It happened again yesterday–as I talked over dinner in Boston with a group of families who had gathered in an American Girl salon, one of the girls was excited to point out that my real life story is actually somewhat like Dakota’s story in the books. (I was charmed at the store signing to hear of a girl who is going to have a Just Like Me doll created to look like Dakota so that Lanie and Dakota can have earth-saving adventures together.)
My details of what a tight friendship can be come more from watching my daughter play with her elementary school friends than from my own memories. It’s thrilldom fo meet groups of friends and Girl Scout troops that come to my signings, but I can relate to sister pairs and trios. Since rural Ethiopian girls are assigned serious house tasks starting at about age 6, I spent a lot of my early years playing and picnic-ing and camping with sisters. We turned sticks into horses and galloped them through our stories, listening to the satisfying scratching sound the ends made in the dirt. We cut people out of catalogs and created families in the cobwebs under the tin roof where the rain drummed so loud we couldn’t hear each other giggle.
I did have friends in boarding school in Addis Ababa. Since we slept on bunkbeds together–four to a room–and ate together in the round dining hall and ran to school together and went through game phases together (marbles, hopscotch, pick-up sticks, tether ball, work-up, jump rope, Pom Pom Pullaway), we laughed and quarreled more like sisters than friends. So I struggled, in college, with how to make friends. But somehow I managed to get friendship glue going with Chris Heaton Brown, and we’ve always kept touch.
We haven’t seen each other for–oh–25 years? Yesterday, Chris drove to the Boston area so we could have brunch…and browsed in the Natick mall while I sat on my lovely throne and signed books…and came to the meet-and-greet, where I got to show the picture of her that I dug out (above). I remembered what a zingy, great storyteller she is as she caught me up. We talked about her cousin, Nan, and my sister, Caroline, who were also part of our group and friends in both Monmouth and Carbondale, Illinois, and what it’s like to leave old selves behind–and yet still feel them itching under the skin.
How do they work their magic? How do they make us feel so much? How do they have such powerful glue that people can stay connected even when they travel far away from each other? How do they show us the possibilities and give us courage to try on new ways of being?
I’m glad for the thrilldom of creating girl characters who know more than I ever knew as a girl. I’m glad I know more about friendship, now, than I ever did then. I’m glad for friends and family and the blurry places where windows fly open and we let people into our lives.