“You’re an each, and quite my odd, but you’ve filled that hole with sunshine, days at the beach watching it rise, and red faced smeared with Noxzema, it’s nice to have a friend like you, looking forward to our meeting, you’re an each but so am I, I’m glad our odds don’t matter.”
~ Voni ~
We met in Catholic grade school, both daughters of doctors, sun tanned and blonde, first in birth order, and we rode the same bus home every day. We had loads in common. And, so much not.
Voni and me.
We were stone cold fated to become best friends.
Voni’s house was on my route home every day, so we’d walk together and plan our playtime. Those were the days when hanging out outdoors, invading tree forts our brothers built high up in the jack pine trees and organizing neighborhood hide and seek games was the plan. No three hour homework sessions or obsessions with team sports took up our time. Pine cone fights, bike riding and skateboarding kept us breathing fresh air and away from television.
Voni’s house was a sprawling traditional two story brick and stucco home jammed with the orderly clutter created by Voni and her five active siblings. Two sisters and three brothers. Big family. The drumbeat of thundering feet up and down the stairs was constant. Every day after school, there were at least a dozen kids in and around that house visiting.
When Voni and I first met and I was invited to hang around after school, we’d speed through homework, climb into our swimsuits and jump into the kidney-shaped pool in their back yard. Eventually Voni’s family needed more room to spread out, though. So they filled in the pool, poured a giant foundation, (upon which we honed our fledgling skateboarding skills until the framing was due to be installed), and built a cavernous family room and dining area over top of it.
Something was cooking in that wonderful house every day, and not just in Mrs. P.’s kitchen. And at 5 p.m., ever patient and practical, Mrs. P. would clap her hands and patrol the house and grounds shooing all the visitors home so we could eat dinner with our own families.
When weather kept us indoors, Voni, her two younger sisters and I would squeeze into her small immaculately organized room. She actually made her bed, taut enough to bounce a quarter on it, and ironed her school uniform every day. This astounded me. The little desk in her room was always in impeccable order with books, notebooks and writing instruments in their places by color or function. Her multi-colored yarn hair bows hung from hooks and her shoes were lined up neatly.
I was a big wrinkled mess and thrived on a certain amount of personal chaos. Voni inspired me though and every fortnight or so I would purge my room and get organized.
When it rained, we played The Barbie Prom Queen board game. We couldn’t wait to be a big cool teenager like in the game, volunteering for charities, buying prom dresses, and dating cute guys. After multiple trips around the board, the end game was always a nail-biter. I prayed to every pre-teen popularity god that I wouldn’t draw the nerd, Poindexter, to be my prom date.
In self-defense, I chattered incessantly about Poindexter’s better hidden attributes and how he was really the cool prince in disguise, a doofy diamond in the rough that a little polishing would reveal. I always flipped over the card with that ginger crew cut sporting mega-nerd, Poindexter. He was destined to be my permanent prom date in board game world. What an omen.
No matter how many times Voni won Prom Queen and the cute guy, I honestly celebrated. She was my best friend and she deserved it.
Possibly my best birthday party ever. We went to Pirate’s World.
Top: Meg. Middle: Voni, Sheila, Me, Holly, Janet, Elisa. Bottom: Kim, Louise.
Me, Meg and Voni in the flying bucket ride. We avoided the Steeple Chase
because of rumored rattle snake infestations. This was WAY before Disney!
As our Catholic elementary school days waned, we were confirmed in the church and got to pick a saint’s name to add to our first, middle and last names. I picked Kirsten after an obscure 11th century Belgian holy woman “Christina the Astonishing” who was known for having some fairly interesting seizures and visions. I thought that to be groovy and kind of rebellious.
Voni’s parents may still blame me (I hope not!) for encouraging her choice of saint’s name - Monica. That made her full name to be Veronica Mary Monica Perry. I can still hear Mrs. P. admonishing me to take the sacrament seriously, and I really tried. I just thought it would be a cosmic travesty to take a pass on this windfall of rhythmic whimsy. Apparently she thought so too and Voni added St. Monica to her name as the Bishop patted her cheek as a reminder to be strong in the faith no matter who or what whacks us in the head during our lives.
Me, Voni and Adrienne.
Meg smiling in the background. Reception after May Crowning.
Always interested in shaking up the status quo, we fluttered our budding social justice wings and campaigned for the first black girl ever to be elected May Queen at St. Anthony’s. She won by majority of student vote over some of the "holy card girls" (including ourselves) who had been groomed by the nuns for the honor since first grade.
May Crowning is, quite frankly, a beautiful occasion. Serenaded by lilting hymns devoted to Christ's mom, the May Queen joyously walks down the church's center aisle, climbs a special stair upward and crowns the statue of the Virgin Mary with a circlet of roses in a ceremony on Mother’s Day. A huge honor, indeed.
The day came and sunlight poured in as the big doors in the back of the church opened to allow the May Queen entrance. The majestic vision of Adrienne serenely gliding down the center aisle of church, in a flowing sky blue chiffon gown with dozens of daisies poked into her enormous Angela Davis natural afro gave Voni and I reason to grin.
It gave others a near heart attack.
We knew from the jump that religious piety did not necessarily displace bigotry but there was no way to unring this bell. Adrienne climbed the steps up to the Virgin Mary and gently placed the flower crown on the statue with poise, just a slight glimmer of attitude and a big proud smile. Some of the parents gasped and whispered to each other. We were not surprised.
Our remaining days in grade school flowed by blissfully full of bike rides to the beach, softball games, pet guinea pigs, crushes on neighborhood boys (Kenny and Joe), and crazy games of Ghost in the Graveyard at night in the open air hallways of the high school where we were both slated to continue our education.
The imminently frightening transition into high school loomed but the butterflies in my stomach and the bats in my belfry were tamed by the fact that Voni would be there. I had a best friend. And there were family vacations to distract us during that nervously exciting summer.
Voni’s family vacationed at the circus camp at Calloway Gardens in Georgia, so naturally, ever prone to fueling their enthusiasms, there appeared a full-on trapeze in the Perry family side yard, where we all took a shot at flying. I wished I could be as confidently athletic as Voni, but I was no where near as strong and coordinated as she was. As she swung out, she pushed her pointed toes into the air and swung back to the platform gracefully. She understood the physics, cheating gravity at the top of the swing to spin around or catch the bar behind her knees. She knew where she was in space, even upside down.
What she did naturally, gracefully and confidently on that trapeze, I did screaming in fear with my heart in my throat until, eventually, I was lowered whimpering to the ground by Dr. P. who manned the safety harness.
This is not me, but it is pretty much
what I looked like…
I was better at tennis with my feet on the ground, thank you very much.
Or on stage. That's where I flew.