In Pennsylvania, between 2nd grade and 7th, my very best friend was Karin Moody. We learned and played violin together, played outside as being horses, cowboys & Indians, WWII Germans & Americans, Barbie & Ken. We would use ‘golden books’ as walls to build a mansion for our Ken and Barbie dolls on top of and beneath our family’s ping-pong table, then we would play-fantasy in that space for weeks. I was Ken: a secret agent like Napoleon Solo, a millionaire horse rancher, world adventurer, astronaut, teacher, or soldier. Barbie and Ken were best buds. We had plastic horses to ride, and ceramic dogs and cats that turned out to look just like several pet friends I have had in my life later on.
Living in Pennsylvania, we didn’t only have to imagine. There were horse farms all around that we would ride our bikes to. Two ranchers let us kids from the neighborhood clean out stalls, pitch hay, and brush & water the horses. In return we could ride–often bareback–especially the young colts that needed us ‘wee’ riders to break them in for riding.
And there were WOODS–amazing woods, deep woods, with huge boulders, trails and creeks winding through them. In summers we kids nearly lived in those woods. We would pack bag lunches and hike off to our favorite boulders by the creek, clambering on top to have our picnic, then play. We played Star Trek and all sorts of adventure roles. We knew the trees, the plants, how and where to ford the raging creek. We discovered our freedom there, and created a space for childhood solace. Pennsylvania–Penn’s Woods–was a great place to be a kid.
Karin moved to Florida while we were in 6th grade. After 7th grade, I moved with my family to near Niagara Falls. I saved babysitting money all year in 8th grade so I could visit Karin in Ft. Lauderdale, the summer that Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon! Karin visited me once in Niagara Falls, too, but after that, we lost contact and drifted into late teen years and after.
I remember Karin–and her wonderfully supportive, also adventuresome mother, Doris–AS my Childhood. Our friendship was a time for play, a space for dreaming, with limitless hope and imagining. We experienced and envisioned so much together: took trains to downtown movies or to go to the Philadelphia Philharmonic together, just us. We learned to be responsible travelers that way, and stoked our love of freedom and adventure that has never left me, ever since.
No matter what else might have been happening around us while we were ‘growing up’, Karin and I had each other to rely on. I’ll never forget being in my family’s kitchen on the phone with Karin when she had to tell me her father had committed suicide that day; he turned on the exhaust in the garage. He had lost his job and couldn’t bear to tell his wife, Karin’s mom. But we endured. Then a neighbor woman, next door to my family, also committed suicide, with a rifle her son had taught her how to use. Obviously, the adult world was fraught with tensions and hardship. But, at that time, as long as we had our friendship–and, for me, my sisters and brother; Karin herself was an only child–life would go on with relative surety into a future when we would eventually need to become adults, ourselves. But we would hold onto our childhood awareness, creativity, appreciation of Nature and animals and friendship itself, always.
Even now at 59, when I come home from work to contemplate or to walk my dog and be with my cats, and write, I am “Little Linda” still; Karin’s–and since then, also some other buddies’–Friend.