I can’t think of my childhood without thinking of Bonnie. She was as much a part of my life as Sunday pot roast after church, family walks in the woods, and lazy summer afternoons listening to Tiger baseball with Grandma and Grandpa on their front porch.
Bonnie and I were best friends during the 1950s. The second oldest of nine, she practically lived at my house in the summertime and even traveled on vacations with my small family. She was the sister I never had, and I loved her white-blonde hair, her relaxed, easy manner, and her contagious giggle.
long past bedtime
bursts of laughter
into our pillows
From early morning to just before dark we rode our bikes, swung on the giant strikes in the Catholic school yard until calluses formed on our hands, tightrope walked the railroad tracks, and mixed magic potions from each other’s medicine cabinets. We also loved hamming it up, frequently performing impromptu front porch plays and charging neighborhood kids a small admittance so that afterward the two of us could split a cherry Coke at Laur’s Drugstore. On hot days we sought refuge in my grandmother’s cool basement guest room
playing “Go Fish”
with French accents,
strapless gowns slipping
and dabbing dots of Evening in Paris all over our necks.
The highlight of every summer, though, was when the fair came to town, filling the air with merry-go-round music, carnival barkers, and the sweet fragrance of cotton candy and caramel apples. Just about that time the local ketchup factory would begin its processing and, while we rode the Octopus or Ferris wheel, Bonnie and I would gulp down deep breaths of the wonderfully rich tomato aroma. Always before walking the three blocks home, we would pool the last of our pocket change for “just one more try” at winning a large stuffed animal by playing ring toss or choosing a lucky duck. Even once we got back to my house and changed into our pajamas, we would continue to talk and giggle far into the night, calliope music and warm candied breezes floating in through the screen window.
carny trucks pulling out
light rain and church bells
On my dresser today, over forty years later, next to a picture of my grandmother, is a small black and white photo dated 1958 of Bonnie and me, two skinny, knobby-kneed best friends, arms around each other’s shoulders. We had a similar one taken for 25¢ at Kresge’s Department Store that year inside a curtained booth, on the day we had announced to the neighborhood that we were officially best friends. Rather than framing the picture, we ceremoniously buried it in a white wallet box under Mrs. Philipott’s plum tree “for all time.” That didn’t stop us from digging it up every day for the rest of that summer just to make sure no harm had come to it overnight. I’m not sure what we had expected might happen to it, but we were relieved and delighted each time we found that our treasure was still there, its precious contents undisturbed. Though the box and picture have long since disintegrated, the image of two little girls, trying to preserve something more special than they could understand at the time, has stayed with me, clear as a calliope melody, sweet as cherry Coke, palpable as cool damp earth on a hot summer afternoon.
leading us home