The Sisterhood of the Traveling Tea Set
I met my three best friends before the age of eight. The first was when my sister, Kate, was born eighteen months after me. The second was when I was three years old and Clara’s family moved into the old farm across the street. And finally when Christi’s family moved back from Mexico and began attending the local church.
The four of us stuck together like flies to flypaper. In many ways we were each others childhood. We had a high context relationship that rang with songs and phrases we made up. We kept secrets, started a charity club, wrote and performed plays for our parents, and went skinny dipping and backyard tenting.
When we turned 18 we went on a “road trip” from Central MN to Southern MN. We were funding the trip ourselves and only had gas and hotel money for two nights. We’d planned our trip for a Monday-Wednesday to take advantage of a weekday special.
Low and behold, we ended up in a dinky town where everything was closed Monday-Thursday, except the library and a one-room general store. This town became the source of a hilarious joke to us. We took pictures of it and pretended to be enthusiastic tourists as we paraded down weedy, deserted streets.
We’d planned on treating ourselves to a nice dinner while on this trip so we dressed up and drove 20 miles to a town that would fit on a postage stamp. The moment we stepped into that greasy spoon diner in our heels and dresses every head turned to stare. We were so embarrassed at how overdressed we were that Christi and I began to improv.
“What a lovely wedding that was, don’t you think Beth?”
“Um…why yes, Christi, it was so nice. Jennifer looked fabulous in her wedding dress.”
Christi turned to Clara. “But I have to ask. Aren’t you jealous that Jennifer married your ex-boyfriend?”
Clara blanched, eyes wide. None of us had a boyfriend—had ever had a boyfriend. We could feel a group of old men at the table next to us straining to hear; probably wondering if Tim and Jennifer were the grandchildren of anyone they knew.
Clara’s aptitude for acting wasn’t as natural as Christi’s and she merely plastered on a grin and parroted the information Christi had just fed her.
“Yes, um my old boyfriend…Tim…”
“Well, if Tim hadn’t decided to go to veterinarian school, I’m sure you still would be together,” I volunteered. “It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who is so consumed with college.”
Katie kicked me under the table and sent me a look that said, ‘Stop encouraging this!’
I ignored her warning and Christi and I kept at it for the rest of the meal, making Clara and Katie force back laughter until the bill was paid to a suspicious waitress and we were safely out the door.
It wasn’t until we were in the car that we began to fact check. It is very unlikely that anyone would have a wedding clear out in Boondockville on a Tuesday afternoon. We realized that we’d probably duped no one and decided to head back to the hotel where we made raspberry tea (a longstanding favorite) with Clara’s Fisher Price plastic tea set that we’d used for our entire childhood.
Were we strange and irritating teenagers? Definitely. But that’s a teenagers job. You do really odd things in the name of self discovery. But irritating or not, we were very content young humans.
With the birth of my daughter the world has taken on a new shape for me. I see my childhood as in a mirror—what I was and what I’ve become because of it. I’m excited to relive childhood through my daughter’s eyes, to recreate the activities that I participated in with such wonder. I wrote a spoken word about Christi, Clara, Katie and me growing up which I’ll share below.
I remember the first snow when we were kids
The earth stilled—hallow as a shell,
The hillside was punctuated with our screams as we tobogganed fast, fast,
Sweating inside our snowsuits, dizzy with youth,
to us there was only that moment,
It was something to seize and not worry that it might end.
I remember summer.
Days so hot they sizzled as we prodded tar patches with our Sketchers,
We played in the hay barn until your mom rang the cowbell
Our skin smelling of salt, dust and weak lemonade spilled from paper cups,
We would chase each other among the straw,
Running fast, fast.
We’d raid the garden shed and fill our t-shirts with kittens,
Braiding clover crowns for their heads.
We promised to be friends forever,
That we’d be in each others weddings
I remember we made raspberry tea from a pink plastic set,
And we gossiped in fancy accents,
holding out our pinkies like the ladies in the BBC dramas
We ran to the road and toasted every passing car,
Drunk on the sheer fact that we were alive,
We were here,
And life was now.
I remember phone calls,
When we had to ask permission to use the cordless.
Talking for hours about boys and our plans for growing up,
We said we’d share a loft in New York City,
Starving artist in threadbare bathrobes writing brilliant, frustrated novels.
We never went to New York,
It all went so fast.
And here we are nearly twenty years has past,
And as I sit in my house, my own child on my lap
I remember the sweetness of childhood, the thirsty, desperate rush to lap it up—to not miss a thing.
Much is a blur, but there are some things that sharpen into focus:
The four of us growing up.
Chasing each other through field-grass in garage sale jeans
Chasing each other so fast,
So very fast.