Brand building through storytelling

Still friends after 40 years

When I was a teenage misfit in a small New Hampshire town with no purveyors of guitars, French magazines or rawhide sandals like the ones worn by Biblical shepherds, I would save my allowance for escapes to the centre of all things hip and freewheeling. With my soul mate Anne, I would ride the dawn bus to Boston and jump on the subway for Harvard Square.

All day we’d rub shoulders with exotic-looking people who should have been our classmates, if not our lovers and comrades in arms. We’d study the lineup at Club 47, former stamping ground of our heroine, Joan Baez. We’d hang out in shops like The Ploughshare, sighing over baubles we couldn’t afford: dangly jade earrings, ivory letter openers in the shape of scimitars. We hated to leave. In Harvard Square we could pretend we belonged to a community. Back home, we were a sisterhood of two.

We had a private lexicon: “HS” for Harvard Square, “clod” for anyone who cheered at pep rallies, “Adam” for the one true love who awaited each of us, somewhere (and in whose absence we’d settle for the merely “Adamesque”). Our judgments were swift and scathing: if you swooned over the Beatles, that made you a clod. (We disdained the Fab Four just because they were adored by the masses.) In our impassioned daily phone calls, which routinely broke my mother’s one-hour limit, even the pauses were sacred. Fie on any family member who might wish to call the hair salon when Anne and I were arranging the universe!

I fantasized about lovers; Anne had already known several. I thought she was impetuous and thrillingly frank. Once she told me how an orgasm felt. Like running off a cliff, she said. Why do I remember this? Because it mystified me at the time and because no one but Anne would share such a confidence. I could tell her anything. So how could I not tell her everything?

What I remember most about adolescence was the burning conviction that my real life lay elsewhere, with New Hampshire and everything in it just a prologue. So I lost touch with Anne after high school, even though it was her friendship that pulled me through the loneliest time of my life.

Last week in the middle of a road trip through New England, I got together with Anne for the first time in 40 years. We met in Harvard Square, where my husband and I had been lucky enough to borrow a friend’s apartment. Anne took us both to lunch at a sidewalk caf? on Brattle Street, where she and I used to wander in rawhide sandals. An English teacher turned realtor (and self-described “old lady”), she’s still married to husband number one and is not what you’d call impetuous. But she’s still her straight-talking self, and I can still tell her anything.

After lunch my husband left us to revisit the haunts of our youth. No sign of The Ploughshare or the rawhide sandal shop but the foreign newsstand, an icon since 1955 and on the National Register of Historic Places, is just as I remembered after narrowly escaping death last year. At that newsstand, John Kenneth Galbraith bought Le Monde and Julia Child bought cooking magazines. Anne remembers it differently. “You bought Film Quarterly there,” she said.

Park benches abound in the streets around the square, so we found plenty of shady spots for looking back on the girls we used to be. I asked how she remembered me: “Did I seem as melancholy to you as I always did to myself?” Not at all, Anne said. She always knew that my father drank and my mother raged against his drink, but she had no idea that I suffered from chronic depression. So I guess I hadn’t told her quite everything. Why not? The obvious reason is shame, which still consigns most sufferers of any mental illness to an isolating silence. But there’s another, more upbeat factor at play. Anne’s loyalty blunted the edge of my despair. Her dramas pulled me out of my self-absorbed funk. And on top of all that, she was funny. I never had a day so crashingly black that Anne couldn’t make me laugh.

So here’s to you, Anne, and the rediscovered gift of your friendship. Just think…another 40 years and we’ll be centenarians!

Click here to read a related post, “My life as a fan: 44 years with Bob Dylan.”


Posted by Rona

Previously posted comments:

August 11, 2009 at 11:11AM

Rona writes about the great fun and laughter I brought into her often sad high school days. It is true we connected joyfully in those tough adolescent years. And we have reconnected–in my old age. How fortunate for me to have a younger friend in my dotage.

If Rona does not take my senescence seriously, let me advise her that as I read her blog, I asked myself what I might clip from it to incorporate into my obituary.

Today my message really is to acknowledge what I longed for, what I was missing. Rona filled that void artfully.

Often I think that my final comment on the world will be “everyone meant well.” My young life was one of some privilege and advantage. Nothing much was denied. But what was absent, was sorely needed….The life of the mind and the imagination…the intensity of life in poetry and myth. I yearned for metaphor and imagery. As a freshman I walked down the street looking up at the birds on the telephone wire and called them the bare-ruined choir.

That I found another teeny bopper who did similar things was one of life’s great gifts.

Rona Maynard
August 11, 2009 at 11:11 AM

Old? Not yet, my dear! The brilliant Diana Athill, who started writing books in her 70s, has called the 60s “the shoals of middle age” (or words to that effect). I’d say it’s rather soon to be pondering your obituary.

August 13, 2009 at 9:09AM

What a beautiful and loving tribute to your other adopted sister! Thank you for introducing us to the Anne of days gone by and the fact that she is still the same person all this time later. God bless friends who help us through the trials and tribulations of life and make this journey all that much more bearable. Wish I could make the comment that I still had friends from 40 years ago, but most of them have either died or moved to other parts of the country.

Rona Maynard
August 13, 2009 at 9:09 AM

I know what you mean about friends dying. But when it comes to moving away, one of you can always make the trip—although I do suggest an e-mail exchange and perhaps a phone call or two before making any travel plans. That way, you know if you and your friend still share a powerful connection. Some of these early relationships have a lot more staying power than others.

Sanna Levine
November 29, 2009 at 5:05AM

What a lovely and loving tribute. I also thought I was marooned among the philistines in the same small town,although I had my own Anne (also named Ann, coincidentally), who joined me in a sympathetic universe of two. It doesn’t matter that she was loony and bailed on me in our senior year for reasons she refused to explain. She saved me from genuine loneliness and isolation. I couldn’t have expected more or better if I had lived in New York — my Harvard Square — among the urban hipsters, my landsmen. My only comfort is that most adolescents, especially the dreamy idealistic ones like I was, are as greedy and ungrateful as I was.

Rona Maynard
November 29, 2009 at 1:01 PM

Sanna, I like your expression “sympathetic universe of two,” which perfectly describes so many friends in their misfit years. By the way, I too had a hankering for New York (the Village in particular), but Harvard Square was a day trip from Durham in the lumbering Michaud Bus.

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