Pat is a member of my first graduating class lovingly nicknamed the “Feral Cats”. She lives at Heritage Palms with her husband Don and has already had her first book published. She is not only a fantastic writer, but someone that I call a close friend. Pat has a heart of gold and I love any time I get to spend with her. Enjoy a piece she agreed to share with you all:
I formed my first friendships as a student in grade school in the 1950s. These friendships were based on religion, background, parental expectations and appearance. My friends and I belonged to an exclusive club although I don’t think we planned it that way. We merely followed the example of our parents and the dictates of society.
We shunned two girls because they were different. One girl was tall, skinny, blonde and afflicted. The other girl was short, stout, brunette and limped. Neither one was invited into our club, our haven of sameness. But something transpired in the fourth grade which gradually changed my perspective.
It happened when the slender girl convulsed on the floor. Her blonde hair whipped her face and her vacant eyes rolled back in her head. A nun forced a tongue depressor into her mouth while another nun pinned her down. My friends and I had never seen a seizure before. We were helpless, horrified and revolted. The chubby girl, with the brown pigtails, edged closer to the writhing girl. The nuns shooed her away but she stood by protectively. Soon an ambulance arrived and whisked the stricken girl to the hospital. She returned to school a few days later, sheepish and embarrassed.
At recess, the lame girl asked the epileptic girl to join her in the schoolyard. Though I couldn’t hear what they said, their smiles signaled that they would never be alone again. A friendship was forged out of affection and simpatico.
Every day after school, they walked home together wearing identical knee-length uniforms and brown and white saddle shoes. They looked the same but different. The tall girl’s hair brushed freely against her shoulders while the short girl’s pigtails were fastened tightly by ribbons. The gangly girl slowed her pace to accommodate her friend’s uneven gait. They walked hand in hand, one small white hand clutched in the other’s brown one.
I saw courage and empathy that day in fourth grade. The African-American girl reached out to the Caucasian girl despite the nuns’ objections to stay clear, and despite proscribed racial boundaries. The black girl defied the nuns’ authority in a school that demanded conformity. Her sweet temperament belied her resilience. She stepped forward to help a girl in need while the rest of us retreated in disgust.
Did the white girl accept the black girl’s friendship because she was lonely or ostracized or needy? Did she risk further rejection by befriending a girl of color? Or was she simply ahead of her time? Was their friendship driven by their similarities or by their differences — or both?
Did they go to each other’s homes, dine with their parents, go to the movies and have sleepovers? Did they giggle like all girls their age? When they walked up the main street in town, did they realize the powerful statement they telegraphed to the community? Did they see themselves as pioneers by crossing color lines?
I suspect they were not that idealistic. I doubt they were aware of the subliminal and prophetic message they sent. I think they discovered in each other a source of trust, solace and joy. I think they found their doppelganger, a mirror image of each other’s thoughts, dreams and aspirations – two imperfect beings perfect in each other’s eyes.
I hope they remained friends beyond grade school and high school. I hope they marched in Selma. I hope they attended each other’s college graduations, weddings, christenings, and other major life events. I hope they continued to be there for each other.
I wonder if they knew that their walks on a main street in a small New England town would set the stage for a more diverse world. I wonder if they knew what a profound example they set.