Oh Boy, We’re Finally BOTH Fifty!

What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it. C.S. Lewis

Or will be shortly.  Some of my very best friends and I celebrate our birthdays together three times a year –  in February (me), April (Nae) and September (Pooh).  In September we’ll celebrate Pooh’s birthday.  Now as you may have guessed, her name isn’t really Pooh, but it was one of her nicknames.  I’ve known Pooh since 1973.  Yes, that’s correct. I said 1973.  And birthdays have always been the bane of her existence.  I remember turning 18 and feeling like I had a tiger by the tail – but not Pooh – she felt old even then!  And of course now that’s she turning 50 It gives me some great fodder for teasing her. Lovingly of course (hah!).

We met in Mrs. Brownlee’s art class in junior high (7th grade).  Mrs. Brownlee’s voice was very shaky (I don’t know if Pooh remembers that – at first it drove me crazy) but I grew to love her.  She was a great teacher and we had a great time in her class! Pooh and I sat across from each other every day and cemented our friendship.

Pooh was friends with everyone – Brains, Smokers, Jocks – everyone. I was friends with the brains (now I think known as nerds or geeks).  And she was (and of course still is!) a brain – I think that’s what drew us together back then.  We both did well in school, but we also got away with a lot of stuff.  I was just thinking about it the other day.  I know my parents genuinely liked Pooh, and I think her parents liked me, but I don’t think any of them liked the two of us together.  We had a lot of good crazy ideas and there was never any hesitation to run with it. I can still remember my dad telling me that I wouldn’t keep the friends I had in high school.  For the most part, he was right. But not about Pooh. A little over three years after we graduated she was by my side at my dad’s funeral. And she’s been by my side whenever I needed her ever since. I have a feeling we’ll be raising heck in a nursing home some day.

Pooh was much braver than I was.  She’d take me to the jock’s beer parties and flit around talking to everyone, and I was just, well, terrified. Plus I never have really liked beer (although at one time I could drink an entire pitcher of the stuff in 7 seconds – it’s amazing what I’d do on a dare back then). I completely lacked social skills at that age. By the time we got to high school we had amassed a small group of friends – our own little clique. It was an odd little group – or maybe eclectic would be a better word. There were four girls (let’s call them Pooh, Bear, Sandi, and Renee) and two guys (let’s call them Jerome and Wayne) – and one of the guys went to a neighboring school (I know this is weird, but we used to skip school to go visit our friends at the other high schools in town).

So of course we decided that we would all share a locker.  It happened to be my locker, which was the most centrally located.  We actually kept all coats in another locker, and used my locker as a meeting place between classes.  We super glued shelves into the locker and decorated the inside for all the major holidays.  That was eventually our downfall because the shelves we glued in would sometimes keep the locker from closing securely. And there was an eagle-eyed english teacher who had an obvious dislike for our little band of misfits – she watched us constantly.

We came up with all sorts of goofy ideas.  One of the goofiest was stealing pencil sharpener lids.  Yep, you heard me correctly.  Remember those old fashioned pencil sharpeners that were screwed to the wall – and occasionally you had to take the lid off and empty it?  Remember the funny smell of lead and wood? And how the pencil shavings would end up absolutely everywhere? 

At our school the pencil sharpeners were located in each classroom in a closet. They were about chest high and you had to open two doors out to get to the sharpener.  The doors also afforded a bit of privacy if you had to pick your nose or scratch yourself while sharpening a pencil. And thus an idea was born.  I don’t know what it was back then, but the stupidest, most moronic things would send us all into fits of laughter that were literally uncontrollable. So one day at lunch we started talking about what kind of a prank we could play.  And we decided to see who could steal the most pencil sharpener lids.  The caveat was that you had to steal them from a class you weren’t in. 

This entailed going in and interrupting the teacher during a class and asking innocently if you could sharpen your pencil – you’d been at the library and the point broke off.  They never said no.  And I don’t think they ever put two and two together when they noticed the missing lids!  For us girls it was relatively easy.  After all, we carried those huge purses that were made by cutting the legs off of a pair of jeans and sewing the bottom closed. I’m not clear on how the guys did it. We had a score sheet with all our names and hash marks for the lids.  About a week into this little adventure we decided that we should up the ante. At that point we added several items to the list – fire extinguishers, chalk, lunch trays and forks. Again, amongst massive fits of hilarity.  Truthfully, I don’t think most of us were going to go for anything other than the lids and possibly a piece of chalk or two.

