Thursday, July 12, 2012

Girls Like Us

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the July 13, 2012 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website.

After graduation from high school in 1970, I was one of many kids in my class who lived at home and attended a local college. Luckily, I was accepted at a local university, within an easy commute. I didn’t end up staying at CAL, as the University of California in Berkeley is nicknamed, but left for the East Coast at the age of 20. I was born in Massachusetts and Boston seemed to be in my blood. I had also fallen in love with a Boston boy.

Although we resided in Massachusetts, we did return to California to be married and chose my three closest girlhood friends as attendants. For at least a decade I managed to stay in touch with them and other high school friends. When we moved to California for several stints in the 1970s and 1980s we had constant contact. Boston, however, called us home again. Throughout the time my children were growing up I simply lost touch with my girlhood companions. Long-distances, family life, lifestyle change, changes and the challenges unfortunately have a way of making old friendships seem less relevant. The road home grew more distant as the years passed by.

Years later, when my children were happily ensconced in college, I was newly divorced after 27 years of marriage. I felt a strong need to reconnect to my roots. My childhood girlfriends had made such a profound impact on my early life and had left me many memories from those teen years. Middle school is an especially difficult time and the bonds of friendship were once again important to me.

And so, in the late 90s (and with amazing help from the newly-born Internet) I was able to find one, two, and three of my childhood friends and connected some of them to some of the rest who had also lost the connection over the decades. I returned for a visit to California in the late 1990s and I’ve returned every year since to reunite with a handful of friends. Every visit was full of catching up. Every conversation was rich with reminiscence. Every time I was left yearning for the 3000 mile trip back to my childhood and its friendships.

Over the past few years, more of us have reunited online in an even more unique way through Facebook and that handful of reunited childhood friends has now doubled in size.

Last January when I returned to California for a visit, we decided it was time for a longer reunion. Astoundingly, within hours we had a plan and within a day we had a date. A week later we had a reservation in a relaxing rental home within view of the Pacific Ocean, one that could sleep as many of us who would commit the time.

I recently returned from that wonderful long weekend spent with nine other women in Bodega Bay on the northern coast of California. For four days we not only shared meals and rooms, but revealed common stories of motherhood, grand motherhood, careers and marriages. We compared our memories of growing up in a tiny suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60s. Some of us even remembered the details differently. Others were reminded of memories long forgotten, long tucked away. The four decades of years had changed us, our varied lives had made twists and turns, but we, the girls of the 60s were much the same.

“Girls Like Us: 40 Extraordinary Women Celebrate Girlhood in Story, Poetry, and Song” (1999), edited by Gina Misiroglu, includes essays written by author Isabel Allende, actress Lauren Bacall, poet Maya Angelou, Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey and activist Angela Davis and thirty-five others. These influential women describe their memories of childhood and young adulthood in a time like no other – the 1960s, those “moments from childhood that were turning points – people and events that molded our perceptions of ourselves and our lives.”

In another book of a very similar title, Glamour Magazine editor Sheila Weller recalls the stories of three female musicians who had a profound effect on all American girls who grew up in the 60s, especially my friends and me. We were striking out on our own in the early 70s and their female voices spoke for us in songs like “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”, “Both Sides Now” and “You’re So Vain”. In “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation” (2009), Weller describes the lives, music and influence of these three musicians who were born over a decade before us. Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon guided us through the women’s movement, carved songs upon our hearts and minds and influenced some of our unedited and uncensored futures.

Among all my childhood friends, I always travel the farthest from Boston to San Francisco. Yet, the bravest of my nine girlhood friends was Sherry who made her way from Colorado Springs. She had permanently left California a month or so after our high school graduation when her family was called to Louisiana to reunite with a grandmother. Most of us lost touch with Sherry when our letters waxed and waned within the year after 1970. In June 2012, when she arrived in her rental car and marched to the door, suitcase in hand, there were squeals of delight. Hearts were bursting and faces were beaming after a long 42-year absence.

The girls like us had finally come home.

If you would like to reserve any of the titles above please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-769-0200, or visit the Minuteman Library Network catalog online to reserve them.