My “oldest” old friend

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Whence this urge to reunite with persons from our past? I suppose it’s part of the aging process. We wonder how this one is, or where, and what have they done with their lives.

Or maybe it’s more sinister than that. Maybe we’re desperate to compare ourselves with others who started life much as we did – middle class, married young, raised a family – to see how much better we did than they did. Have they succeeded in their chosen field? In any field?

Have we?

Such a quest sent me off several months ago and I started thinking about Carol D. (I don’t think she’d object to the use of her name, but just in case…)

When we were little kids, we lived half a block apart in Harrisburg, Penn. My street, Graham, and Carol’s, 5th, intersected. Ours was the second house from the corner; hers was three or four doors from the corner.

We had a tiny backyard with a wire fence, lilacs and a gate. Beyond the gate was an alley giving access to the separate garages and trash cans. (And people today think alleys and rear-facing garages are avant garde.)

The empty lot directly behind us was where my Dad planted a Victory garden and tried his best to make a farmer out of me. I planted radishes.

Carol was the earliest friend I can remember. Somehow I have a mental freeze frame of her sun-struck yellow hair flying, her feet both in the air at once. We roller-skated around the block and sometimes played with Lowee A. who lived at the far end of our block.

There was also a boy named Ollie B. on 5th Street, but I can’t remember a thing about him.

Carol’s father was in the Army and moved around a lot. Sure enough, my first best-friend was snatched right out of my life to a military base in New Cumberland across the Susquehanna River. It may have been ten miles from Graham St. but it may as well have been a thousand.

Sooner or later, our parents arranged for us to visit. Daddy didn’t have a car or a driver’s license so it must been Col. D. who came for me. It was a bright, pleasant day and I remember making skirts for flower dolls by picking petunias (or Rose of Sharon? Hollyhocks?) and easing them on so the dolls could swirl like dancers. Mine fell off or tore, but just being allowed to play with them was sheer joy and would never have happened at my house.

The sun’s light faded suddenly and I looked up to see a truck passing by filled with tall young men who laughed and said something we could not understand. They were German prisoners of war, Carol said, and they were going to pick up trash or sweep the streets on the base.

And she went back to floral couturier. I couldn’t play any more for thinking of those boys. Did their parents know where they were? That they were alive and being treated decently? Why had they been captured? Were they being punished?

We visited a few more times, even after Dave and I were married. I don’t know the order of events in her life but I do remember that she became a nurse.

Just for the heck of it, I typed her name in Google and instantaneously had several hits. And guess what else? The surname I knew her by had been changed to B. She had married Ollie.

I wrote her at once and she answered at once. She sounded ecstatic to hear from me. She and Ollie have a daughter, Debbie, and have been married 48 years. They live in San Diego.

Debbie threw a surprise 70th birthday party for her mother, not realizing that Carol was having eye surgery the day before to get rid of eyelashes scratching the cornea. She had local anesthetic injected around her eyes and electrolysis to the eyelids.

“Well, I was wearing dark glasses when everyone yelled SURPRISE!! and when I took off my dark glasses they were the ones surprised,” she wrote.

“But it was a fun party and at 70 you can't be too vain anymore anyway. One of these days we will have our own reunion, I promise...and no black eyes. Here's to the future.”

It turns out they’ll be in Atlanta in April. I sent her maps and she’s confident she can follow the directions. And, by the way, she says, do you know of any running trails. Ollie will be running 18 miles with a friend the day after getting back to San Diego and wants to stay primed.

Do I know of any running trails? Does a little kid like radishes?

login to post comments | Sallie Satterthwaite's blog