By Amanda Cleary Eastep
One after the other, the six of us crawl out my friend’s apartment bedroom window and onto the flat, tar paper roof of Wilma’s Cafe where the farmers gather on Saturday mornings to drink coffee and eat Western omelets after milking or plowing or planting, depending on the season.
To me that roof is a wonderland. Forbidden territory.
Only rain and sun touches it. And maybe once in a while a man with a bucket of fresh tar.
Now our tender, bare feet run amok.
What I wouldn’t give for a roof to crawl onto out of my bedroom window. I would lie on a blanket under the stars and write secrets in my diary about my love for the boy with the crooked nose.
We are all still in our pajamas, having hardly slept, because sleepovers are contradictions. And roofs are not meant to be beneath feet as we soon find out when the sound of the furious cafe owner reaches us from the sidewalk below.
We all try to fit back through the window at once. Giggling and guilty.
The mom of our slumber party host will take the brunt of the owner’s anger, but she can handle him. She is a waitress at the Ramada Inn, lets us eat raw cookie dough and call her by her first name, and knows words my father only says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.
Three of us have stayed friends since those days 38 years ago.
Last night, we met for Chicago-style pizza with three other friends, because the girl who left for college in Florida, fell in love and stayed there came for a visit craving the food she misses most.
We gorged ourselves on the all-American comfort food, warmth and nostalgia. A family size cheese and sausage forced us into a circle where we shared news of our children’s challenges and accomplishments and into which we brought many experiences unspoken and others exposed like gushing wounds.
Why do people get together after so many years have passed and so many miles separate and so many experiences have transformed them?
I guess because we are each others’ youth, and children’s friendships should never be underestimated. At our most vulnerable age, we form bonds and little fierce tribes who war on playgrounds, defending each other against bullies and rallying after boys break our tiny hearts and grandparents die.
You can simply pick up and yank on the cord woven early of shared experience and secured with one of those bowline knots farmers use on their animals. That kind of knot is easy to untie if you want to but doesn’t slip even under extreme tension.
Last night, within that circle–like the one you make when you play truth or dare at slumber parties–we reminisced a lot, too. About high school road parties and family campouts. About our small town upbringing and how some things, like Friday night fish frys have not changed. Deep fried, perch, bread slices plastered together with butter, and slices of lemon meringue pie.
A beige diet, kind of like our childhood town.
But life is never really beige. We were just naive then. And now we aren’t.
We understand that raising daughters alone on a waitress’s salary is impossible without the safety net of loving grandparents.
We see that swinging a hammer for years wreaks havoc on shoulders that have carried the weight of family responsibilities.
That communities can strive against change but can’t stop the kind of people who will run barefoot right over your head.
That young love fades, but true friendships don’t.