So one day I was working in the school office (yes, I was one THOSE kids – I had three free hours during the day and they had to do something productive with me), when the school secretary approached me with a very stern look on her face.  I immediately assumed I had been caught giving out free passes for my friends to get back into class.  But all she told me was that I was to report to the principal’s office immediately, take a seat, don’t touch anything, and wait for the principal to arrive.  Our principal bore a striking resemblance to Omar Sharif, but he wasn’t nearly as romantic.  To say I was scared would be the understatement of the century.  It was the first time I had ever been in the principal’s office. Several minutes later the door opened, and in came Pooh.  She took a seat and asked me what the he** was going on? Couldn’t tell her.  Then in came Bear, followed shortly by Renee, and finally Jerome – the one guy that went to our school.  We were completely at a loss until the secretary came in and, very dramatically, placed the list of things we were “collecting” on the principal’s desk. We found out later that the mean english teacher had gone to shut our locker for us, discovered the list taped to the inside of the door, and subsequently found the box of nine pencil sharpener lids we had collected so far.  They couldn’t figure out where the ninth one had come from – Pooh had gotten it the county library the week before.

 Things became very clear at that moment, and suddenly Renee erupted in the most horrendous screeching scary laughter I have ever heard.  It started as a kind of snort, and grew louder and louder in a sort of hiccuping manner. Then it would stop for a second, and start again.  It sounded something like Snort then a screechy sort of HEE HEE HAW HEEEEE HAW HICCUP, quiet for just a second and then again SNORT HEE HEE HAW HEEEE HAW HICCUP!  Over and over. Turned out this kid had a problem with nervous laughter when she was in trouble.  And I think this was probably the most trouble Renee’d ever been in.  Of course, once we got over the initial shock we first tried shushing her, but it was so funny that by the time the principal came into his office the five of us were laughing so hard we were crying.  And we couldn’t stop  – because everytime we’d get ourselves under control, Renee would start in again. It was awful and wonderful all at the same time. I have never, before or since, been so disrespectful to an authority figure, and I have to say, it was kind of fun.  I couldn’t have done it alone though. I really think the principal realized too late he’d made a fatal mistake in confronting us as a group.  He  kept getting louder and madder, and we responded by not being able to sit still in our chairs because we were laughing so hard.  Finally he got up and told us we were going to look in each and everyone’s locker, one at at time.  Oddly, this announcement had a very sobering effect on Pooh and Bear. I didn’t notice it at first, and I wasn’t worried about what they would find in our lockers.

So off our little group went.  They had waited until everyone was in class to take us on our little journey. As we went from locker to locker I began to notice Pooh and Bear whispering to each other and looking really scared.  Turns out the two of them had lifted a fire extinguisher and stashed it in Bear’s locker.  While we were waitng in the principal’s office, all of our lockers had been searched for any other contraband.  They found nine lids, 2 pieces of chalk, a fork and the fire extinguisher.  By the time we got back to the principal’s office we become considerably more solemn.  I think at that point we were starting to wonder how much trouble we were going to be in.  The principal explained to us that because there were no lids on the pencil sharpeners, the lead and shavings had fallen on the floor and gotten ground into the tile, effectively ruining it.  Apparently we had caused $1500 worth of damage, and we had to pay for it. Of course, that was a massive bunch of baloney.  What we were really paying for was laughing when we shouldn’t have.  I know what we did was wrong, but, it really could have been handled better by the authorities.  Turns out my parents were the only ones who paid!  I think they had two reactions.  Total shock I had gotten in trouble, and trying really hard not to laugh.

I have great parents! In fact, during senior year Pooh and Bear and I would sneak out of our respective houses a few times a week after everyone had gone to bed, and we’d hang out at the smelting factory where our friend B was a security guard.  I was pretty sure my parents had no idea.  I would go down to the lower level of our split level house, through the workroom to the door that connected the house and the garage. Then I’d hightail it out the back garage door and meet my peeps down the street a ways.  Like I said, I thought I was pretty good at it until one day my dad said, “Hey Kimbo, can you do me a favor?” and I said, “What is it?” “Would you make sure and lock the door when you leave later tonight? You’ve been leaving it open”.

Pooh and I went on to have many more adventures, and maybe someday I’ll share some more of fhem.  Suffice to say we were both given a great deal of freedom, and while we made some mistakes, none of them were huge and we’ve stuck by each other through thick and thin.  A few years ago I watched her fabulous oldest son become an eagle scout, and now he’s starting his second year of college.  I still see him with his little gap toothed grin running through the house in his diapers playing hide and seek. And now he’s all grown up.

So this is going to be a special birthday. Pooh will join the ranks of those of us who’ve lived half a century, and it’s so great to have a friend I’ve known for most of my life.  She knows me inside and out.  What great gift! I feel like it’s MY birthday!  Happy Birthday Pooh, and here’s to many many more.

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