The Story: Jessica was my childhood best friend, my other half, my silly sidekick from the time we met in ballet class when we were 10 or 11 until we went separate ways for college. We kept in touch for years with cards and letters and long phone calls and occasional visits but our heyday was definitely middle school and junior high.
Jess lived in Goffstown, about 45 minutes from Candia, where I grew up. I was in eighth grade when we moved into Manchester and then she was only about 20 minutes away. We went to different high schools and had our own groups of friends, which we never really overlapped, but we remained close and continued our regular schedule of sleepovers.
I hadn’t seen Jess in 10 years when we got together for breakfast in October. We were able to pinpoint the date because it was her dad’s funeral. Before that it had been at her wedding three years prior. We haven’t been in touch in any regular way since college or shortly thereafter but Jess was one of the ones I knew I had to see for a drink during this project.
Thinking about growing up with Jess brings me back to a much simpler time. For years, Jess and I would go roller skating on Saturday afternoons at Happy Wheels and then proceed to one of our houses (usually mine) for a sleepover. We were girls together and, in the 1980s, it was a lot easier than it is today.
Our sleepovers typically consisted of the two of us curled up on couches, under blankets eating bowls of snacky junk food and watching Saturday Night Live. It was the 1980s and Martin Short’s Ed Grimley skits were our favorite. There was one in particular that stayed with us for a decade or more: when Ed Grimley appeared as a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. You see, Ed Grimley was obsessed with Pat Sajak. Jess and I laughed so much at that skit, I’m sure we woke up the house and, from then on, we called each other Pat and Ed. We would send cards and write letters to each other when we went away to college. Hers would always start, “Dear Pat,” and end with “Love, Ed,” and mine were exactly the opposite.
I distinctly remember one weekend when my mom and I went out to pick Jess up at her house. We needed snacks for the evening and we stopped at a little grocery. Jess and I might have been 13 or 14 and my mother went into the store, walked up to some young, strapping grocery clerk and said exactly this: “excuse me, where do you keep your Screaming Yellow Zonkers?”
Jess and I were mortified (because the clerk was cute and just a few years older than us) and howling (because it was absolutely hysterical). But, we found the Screaming Yellow Zonkers and headed home for yet another sleepover.
We were both so sheltered and naïve. We knew almost nothing of the world and didn’t chafe too much at our parents’ strict rules. We didn’t get in trouble much and neither of us really drank in high school (and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one of us who went pro upon entry to college).
The summer before I started eighth grade, my family went on vacation to Cape Cod and Jess came along. I remember we met some cute boy somewhere and, somehow, we got his phone number. For the next day or two, Jess and I would walk up the road to a phone booth and call him. I have no idea what we had in mind; it’s not like we could have seen him again without my parents bringing us somewhere, since neither we nor he had a driver’s license yet. We got caught on day two or three of calling this boy and I got in big trouble – for what, I’m not exactly sure – but we weren’t allowed much out of sight after that.
Interestingly, a few years later, our parents did allow us out of sight for something a little outlandish. Huey Lewis and the News was our favorite band and they were coming to play in Manchester at an outdoor stage in Arms Park on the River. This was probably 1986. Jess was 16 and I was 15. We wanted to go to this concert terribly bad and our parents allowed us to sleep out overnight to get tickets first thing in the morning.
At that time, Ticketmaster was a counter in the Sears store in the Mall of NH. So Jess and I loaded up a car with pillows and snacky treats and drinks and whatever else would keep us amused for the night and headed over to the Mall. Except we were the only ones there…the whole time. Apparently Huey Lewis and the News at a general admission show in a park was not cause for a more savvy concertgoing population to camp out overnight in a mall parking lot. It makes me giggle now to think how silly we must have looked out there in that parking lot overnight except that, I’m sure if you looked closely that the car, you would have seen two young girls laughing and being silly and enjoying this little bit of adventure, very likely, completely oblivious to the world around them.
The Drink: Jess lives almost an hour from me in a really rural part of the state. We met for brunch at a pancake house at the bottom of one of the ski mountains sort of in between us. It was the easiest time for her to steal away from her husband and kids. Once we saw each other and stopped hugging and squealing and saying “ohmygod, it’s you!” and “ohmygod you look amazing” and the like, we sat down at a tiny table amidst families and lumberjacks and locals and immediately proceeded to catch up on 10 years of news and events. It wasn’t just catching up on she and I, though, we had to catch up on both families, too, since we really grew up at each others’ houses and with each others’ siblings. So I had to know all about her mom and her sisters and she had to know all about mom and dad and my brothers. Somewhere in there we ordered breakfast – pancakes, of course – and some oj and a cup of tea for me.
Somehow, nearly two hours passed and, while we caught up on everything that had occurred during the last decade, we didn’t quite get around to figuring out a drink. Plus, the breakfast counter was serving Grade-A Amber rather than triple-distilled anything, so we never quite got around to having an actual drink. That’s ok, though. I realized as I was driving home that morning, with all those sleepovers over all those years, I’m positive that orange juice was exactly what we were drinking most Saturday and Sunday mornings, so it turned out to be the perfect drink after all.