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I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey in a small town called Berkeley Heights. It’s very easily whizzed by if you’re traveling at high speed on Interstate 78.

I attended public school and graduated high school with 140 kids, many of whom I have known since elementary school. When Facebook began taking over the universe, I reconnected with tons of people from home, amazed at how everyone had grown up. Now, it’s a pretty normal occurrence to skim Facebook and see the photos of  babies, dogs, vacations, and homes of the same people I played kickball with so long ago.

Almost two weeks ago, I received a group message that one of the girls I grew up with had suffered a massive heart attack. The message was sent by her best friend, the same best friend she had when we were in grade school. Over the past two weeks, we’ve received regular updates on her condition (please think healing thoughts). And while the initial reason for getting us all in contact was and is frightening and upsetting on so many levels, it is also full of joy, nostalgia and gratitude.

Because along with our fear and concern, we’ve gathered up armfuls of laughter and childhood memories. Photos have been posted, like this one:

Circa 1982. Attitude courtesy of Pat Benatar, Joan Jett and Madonna.

It’s funny, a while back I wrote about the collective power and energy of this same band of girls from my childhood. And just as we did then, here we are again, shoring each other up with laughter and a certain kind of gratitude that perhaps comes from the place where we first tested our boundaries and ourselves: a town where you could play outside until your parents called you home, a place with creeks to cross and small mountains to climb, a place where the kids you knew become the people you always want to know. Home.

 

The words of my Father

It’s nearly Father’s Day, and I acknowledge the ache of missing him. I acknowledge the gratitude I have for my memories: the sound of his laugh popping into my mind at unexpected moments. The words and phrases that entertained, infuriated, taught and shaped me into this ever-changing lump of clay that will always be his daughter.

When I was a server:
If you put on some rouge, you’d make better tips.

While driving:
Get around this guy! He’s loafing in the left lane.

On the golf course:
Keep your head down. Don’t try to kill it.

On any professional athlete who showed poor sportsmanship:
He’s a bum.

When I playfully squeezed his bicep:
Be careful. You’ll hurt your hand.

Teaching me to drive a stick shift:
Again. Try it again.

At the end of any long list of questions:
Want a punch in the eye?

When pushed to the limit of his patience:
Gee Zuss Christ!

On any ex/bad boss/person:
(S)He’s a bum. (recurring theme)

Threats:
You better [whatever I was supposed to be doing] or I’m gonna land all over you!

After my haircut:
Your face is hanging out.

Dad: on the far right

Happy Father’s Day, Dad and all the dads still giving advice and tossing out one-liners.

Going home

I’ll be honest. I’m still processing my recent road trip to New Jersey for my 20th high school reunion, which also coincided with the year anniversary of my Dad’s passing. It’s fair to say I’ve been swept up in a veritable sea of memory, emotion and moments ever since.

And, I’m feeling an overwhelming need to share. So, I’ll start with one moment and periodically hit you with others. Agreed?

And it’s this: walking into a room brimming with people you grew up with…some from as far back as birth, literally…some of whom you haven’t seen in more than 10 years, is, in a word, INSANE. In the most wonderful way ever. In fact, I wonder what a scan of my brain would have shown at the exact moment I entered the room.

Gathering up the folks who played roles in each other’s collective pasts is a powerful thing, and I say with joy and certainty that I grew up with the best people ever. I do not say that easily. Meaning, I don’t say it to blithely reduce one of life’s largest brain overloads to a clichéd phrase. I say it, because it’s utterly true. Which is to say that I cannot imagine my growing up years without this collection of people. Mostly perhaps because it would be a far different life and therefore not mine.

I’m not romanticizing the awkward years of teen angst and struggle. In fact, there was photographic evidence of it on display! Like any kids who grow up together, we fought, cried with and over each other, celebrated together and separately, clawed, kissed and alternately ground one another’s self esteems under our heels one minute and built altars the next. All of it, every moment, is precious beyond measure. Simply for the fact that it’s ours.

At the end of our 8th grade year, our principal, in a fit of rage, announced that we were “the most terrible class in history.” I’m quite certain that at the time, the comment was well-deserved.

Conceivably the worst class in history at one moment.

The beauty lies both in the fact that we were once “the most terrible class in history,”  and, in the very next moment, continued on our journey to morph and change into the people who, 20 years later, filled a room in Livingston, New Jersey with laughter, happy tears and stories well into the night. It is good to go home.

Ladies & gentlemen, the Class of 1990.