you both have..both of you are lucky that you met and had each other to grow up with. Happy Birthday Elaine and wish you well!!

Big Dave T said...

Wow, such great friends throughout the many years. Wonderful tribute. Your friendship is the stuff of great novels (Little Women comes to mind).

A baritone? Somehow I can't see either girl in that picture playing a baritone.

molly said...

Wow, kacey, this was great. You really said a lot about your friend and in such a wonderful way. I feel as though I've met her, too. Happy birthday to her. I hope she has wonderful birthdays yet to come.

molly said...

Wow, kacey, this was great. You really said a lot about your friend and in such a wonderful way. I feel as though I've met her, too. Happy birthday to her. I hope she has wonderful birthdays yet to come.

Teri said...

Wonderful chica! You made me laugh, you made me smile, and you made me cry. Most of all, you gave me a little more insight on how you became the extraordinary person that you are. You were born to be sideways, and you were born with a huge, loving and compassionate heart.

Lisa said...

Hi, Kacey!

I posted a response that ended up in oblivion? I'll try to make the same point with different words just in case it eventually shows up!

My name is Lisa, and after Summer read a post on my blog about my 38 year old friendship with my best friend, Maria, she recommended that I visit your blog to read about your friendship with "the little red-haired girl" (I want to call you Charlie Brown)!! Your post brought me to tears! It was very bittersweet, and brought a reality to the friendship that I share now with my friend. We joke about eventually living together in a nursing home and having wheelchair races down the halls, but your post made me realize that life can change in an instant, as well as one's vision of the future.

I read a few more of your posts, and really enjoyed them, so I'll be stopping by to "visit" often! If you would like to peruse my blog, it's It's very new, so there are only two posts on it...I hope you enjoy them.

Again, I really enjoyed your heartwarming story about your lifelong friendship, it made my day!

Lesley said...

You know, Mom, if I take your hair off and just look at your face I think I'm looking at Ryan. He has your mouth. I love seeing you young, which is how I really see you. I'm glad you're my mother. You're my favorite mother, ever! And I finally found your Blog. I looked and looked for Cooky's Oven (Correct grammar) and Cookies Oven. Who knew Cookie's Oven? ( I grade everything.)