My Best Friend

Corner of Beaumont and Burr, St. Paul, MN

As I knew it then, in September of 1938, Beaumont Street, on Railroad Island, was only three blocks long. We lived in the middle of the block between Bedford to the east and Burr to the west. And although it was only another block and a half from our house to Lincoln School, on Burr and Collins, my mother was not going to let me walk alone for my first day of kindergarten—that was how important it was to her that I be properly dropped off. With her bib apron over her cotton dress, she held my hand and we set out for the five-minute walk.

Just as we reached the door of the school, another little girl accompanied by her mother climbed the school steps. The other mother was much more modern-looking than mine, mostly because her hair was short and permanent waved, while my mother wore braids wound around her head. Our mothers knew each other—everyone knew a little something about everyone else in the neighborhood—so they tucked our little girls’ hands together and told us to go into the building. The other little girl, Bobbi, had light brown hair cut into a Dutch bob, which I much admired; my hair was in long pigtails closed at the ends with ugly rubber bands.

We walked into the classroom and immediately spotted the big dollhouse with a doll sitting beside it. We headed straight for the doll, both of us grabbing her head and feet, and began to pull the poor thing from side to side. The teacher, Miss Will, came over immediately, grabbing my arm and Bobbi’s until the wobbled doll dropped on the floor between us. Miss Will picked it up and took her away, leaving both of us utterly dismayed, thereby forging an irreparable bond of lasting friendship with the quick anger we held against Miss Will. Thus began the Beaumont Street friendship between us that lasted more than fifty-five years, until the day she died.

When we were to enter third grade, Bobbi’s family moved one house away from us on Beaumont. What could be greater? Morning, noon, and night, summer, spring, fall, and winter, we could do everything together. We played cops and robbers; we gave shows that other children could come to watch, paying a safety pin as ticket price; we played ball in the street; we made bonfires of leaves in the fall and roasted potatoes in the ashes.

By the time we were twelve and allowed limited freedom from our street, we would beg for 12 cents to attend the Sunday matinee at the Capitol Theatre on Payne Avenue. There was not a big thing about ratings then, and almost any movie was okay. When we were lucky, or our parents had pennies to spare, we were given a nickel extra for a big bag of popcorn.

But the actual movie wasn’t the big event—it was the walk home. With complete abandon and total unselfconsciousness, we acted all of our favorite scenes from the movie we had just seen. Sometimes I became Jeanette McDonald singing the “Indian Love Call,” Rhett and Scarlett’s daughter falling off a horse, or Esther Williams gliding through the perfect waves in her smooth bathing cap.

It usually took us over an hour to complete the fifteen-minute walk. Much time was used up arguing about which scene we should do next or who was going to get the best part. Bobbi was better at acting, but I was better at remembering the scenes. We loved our small lives, and to this day I am still remembering my lines.

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