5: The Family Down the Road
1) First Friend
We grew up in a leafy suburban street, close to the primary school we went to. As it was a catholic school, there were a number of catholic families in our road, who like us had a lot of children. Our best friends lived six doors down. They were a family of seven and the youngest three were close in age to us. (Exotically they had TEENAGERS in the house, who listened to pop music and came from another planet).
My twin and I were best friends with their youngest son. Before we went to school we were often in their house, which was bigger than ours and was on three floors. Which made it perfect for mountain climbing. The hours we spent playing explorers up and down the stairs, were our happiest times. Our friend's mum was very tolerant, often packing us sandwiches for our expeditions, and only scooting us out of the way occasionally if we were a nuisance, and providing us with Nesquik at the end of our games. Nesquik.We never had that in our house, it seemed like heaven.
It was established early on that my sister and our friend would be getting married when they grew up. Why or how, I don't know, and I don't recall that ever bothering me. But they were a natural fit, mischievous and always in trouble, while I tagged along behind in awe at their recklessness, and wishing I could be more like them.
Our happy exploring days eventually ended when we had to go to school. And to be honest, nothing has ever seemed quite as much fun since...
In the long summer holidays that seemed in those days to stretch on forever, we would get together in our friends' garden and play orphanages. They were pretty gruesome games from what I remember. Our friend's older sister used to be the head of the orphanage and would come up with terrible punishments for us if we had been naughty. So she'd make us line up against the fence and pretend to use the rake to scrape down our backs, or tell us we'd have to eat dog poo if we weren't good. There was something heady and exciting about the horrible ideas she came up with, and when we invariably escaped as part of the game (going down to the local pond and sitting beside it pretending to row a boat to get away), I was completely caught up in the idea that we really were running away.
Our other games weren't quite as vicious as that, but orphanages has always stuck in my head. What possessed us to come up with something so nasty? We didn't have access to grim videos, and had perfectly lovely families. But there was something teasingly enticing about wondering about a world that wasn't as safe as ours. I suppose that's the point of childhood games, you explore the dark while knowing you can go to bed perfectly safe and well.
We were lucky, privileged even. They were truly halcyon days.
3) Mr and Mrs L
Our friends' parents were delighftul people. They never seemed to mind extra children in their garden. And absorbed us into their family as part of the furniture. Mr L worked in the print, which fascinated me for some reason, as it was so different my dad's teaching job. He was also keen on gardening and had a proper shed, which we were allowed to use as a club house. He was a terrible tease and enjoyed pretending he couldn't tell my sister and I apart. He called us Virjulia and Gervinia with a twinkle in his eye. He was always funny and kind. Mrs L was brilliant too, seemingly calm, but running a household that included an invalid elderly aunt who we would go and see sometimes. Looking back I can see she must have had a lot on her plate, but she was always serene and kind, with a wicked sense of humour. They were delighftul people, and their house was a very special place. I remember it full of sun and laughter and life. A true testament to their kind and generous natures. They are both dead now, but I will remember them with fondness always.