Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gretcheroonie is a San Francisco Treat

I met my best friend when I was eight years old. For one hour every Wednesday, the third graders in Mrs. Allen’s and Mrs. Viskov’s classes at Greenway Elementary School were allowed to switch rooms to meet new students and teachers and participate in various activities: painting, reading, Lego-building, and practicing the messy art of papier-mâché. I was sitting cross-legged on the scratchy carpet in Mrs. Allen’s classroom, listening to the teacher read a book about the mundane life of a ladybug. I noticed her, over and over, my future best friend, glancing at me. She was long and thin and smelled of a girl’s shampoo. Her face was smooth like soap. I’d only seen her a couple times before, in passing, when my classmates and I would walk in a line down the bright corridor of Greenway, each of us raising a hand in the air and forming a peace sign with our second and third fingers – like they did in the '60s – to make sure our line was quiet when moving from classroom to classroom, or classroom to lunchroom, because the principal didn’t tolerate our whispering and spitting, “Shhh!” We weren't allowed to talk in the hallways.

Her name was Gretchen. I went to her house for the first time when it was summer in Beaverton, when the thick air hugged my skin and smelled like pollen and roses. My cheeks ached from squinting against the dazzling sun. We sat across from each other on a picnic table in her backyard, playing Guess Who? and giggling wildly at nothing that grown-ups would have found funny. She would ask, “Does he have a mole on his hairy lip?” and we’d fall on the floor. Later, her older brother pushed us around the backyard in a wheelbarrow while her red-headed mom, Sally, planted flowers and made lemonade. Sally was so young then.

From that day on, I was to Gretchen as Mini-Me is to Austin Powers. She towered over me, a six-foot-high freak of nature next to a five-foot-tall sidekick. She happily piggy-backed me to the front of many crowds of parents that gathered at neighborhood pizza joints when it was time to receive our trophies and celebrate the end of a season of softball.

Gretch was no good at softball. She was a giant, and it took too long for her glove to reach the dirt, so most ground balls rolled right through her legs and didn’t stop until they collided with an outfield wall. By the time she’d sprint to the edge of the grass to pick up the florescent yellow softball and whirl it toward the infield, the batter would be rounding third.

To the world, we were a package deal, a new category of cool. We called each other Megowaffle and Gretcheroonie. (Yes, to 10-year-olds, this was cool.) In fifth grade, we were the only girls in our class brave enough to play basketball with the boys at recess. When the captains would pick teams, Meghan and Gretchen counted as one pick. (Only now do I find this insulting. I wasn’t good enough to count as a whole player? Another insult: When one of us scored, a regular two-point basket would count as three points, and a three-pointer earned our team four points. Back then I thought it was sweet.) She was much better at basketball than she was at softball. Her moves were fearless, effortless. She went on to play four years in high school and one year at Western Washington University.

On Halloween, in the fifth grade, Gretch made a funny. We sat at a long table during lunchtime, sharing the sandwich and carrot sticks that my dad had packed for me. She dressed up as her father that year, donning one of his extra-large collared shirts and a pair of size thirteen shoes. She furrowed her eyebrows and twisted her face, and in her deepest, silliest voice she pronounced, “Hi, I’m Mr. Gottfried.” I spit purple grape juice all over the boy across from me, who wore a white shirt. He was instructed to go home and change.

We did things like persuade Sally to tell her own niece (Gretch’s cousin) that she’d adopted me, that I was now part of the family. We even got Gretchen’s 93-year-old grandma to mail a hand-written note to Gretchen’s address, going on about how wonderful it must be to have an adopted sister. The letter arrived on the day Gretchen’s cousin came to visit. We milked this all weekend.

Once we asked our principal to call an assembly so we could perform a dance to Janet Jackson’s “Escapade” in front of the entire school; we’d been practicing for weeks. (Our principal said no, but we were welcome to dance in front of our class during music period. We did.) For my birthday, on April Fool's Day, she gave me presents like chocolate-covered cotton balls. They looked like candy, and when I'd bite into one she'd laugh so hard that no sound came out. We’d take shots of her dad’s espresso to get hyper and stay up all night, even though it tasted like dirt. We ate mint chocolate chip ice cream and licorice. We invented secret handshakes and silly songs:

Megowaffle is a waffle with maple syrup
Gretcheroonie is a San Francisco treat
When you mix them up together this is what you get
Waffle-Roonie, the maple syrup treat – hey!

I’ve lost track of Gretchen now.

This blog is supposed to be about the story of my new life in the city. Gretchen doesn’t have much to do with that, but she has everything to do with the story of my life.

leave a little note!

  1. I love this!! Exactly how I remember you two, and I can totally see the purple grape juice incident happening, she'd laugh herself into tears!