1967 and the Hairpull Challenge

Betsy Shepardson

© Copyright 2020 by Betsy Shepardson

Two girls holding hands.

So, there’s this pressure it seems, to have girlfriends.  A woman must have lots of friends.  Or a best one.  Or a group. Or a gaggle.  Or a “meaningful sisterhood”.  Unwritten rules that one must of course, be inextricably linked in some way to her “authenticity of the feminine”.  I must say, I’ve had some.  Girlfriends.  Perhaps more than my fair share.  I had tons of female relatives, awesome aunts, good cousins.  Funny nieces.  Disasterously dangerous nieces, for that matter.  Armed with wine, and cocaine and guns. . . but that’s another story, or two. 

I’ve been fortunate in the world of friendship.  Wildly so.  Although none of them ever ended up in a jail cell with me, as the facebook meme suggests.  I seemed to have lost them in the drunken pre-booking tussle, and ended up in that cell all alone.  Confronted with the smell of sweat and booze, bologna and apples. That was a long time ago.

Fast forward, I ended up sitting on my back porch last week with a girl friend for the better part of a typically smoking hot Arizona May day.  We had the house and the pool all to ourselves and we played catch up.  We talked about everything we hadn’t talked about since we used to walk the cemetery paths back home in Washington.  Because we’re weird like that.  We choose the cemetery rather than the gym or the high school track.  We didn’t dress up to go walking.  We resist, the both of us, to succumb to the social norms of “athletic gear”.  It wouldn’t be unusual for either or us to be wearing a sweater in the rain, we just don’t care.  We talked about umbrellas, and how we rarely used them.  We talked about kids, and dogs, and moving.  The joys and pains of relocation.  The sweet smells of warm evenings, here in Arizona.  We talked about our parents deaths.  And how we cared for them while they were dying.  There wasn’t much ego, but a lot of palpable spirit.  

We talked about our childhoods, moving, insecurity, fear, the monsters who taught us how not to trust our own selves.  How we disconnected, and what that looks like to the outside world.  We laughed.  And talked about travel.  And never spoke of specifically, how that travel helped us to reconnect to something we’d been missing.  The ability, the freedom, the beauty of connection, with total strangers.

And during all of this, a name came to me, out of the blue. I hadn’t thought of this person in many years.  So I wrote it down, lest I forget.  Again.  And a week later, I looked up that name on the Book of Faces.  And low and behold there he was.  Frank.  So I did what any Facebook Stalker would do, I messaged him.  He messaged me back.  And in the passing of time, more than 40 years, so much had happened.  I told him all about my parents leaving, how they passed, what their happiness was, and their comfort in their last days.  And he told me about his own health, his own losses, and his wife Rosa’s as well.  And I asked about his daughter, Margaret. 

Besides my cousins, Margaret was my very first girlfriend.  We sat in the back seat of our Plymouth Fury.  We played Barbies.  We chewed gum and ate life savers.  I still hate the green and yellow ones.   And we pulled our own hair.  Not each others.  But our own.  We had a challenge to see who could pull out the biggest chunk of hair.  I was six years old.  Our Dad’s both worked at the Enlisted Men’s club on pier 91 in Seattle.  There was a lot of drinking going on back in those days.  And I guess we little girls found our own ways to cope.  Of course we knew, even back then, that Shirley Temples came with cherries.  So did Manhattans.  And apparently we knew to be nice to each other, hence, we each pulled our own hair. 

It’s my ex husband’s birthday today.  I thought about him off and on throughout the day.  He was a girlfriend, in a different form.  At 16 & 17,  we both fought with our curly hair.  Like girl friends do, we shared our hair struggles.  He was a good, good friend to me. As good as any girl or woman has ever been.  I’ve never had an unkind thought about him.  I’ve wished him a Happy Birthday, now, for 40 years.  Haven’t been able to say it in person for at least 23.  His new wife must not have many girlfriends.  Or an understanding that the sisterhood isn’t necessarily gender specific. 

And it was wonderful to hear from Frank today.  It made me grateful to be who I am, with the experiences I possess.  I wouldn’t have been able to remember my very first friend, Margaret without my friend, Chris, who brought Frank’s name out from the depths of my past.  Tucked away, hidden like some lock of hair stashed in the crack of a back seat of a Plymouth Fury. Waiting to be discovered, to tell the story of fear, insecurity and coping strategies when you’re six. 

Girlfriends.  A vital tool for survival.  At six.  And at 56.

Betsy Shepardson lives in Tucson Arizona with her husband and her dog, Pretty.  She's a retired multi-disciplinary social worker, who spent most of her life in the Greater Seattle area.  As a person in recovery for most of her adult years, her most treasured possession is the love of her family and 13 grandchildren.  She considers her most valuable experience to be traveled to Standing Rock in 2016 to stand shoulder to shoulder with water protectors.  

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