Happy Birthday, Mrs. Grillo!
Posted on April 30, 2018
I have this card (or maybe I had this card) that says something like, “Roses are red, Violets are blue, I’ll always be…[open the card] younger than you!” I can’t find it.
Mrs. Grillo and I became forever friends in seventh grade, some fifty-six years ago. My family had only been in California six months, living in Mill Valley where my dad was a seminary student. We moved to Pittsburg when Dad was called as Pastor of Temple Baptist Church.
It was the start of the second semester at Hillview Jr. High. When the gym teacher said “Raise your hand if you do not yet have a locker,” I replied something to the effect of, “My locker has done been possessed.” My Southern accent combined with the funny way I said it inspired a great roar of laughter from every girl in the room, including the teacher.
I didn’t mind. I had been miserable at the Mill Valley school where I started seventh grade. When the kids laughed at me there, I knew they laughed at me, my hillbilly-ness, my inferiority. I knew this because one of the teachers told me. But that first day at Hillview was very different. It was as if I made them laugh and that was great! Maura Jean Snyder laughed, too, and she’s laughed at me ever since. Lots of times, she’s cried with me.
By the time we hit Pittsburg High School, we were the ultimate teenyboppers. We adopted nicknames. She was Ja, with one of those long vowel lines over the a, I was Dee. We were wild about the Beatles, our fashion choices inspired by the British Invasion. We sewed military-style wool jackets. Mine was camel, hers was grey. We loved Motown and soul, handed to us on a platter in the diversity of our town. We could jerk and we could twine. We wore wheat-colored jeans and short-sleeved sweatshirts out of class, the dress code for young women denying pants of any kind in school. Except for dance days, and then a female person could wear pants and huge plastic hair rollers. I never caught on to the hair-roller thing.
When my father graduated from seminary and accepted an appointment with the Home Mission Board to Lewistown, Montana, I stayed with Ja’s family to complete my senior year.
We danced. Jean was much better than I, a seasoned champion roller-skater. Really. She was a U.S. champ. I danced anyway. Ja and I choreographed a mournful dance to a Barbra Streisand song about loss wearing wide-legged jumpsuits we made ourselves. Hers was olive green, mine was a burnt orange. When senior awards were handed out, she got one for Best Dancer, I got one for Most Improved. My boyfriend asked me, “Does that mean you were the worst in the class at the beginning?”
We went to San Jose State together. The second year, I went to Montana to stay with my folks for a year, and Ja pledged a sorority. The third year, Ja came to live with my family in Montana and I went to the University of Montana at Missoula. Ja rode herd on the Wong boys, my three little foster brothers. She loved it.
The fourth year, we didn’t go to any school. We married best friends. Her wedding was at the end of March, mine mid-May. She decided we should enroll in dance classes at a local studio. Ja and her husband became godparents to our first son Jade. We moved to a farm in Norene, Tennessee when Jade was eleven months old. A year later, we went home to Montana for a visit. I was pregnant with John.
Ja and her husband, godparents again, came to Tennessee for the baptism when John was about five months old. Ja and I loved the visit, particularly the times when she and I could be alone with each other, two old friends catching up but not finding much to catch up on. After all, we had the U.S. Mail. We played cards after Jade went to bed, John sitting in Ja’s lap propped between the table and her middle.
She had previously told me that it didn’t look like she would have children. After seeing her easy rapport with Baby John at the card table, I bet her $5 that she would be pregnant in the next six months. Or maybe I bet her she would have a baby within the next year. I don’t really know which it was, although I’m sure she does. Just a few months later, I received an envelope from Montana. The only thing inside was a $5 bill.
There’s so much more–too much more, too many pages. A couple of girlfriends accumulate a lot of stories over fifty-six years. We divorced the best friends, went back to college (she graduated, I didn’t), worked hard (she became a math teacher–and then a math coach!), mourned losses, put kids through school, remarried, got grandbabies, and one day years and years after that first meeting in gym class, realized that we could not just call ourselves best friends.
We had begun to feel when things were going wrong with each another. We fret over each other’s husbands, kids, and grandkids. We research each other’s illnesses. We cry for each other when something’s not right. We give advice, solicited or not. We easily take or reject said advice. We whoop it up when joy arrives. We visit each other across the country whenever we can. There is never a day that either of us don’t think about the other.
Somewhere along the way, we became sisters.
I have called Mrs. Grillo very early every birthday morning. I’ve only missed a few, always for good reason. I missed yesterday. There was a good reason. I remembered at 7:00 Central Time. Years ago, I gave up the 5:00 A.M. call. It was just too early. Yesterday, I decided I would call at 9:00 o’clock, which would be 7:00 o’clock in the Santa Cruz hills of California. But then all hell broke loose, which is fairly routine around these parts, and I was caught up in the fray with my mind diverted.
Mrs. Grillo, the day event went more downhill, so to speak, or I guess Dave went downhill as he fell into the ravine. After the neighbor and I fished his bloody self out, I took him directly to the ER. He’s fine, no worries. He got stitches where he face-planted a stump, and he’s a tad sore all over.
I’ll be on Message+ or the phone later to tell you the rest of the story. I’ll make that happen before this day is over. It may actually come in another blog post.
I love you, Sis, and hope you had good stuff at Little Italy–Is that the name of that restaurant? No, I think it might be Little Napoli. Now I know you had some cold bubbly, and I toasted you with some Jack and Coke. Did you feel it?