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4:06 p.m. - 2010-04-09
My Three Amigos

During my tenure at Our Lady of Terrible Vengeance I became friends with three girls, each of whom had her own special attractions and each had a very different home life. From my own and from each other's. I liked them for their unique attributes and for the chance it gave me to observe their homes and their interactions with their families. For all that I had in common with their home lives I might have been raised by wolves. Not entirely alone, I might add, the kids of my mother's drinking pals were raised by wolves too. In so far as things like actual parental supervision, home cooked meals (if not made by ourselves), fairness, and freedom from the messy drama and beatings that came from being the children of drunken women forever on the prowl were so out of our ken as to be wildly exotic, almost mythical things. Except that through my other friends, the school ones, I got to see for myself what the other half lived like. The running buddies' kids, well, we were thrown together often enough that their lives were no surprise, nor did our misery love company. We resented the hell out of each other. Nothing worse than being forced into faux chumminess by our mothers' shared love of random sex and soothing memory deadening alcohol. The enforced 'slumber parties' where we all had to bunk together for the convenience of our mothers and their parsimony about paying more than one lax babysitter to watch the whole herd of us, eh, they sucked.

Anyway, about those other friends. The ones with visible parents and a distinct lack of the wary cynicism that defined the wolf pack kids, were absolutely amazing to me.

For instance there was Tanna, the middle child of a large Dutch immigrant farm family. Tanna's folks immigrated in the late 1950s but maintained their places back in the old country with an annual trip back home and several visits a year by family still living in The Netherlands. It wasn't unusual for kids in this area to speak another language at home, the kids of our generation were the mutts. Progeny of 1st and 2nd generation Americans whose ethnic identity was a fierce melding of new world patriotism and old world language, holidays and food. In a sea of Italians, Poles, Irish, Slavics, and Jews of every stripe who'd escaped or survived the Nazis, Tanna's Dutch heritage was special. Unique. The dairy farm was cool too. I like cows. Always have. The thing that got me about Tanna's life was how nice everyone was. They joked, the kids fought, the dad was sometimes sharp and a bit scary, but on the whole they were really nice to each other. Nice to me. Respectful. The house was super clean and painted in bright shiny whites and pale blues. Despite the crowd Tanna's house was peaceful. Tidy and kind. It spoke of hard work done scrupulously well, but not out of fear or to put on airs, but because that's just what you did. How it was supposed to be.

Then there was Liz. Wholly American. No huge tribe of kids. No overt Catholicism woven into daily life. Liz only had one sibling, a sister, and they lived in a house that reflected everything upscale, educated, and modern. If I had to put a name on them, Liz's parents were Yuppies before their time. The truly astounding thing about Liz's life was that while the main parts of the house were clean and gracious, the girls' shared bedroom was a pit. Liz never had to make her bed. Or put away her clothes and toys. I was appalled and delighted by Liz's pigsty of a bedroom. I couldn't imagine a mother who had better things to do than to turn her children into wee housemaids. Liz's mom was cheerful, breezy, and always seemed to be wearing tennis whites. She spoke to Liz like Liz had a brain of her own and opinions that mattered. If Liz and her sister wanted to live in disorganized filth, then okay. It was their room. Autonomy of a magnitude unimagined.

Last only because that's how the order came out, was Susie. Susie was kind of a Big Deal in our little world. Her folks were deeply involved in the church and school doings. Susie's eldest brothers had been fabulous athletes in their time and the ones still attending our school were following the family tradition. In the Catholic school world, aside from the early espousal of the priesthood, there was no finer character than that of the athlete. At least for boys. Girls were excluded from the holy vocations of football, basketball and running track. Girls were allowed to be smart, obedient, and sometimes creative, if that creative bent had an obvious homemaking flavor. Good seamstresses and cooks were just fine. Anyhow, Susie basked in the reflected glory of her brothers' exploits on the local Catholic high school's fields and (loud trumpet fanfare) those of Villanova and Notre Dame. Her mother's constant presence in our school's church basement cafeteria and steady guiding hand in keeping those rotten public school CCD attendees in line meant that Susie got to live like the boss's kid. Her antics and rebellions ignored and/or forgiven. Her social transgressions mutated into the lesser sin of 'high spirits' because, you know, her brother, Danny, scored 4 touchdowns last season in South Bend and wow, that Gregg had taken the high school to the regionals.

In short? Susie had balls. She said and did things I could only admire from my lowly perch as sometimes friend and class grind. My sterling academic record was of no consequence to the faculty, my do-nothing mother rarely even showed up for Mass, let alone participate and excel at the endless fundraising so necessary to parochial schools, but through Susie I got to try on what it was like to be a Big Deal. To be a rebel who went unscathed. I discovered the perks that came with being a celebrity. Susie opened a door to a world I didn't get the courage to step through for many, many years. But those enthralled glimpses showed me that power, however it was gained, meant both safety and acceptance. Forgiveness for being more than obedient and ordinary.

They grew up okay, my three friends. No bad ends. Tanna married young, had a passel of kids and now teaches in the same school we'd all gone to. Liz went to Columbia and then became a dentist like her dad and eventually took over his practice. Susie? Susie wobbled and wandered a bit as children of privilege often do. She's the one I've run into most often since between adventures she'd come home to bunk with her folks to recover and gain breakaway speed for some more of the same, but I saw her not too long ago and she's doing good. Finally realized she's a lesbian and found a terrific woman to settle down with. Not your standard Catholic girl happy ending, but she's content, happy and in love, and that's the only thing that counts.


My road hasn't been easy, but along the way I've had some great friends. ~LA

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