The Fifth Sister (A Mama Kat Writing Workshop Prompt)


Mama Kat had five great writing prompts this week. handed me number three:
 “A Memorable Neighbor.”
I was reminded of a “memorable neighbor(s)” when I visited Orange Park, Florida, over Martin Luther King weekend. I had gone there to meet up with people I had known as part of the Rainbow Girls and Order of Demolay oh-so-long-ago, and they are trying to do an annual get-together. Several of us ran a 5K race that morning, then met up at the Lodge.
Between the lodge and lunch, I drove through my old neighborhood, which looks so much smaller than it did in my imagination. Smaller houses, smaller greenspaces, smaller and somewhat more rundown “everything.” There was a house around the corner from mine where four girls lived. As an only child, a house with four girls seemed like Heaven to me. The Harringtons were all very Scandinavian looking – blond hair, blue eyes – and they were all so athletic. I was definitely the “odd girl out” physically and athletically, but for a few summers I was a sort of quasi-fifth sister.
(I don’t have a picture of the oldest sister, but here are the other three.)
We had a quintessential “kids’ summer,” the kind that many of our kids these days will never know. We hung out at their house, played endlessly in the open field adjoining our yards (which looks eerily like the field in “The Lovely Bones” – a thought that struck me when reading the book and watching the movie –  even though it doesn’t make sense that a Florida field would look like that cold stark midwestern field in the movie).
I remember spending hours skateboarding. I remember being barefooted. I remember pogo sticking. I remember lizard catching (trying at least) among the sharp-edged palmetto bushes. I remember jumping into a huge pile of leaves. I remember almost breaking my neck when I missed the leaves once and ended up landing right on my head (ouch). I remember the lack of structure but the way the time seemed to fill itself up.
In retrospect, I think the home of the four sisters had its own issues. I very rarely saw their mom – I am not sure if she was sick or had some type of addiction issue or what. The dad was very nice. Whatever the case, being in a home where I could walk away from those problems at night was an arrangement that worked okay for me. I had my own stuff to deal with in my home.
But in a childhood where I did my own share of reading alone in my room, creating social networks in my head, and hitting a tennis ball against a wall, it was a memorable to have company for barefooted pogosticking lizardcatching adventures.

The Big Fish’s Best Friend? (A Mama Kat Writer’s Workshop Prompt)

This is my Mama Kat’s prompt for the week:

You’re not always right…no you’re not…no you’re not…no you’re not….tell us about a time you were wrong.
Just one time, Kat? When there are so many instances from which to choose?
I knew what I was going to write about the moment “assigned” me this prompt. When I said what I said back in 1979, the words were right but the timing, setting, and intent were all 100% wrong.
When my family moved back to my parents’ hometown after my ninth grade year, I thought I was, to use a term that my daughter used to employ to describe someone who had a seriously inflated sense of their awesomeness – ALL THAT. I had grown up, for the most part, in a large school system – in ninth grade there had been 1,000 or so ninth graders. I had excelled academically and musically through middle school. In fact, I had won so many medals at solo and ensemble competition that I would probably have set off metal detectors when I was in my band uniform with my full complement of “decorations.”

The phrase “big fish in a small pond” is perfectly fitting for my move from Orange Park to Lake Butler, where we had approximately 80 kids per grade in high school. The trouble with this view, though, is that I was a NEW big fish and did not have an understanding or appreciation of the closeness and social structure all of those small fish had developed over the years. I burst upon the scene with all my big fishiness and did, indeed, think I was “all that.”
“L” lived next door to my new home in Lake Butler and had lived there all her life, I think. Our families knew each other. (Almost all families know each other in Lake Butler.) She was a few years older than me, but she took me under her wing and really dedicated herself to helping me feel at home, introducing me around, etc. She was supremely kind.
I was at a social function a few months into my life in Lake Butler when I was at a fair and was talking to another good friend of hers. The friend, who I knew only slightly, said, “L says you’re her best friend.” Any guesses what I said next?
Oh, she’s not my best friend.
Even though it was technically true that she wasn’t my best friend, my response stank like a day old rotted fish. It really did. I am sure the response got back to L, because there was a definite cooling of the relationship after that.
I think at the time I was trying to keep some doors open – I had started hanging out with some people who I wanted to impress and didn’t want to give away the “best friend” designation yet – I also had had a best friend in my previous five years who I was still very close to. But being so blunt and candid was hurtful, mean, and …
Wrong … even though it was technically true.
I ended up moving away after high school and “L” and I lost touch. We did connect briefly a few years ago via Facebook, and I wrote a message trying to atone for my hurtful truthfulness so many years ago. Hopefully it helped a bit.  
But I still think about this all these years later, and that is the incident I think about when someone is brimming over with excitement and I privately don’t necessarily share the excitement. Usually, it doesn’t hurt anything at all to try and share in their happiness rather than dissecting any factual quibbles.  

L, this is for you. With the “best” of intentions for someone who was a true “friend.”


