The summer of 1973 was one of mixed emotions; it was my first summer without my dad, but somehow my friendship with Julie helped to keep a significant amount of grief at bay. There were frequent sleepovers — mostly at her house, which was bigger than my home — and a feeling of warmth and family that Julie’s parents and even her younger brothers bestowed upon me. I didn’t consider myself a charity case, nor did they; but just the same, that family sort of took me under their wing.
Julie and I were so different, yet we seemed to connect in various ways, in that we laughed at the same things and enjoyed some of the same TV shows and activities. Her petite prettiness and sense of grace still invoked in me a certain awkwardness. At 5’5”, I was a good three inches taller than she (and a few of our mutual friends), a bit clumsy (falling off a fence at her house one afternoon — don’t ask) and starting to develop — as 12-year-old girls do — which all added to my occasional feelings of insecurity.
All of my awkwardness aside, Julie was still a bright light. She was clearly a daddy’s girl, and looking back, I’m sure that that had a lot to do with her compassion for me losing my own father. To her, what I was going through must have seemed unimaginable, when truthfully, my father and I didn’t possess a fraction of the closeness Julie and her father had. She was one of those daughters that clearly had her dad Bill wrapped around her finger; he would kid around with her, and any time she would act the diva or sass him a bit, he would exclaim in mock frustration, “Oh, Julie….!” It was a most endearing exchange to witness, and I thought how very fortunate they all were to have each other.
Julie’s mother Martha, with her somewhat loud voice and boisterous laugh, seemed more extroverted than Bill. Although more of a disciplinarian, she still possessed a certain warmth and graciousness that I found very comforting when I was at their home.
Julie had a pet poodle named Babette. A medium-sized grey dog, “Babby” was Julie’s pride and joy. She walked her over to my house one afternoon. I heard a commotion out front and ran out to find Julie clutching Babette and screaming, as a big dog was jumping up on them. The bigger dog wasn’t ferocious; just overly playful, but Julie was scared just the same. My neighbor, Joe Recalt, chased the big dog away. Joe later relayed to me that he thought Julie was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Joe was 38 years old. Pervert.
Another family member that Julie was extremely close to was her paternal grandmother. Not being that close to my own conservative, old- fashioned — and okay, I’ll say it, boring — grandma, I found Julie’s devotion to her grandma quite endearing, as well as intriguing. It didn’t take much effort on Julie’s part, as her grandma was an extremely humorous little Italian woman who spoke in broken English. Once while Julie and I were at her grandma’s house, we were laughing at something, and the grandma exclaimed, “I laughed so hard I tooted!” That just about had Julie and me rolling on the ground.
Another time while Julie and I were walking down “A” Street, not far from the Catholic church, her grandma drove by, and when she saw us, she excitedly turned completely around in the driver’s seat and pointed at us with her mouth agape, as the car continued to roll down the street. Again, we practically laughed ourselves to tears.
The Fairhurst family once took me with them to the Sonoma coast for several days. It was a scenic, yet brutal ride, sitting in the back of their station wagon as it meandered up the winding roads. Prone to motion sickness, it was nothing short of a miracle that I didn’t throw up. To make matters worse, Julie and 10-year-old brother Billy broke out a bag of Spearmint chewy candy, which, due to my aversion to mint at the time, only exacerbated my nausea.
Finally we reached our destination: a white clapboard inn along the coast, where our suite consisted of a couple bedrooms, bathroom, plus a small living room, kitchenette and dining area.
The younger brother, 8-year-old Tommy, was camping with friends nearby, so it was mostly Julie, Billy and I that hung out, roaming the area, crossing a small river to the beach where the ocean waves crashed aggressively toward the rocks.
There was a clubhouse at the inn, and one afternoon as we were hanging out there we noticed a Time magazine with a Marilyn Monroe spread inside. Billy, purring “Oh, mama…,” tore the nude photos out and tucked them into his shirt.
Later that night in the clubhouse there were some teenagers playing cards. Fascinated by their banter, we spied on them from the foot of the stairs that led up to the lounge area where they sat. All of a sudden Billy let out a huge fart, alerting the group to our presence, and we hightailed it back to our room.
One afternoon the three of us kids headed through the tall grasses above the cliffs — the scent of something similar to dill wafting through the air — across the small river, and over to the beach area, where we climbed large rocks, dodged the huge waves and looked for shells, interesting rocks and sea glass. We zipped in and out of the crevices of the jagged cliffs that towered above us. We had no idea that Julie and Billy’s parents were concerned about where we were.
A couple hours later we looked up to see their mom Martha frantically trotting down the beach. She was out of breath and almost in tears.
“I’ve been looking all over for you kids! You had me worried sick,” gasping for air, she could barely get the words out. “I was almost certain you all had been carried out to sea by one of these huge waves — and all of a sudden I see Kelly come out from behind a rock and do a somersault, and I was, ‘Oh, thank God!’”
Probably one of those “’had to be there” moments,” but the last part had us all doubling over with laughter. Those kids perceived me as somewhat of a clown anyway, so Martha’s depiction sort of put a stamp on it.
During this trip we visited the nearby campground where the youngest son Tommy was camping with another family. I was amazed at how we could be in the middle of all these tall, glorious pines, and yet still so close to the ocean.
Except for a few camping trips to Pipi Valley back when I was around 3-4 years old, and another time joining up with my dad in Bodega Bay where he kept his commercial fishing boat, my family never went on any vacations like this. The combination of beach, craggy rocks, crashing waves, the smell of dill, a nearby forest, a charming inn — and most of all, a gracious and welcoming family, would all remain forever engrained in my memory and in my heart.
25 years later, at our 20-year class reunion, I would relay my appreciation to Julie on what that trip meant to me — and laugh with her again about how I obliviously managed to temper Martha Fairhurst’s brief hysteria with something so simple as a somersault on the sand.
To be continued.