Saturday, I spend the afternoon with my great aunt Maeluise, Happie’s younger sister, the middle child (Barbra is the baby). She is 84. We have a lovely time looking through old photo albums, taking a walk around her quiet neighborhood, and talking about my trip. There are incredible pictures of the three girls when they were little, in the 1920s. They are adorable. My grandmother is a gorgeous child, they all are. We flip through those. She tells me about the aunts, a few friends, some funny stories.
We get to a picture of an attractive blond girl. Nobody is blond is our family; we’re all dark-haired Jews. “We had an exchange student from Finland,” begins Mae. “She was very pretty, had quite the figure... Here she was, a senior in high school, and *we* were responsible for her.” I see where she’s going. Not easy to keep the shapely Scandinavian exchange student out of trouble. Sounds like maybe they didn’t. Funny. We turn the page to Mae’s daughters, glamorous high school portraits, fully airbrushed, big round hair.
We plan to talk more on Monday, record some of her stories, and take some pictures to Kinko’s to be scanned. Mae asks where the friends I am staying with live, and I tell her they live on Edgerton Street near Canterbury Road.
“Oh,” she says, “We had a house on Canterbury Road for a while in the 50s and 60s It was 211 Canterbury, near Vassar.” I made a mental note to remember 211, check it out the next day.
So the next day, I’m sitting on Kathy and Pete’s front porch on Edgerton Street, just like I loved to do with Carly in high school. This is where we’d sit to talk about our crazy obsessive crushes or why our friends were being weird or our parents annoying. Pete returns from taking Kathy to the airport, she’s off to North Carolina for work (she facilitates racism awareness workshops).
“What’s up?” says Pete.
“Oh, I was just thinking of taking a walk around the corner to a house my Aunt Mae used to have on Canterbury.”
“Canterbury and Vassar.” Its literally a block and a half from their house.
“Really? What was the family name?”
“No... I had a crush on a girl named Judi Barkin in high school.”
“Judi. Yep. She lives in Arcata.” I’ve seen her several times this year. Last time was Bob’s wedding. All I can do is laugh now. Because of course there’s a connection. Of course.
Pete goes inside, finds his high school yearbook, and there they are. All three of them. Monroe High, class of 1963.
So Pete and I stroll around the corner to find the house on Canterbury with the double lot, big garden. He tells me how Judi was cool and glamorous, he was just a dork, into nature and science. She wasn’t interested. Then he mentions there was an exchange student. “She was from Finland maybe? Heidi? Haily? She was very blond and pretty.... But I don’t know if she was at their house...”
Pete looks at me sideways, eyes squinty. “She was?”
“Yep. I saw a picture of her yesterday.”
He smiles. Oh my, I know what he’s going to say. I let him say it.
“She was the first girl I ever kissed.”
~ ~ ~
In the evening I go over to Mae’s for dinner. I’m late because I couldn’t find my car keys, and it’s clear she’s eagerly awaiting my arrival. Deep smile on her wrinkled face, somehow more open and vulnerable than my grandmother. Dark eyes, the color dulled with age but not the life in them. She’s wearing the same gray Sun Valley sweatshirt she had on yesterday and totally nondescript khaki slacks. I was there when she bought it last summer in Arcata, some place near Judi’s house. She’s made a lovely salad with olives, blue cheese, and homegrown cherry tomatoes, has out the good bread and some iced tea. She puts it all on trays and we carry it out to a picnic table in the back yard. The sun has not quite set and it’s a little bright where it shines through the trees. There’s a tiny pond near the picnic table with a few big orange koi in it. The sun is shining on one end of the pond, illuminating the fish.
I tell Mae all about Pete and Judi and Heli. She laughs and laughs. “What was his last name?” She asks.
“Debes, Peter Debes.”
“Oh, well sure. Debes. I worked with his father on a project at Kodak. Jack. We had lots of meetings together. Yes, I knew him well.”
This is almost comical now. It figures, of course we all know each other. We decide we should have dinner with Pete Monday night.