Peeps Going Postal! (A Mama Kat’s Writing Workshop Prompt)

It is Wednesday night, which means whipping up a post based on a Mama Kat’s writing prompt.This week, the random number generator treated me to this:

Write a love poem to a favorite food.
The chosen food? A no brainer.
The poem? Well … the idea turned my brain to …
You beckon me from the seasonal aisle
Pink, lavender, yellow, mint green, baby blue, tangerine
Your tiny eyes ask, “are you gonna eat the top first”?
I make the challenging color decision,
Do a private happy dance if there is a new color
I head to office supplies
I need a padded envelope for you, precious cargo
It costs more to send you than it does to buy you
But you need one more ingredient to taste perfect
The US Postal Service 
You need to get from Florida to Connecticut
Nestled in an envelope
A quickly scrawled note taped to your wrapper
Happy Spring!
Peeping in to say hi!
A new color!
Chocolate covered! Who knew?!
It’s a tradition honoring a friendship that started in 1989
A Northern “chick” and a Southern “chick” discovering common ground
through your adorable, sugary tastiness
One friend stayed North, the other went back South

Now you travel 1,207 miles each way
It’s not just two friends celebrating anymore
Four children have grown up knowing the handwriting on the envelopes that means
You peeps will taste extra special
Because you’ve “gone postal” and delivered the sweetness of friendship
Tenley (my daughter), Me, Audrey
The next generation of peep lovers (and maybe mailers!) Kimberly (Audrey’s daughter) and Tenley

This Friendship was “Mint” To Be (A Mama Kat Writers Workshop Prompt)

Mama's Losin' It
I usually let the random number generator “assign” me one of the five weekly Mama’s Losin’ It writing prompts. This week, the random number generator picked number 3: CONTROVERSY! Are the new security measures performed by the TSA really that bad? Take a stance! I am not writing to that prompt, partially because I am so hungry to travel almost anywhere that I wouldn’t let a full-body scan and a little TSA churlishness get in my way. I chose prompt number 1, proposed by Elizabeth from Mama Sick: Have you ever had a fight with a long time best friend and never made up? Do you think about her from time to time and think about contacting her? What would you say? What if it didn’t work out? What if it did?

Answering prompt number 1 gives me an opportunity to look back on a time when a good friendship was fractured, to ask why the heck that happened, and to enthuse about how much happier we both are now that all of that is behind us (except when it is being resurrected in a blog, I suppose……..)

Not everyone “gets” my humor. “J” did, immediately, and served it back to me. We were working on a project together at the State Department of Education. The people were great, the project was worthwhile, and friendship blossomed rapidly. We all worked together to produce a fantastic teleconference (back in the day when you had to have “I-Spy-like” coordinates to tell people how to talk to each other via satellite). The speed with which she and I bonded was second only to the speed with which entire sleeves of Thin Mint cookies seemed to go AWOL when either of us was around.

Then, somewhat abruptly, things got weird. There was a bit of a shift in the org chart, changing our positions slightly. There was a ……..

….looking back on it I can’t articulate how and why we went from “thick as thieves” to “not speaking.” Several months of this went by, months when it was pretty challenging to be in such close physical proximity while our attitudes toward each other were inifinitely distant.

It takes a whole lot of energy, and I don’t mean happy, “walking on sunshine” energy. I mean negative, “everyone around me ought to wallow down here in the angry ditch with me” energy to maintain this kind of personal freezeout.

I can still picture in my mind where I was (in my old little green duplex watching Seinfeld) when I called her. We chatted, did a little work on trying to figure out how we had gone from scarfing thin mints together to avoiding eye contact and putting up walls. Things were better for the next few months. Eventually, she moved away from Florida and I moved to a new job.

(fast elapse here of about fifteen years)

Enter Facebook, that intrepid facilitator of reunions.

She and I got reconnected via Facebook, and have had a fabulous time getting reacquainted, sharing thin mint reminiscences, and supporting each other. On days when no one else comments on my blog, I know I can almost always count on her chiming in. That is a priceless act of support.

What is the takeaway from this experience? For me, every single time I hear someone start a conversation that is essentially structured like this: “I haven’t spoken to [name] in three weeks, ever since (s)he [list minor infraction/perceived inequity/etc. here]. The ball’s in their court. They’ve gotta go first” I think to myself “you have started yourself on a death spiral – the more you pull your physical and emotional energy inward, the faster you will continue to descend as opposed to ascend.” Many of these situations start out so minor, and we deprive ourselves of some very satisfying friendship time (not to mention annoying the people around us who are often caught in the middle) when we lack the courage to go ahead and address things early.

In October, J and I had a chance to meet up when she came to Tallahassee for a football game. We had a great visit over breakfast. The only thing missing was the thin mints.

The picture that J. tagged “me” in on my birthday!

A quarrel between friends, when made up, adds a new
 tie to friendship
. – St. Francis De Sales