I Remember Mary Lou

 In Autobiography

I don’t remember for sure how we met. I guess it was in class in junior high, because we wouldn’t have met in the neighborhood. Maybe we met walking home from school since we did live about four blocks apart. Regardless, she was my best friend.

It seems to me that there was always a rivalry between us. I now think it was only I who was fighting low self-esteem and looking for ways to lord it over her. I always wanted to be better than she was in everything. She played the game with me. We competed about everything from how fast we were maturing, to clothes, and even who had which boys interested in them.

The obvious point is that I was envious of her life, not so much of who she was personally. I felt as successful in school and I felt as pretty as she was. I found myself always comparing her perceived family life with my own and mine came up short.

There were only two kids in her family. She was the oldest and the only girl. I was one of five girls in my family and also had two brothers. Even though her mother was not employed outside the home, her father seemed to have a job that provided well for them. As I think about it, my dad’s job was probably equally profitable, but he had to stretch his dollars over a family of nine, not four.

I remember at 13, which would have been in 1957, Mary Lou’s family got a television set. We did not have one. Actually most of our acquaintances did not have one. I was mesmerized. I no longer wanted to just hang out and use our imaginations, I wanted to go watch her tv. At that time there wasn’t much in the way of programming. As I remember, it was mostly Westerns with cowboys and Indians and kids’ programs like the Howdy Doodie Show. Mary Lou got over the novelty of the tv pretty quickly, but I was spellbound for some time.

One summer her parents invited me to go on vacation with them from where we lived in southern New Mexico, up to Colorado to camp out. What a thrill! I remember we were at a place called Wolf Creek Pass. Trees, I had never seen so many trees. So many kinds. And hills, even mountains. Coming from our flat sandy existence, just seeing the beautiful terrain of Colorado was treat enough.

I think that was the first time I was away from my family. While staying at our campsite, we met several families. Mary Lou and I were mostly interested in what boys we might meet. We did encounter a few and had some “innocent” fun checking out our ability to charm the opposite sex.

Vacations like this one made me realize even more how disparate my life was from Mary Lou’s. To hear it probably makes it sound like they were rich, but they were what one might call lower middle class, but the point is I felt lower. It would be decades before I would realize that possession of money and things does not necessarily make someone more valuable as a person.

Mary Lou and I were always together. Given her family’s better financial picture, she got a car when she got her driver’s license. I can’t even remember the make, model or year, but it was an older, “rounder” vehicle. We called it the “Hoopie.”

We would go out to “drag Main” to get a coke at the Feastmaster Drive-In. What a kick. She would drive really slowly down Main Street exchanging nods and sometimes horn beeps with any of our friends we would encounter. Once we would reach the end of the drag we would sit for hours nursing a cherry coke while visiting with our friends in the other parked cars. That was how socializing was done, short of the time we would steal from our high school classrooms, cruising the drag and going to sock hops (dances) was where it was at!

Our biggest adventure together was in our sophomore year, when we skipped school for a road trip. By that time Mary Lou’s family had a 1957 Chevrolet Impala that they let her take to school sometimes. She and I had met some Air Force men who were stationed about 120 miles away. We thought they were cute and it would be a kick to surprise them with a visit.

So, on that day, we knew she would have her car, and we planned to ditch school and drive to see those guys. We had the thrill and the fear of doing the forbidden. We made it there in record time and met up with a couple of the guys. We spent a few hours there, and, yes they tried to get fresh with us. Surprise, surprise. I don’t remember how we weasled out of the situation, but before too long we were back on the road trying to get home before school got out. Mary Lou was really pushing that car!

As I remember it, we made it back in time for her to get the car home and we were pleased with ourselves having gotten away with it. We knew we would also have to finagle or write excuses for our school absence. All was well until I got the call from Mary Lou saying she had been busted. We didn’t even think to wash all the dead bug guts off the front of the car!

As memory serves, my parents did not ever find out. Our parents were not acquaintances and Mary Lou did not tell them, and for sure mum was the word as far as I was concerned.

Mary Lou and I started drifting apart when as a 16-year old I got a serious boyfriend. After meeting him the summer between our sophomore and junior years, he and I were pretty much always together. I have to say that he was also very jealous of my time and didn’t even want me hanging out with any of my girlfriends. I was only too happy to comply since I believed he was the love of my life.

My Mary Lou began to hang out more with some of our other friends and with my younger sister, Anita, who previously had to beg to tag along with us. About the last time we spent any time together was the following summer just after I had gotten married. Mary Lou and some of my old friends came to see me in my little house I shared with my new husband. I felt very grownup and “above” them but in a sad way. I think I felt how lucky I was to find my man while they were still looking as 17-year-olds. I guess for once I felt I was “better” than Mary Lou.

Sad to reflect that my happiness was very short lived as within eleven years I would be on my own with my daughter. But that is another story.

As it happens, Mary Lou met and married one of the friends of my extended family. I guess she and I were still a lot  alike. We both became high school English teachers and we both married men who also became teachers, albeit it was a second marriage for me.

Mostly what lingers in my heart and mind is a picture of two young girls becoming friends, sharing secrets, laughing, fighting, working our way through teenage-dom together. I don’t think I have ever been able to call anyone else my best girlfriend before or since Mary Lou. I grew to miss who we were together. No girlfriend relationship has since been as powerful as was the one with Mary Lou.

Much of how I still identify myself, for better and worse, developed during that friendship. I suspect we all have only one Mary Lou in our lives, but speaking for myself, having grown up with this friend was pivotal to my becoming who I am today these decades later.

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