I had just turned 13 years old, and for my birthday that year, 1971, I received an olive green suitcase. We had moved into a hotel in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire in England, preparing for our return to the U.S. July 29, 1971 was the day we left England, and I left my friends who had made living in that country so enjoyable.
To this day, I recall those friends:
Simon Dean -- lived around the corner and was "cute" with his freckled faced self,
Michael Poraj-Wilczynski -- lived directly behind us and was so fun and friendly...a comfortable friend,
Anna Gartell -- lived across the street and had a little sister Ruthie -- Anna was my best neighborhood girlfriend,
Sarah Lily-White -- lived up the street and was a "sometimes" member of our loosely defined group of friends,
Jennifer Allen -- my English best friend at school,
Linda Sullivan -- my American best friend at school.
Living in England in the late 60's and early 70's was a great experience for me. None of my friends from my "block" went to the same school. In fact we all went to different schools. That was a distinct difference between the U.S. and England, for me. In my neighborhood in the U. S. everyone either went to the same public school or to the same private school. In England we all wore our different school uniforms and never once thought about whether one school was "better" than the other. I suppose our parents DID consider those things, but we only considered whether we liked each other.
Particular neighborhood memories I have are of Mike, Simon, Anna, Sarah and myself
- playing cards in Mike's garage,
- playing sort of a lone ranger game, wherein one person would ride the bike under the willow tree down by the bus stop, and the others would jump out of the tree to try to knock the rider off the bike and take over the bike,
- "saving" a cat, a deceased cat, from the road and carrying him by wheelbarrow to Anna's yard for a proper burial,
- "hanging out" on the wall that ran adjacent to our yard, hitting the tennis ball against the wall as we chatted about things of importance to 12 and 13 year olds.
And I have fond school memories of Linda and myself breaking the rules of the Charlton Park Convent where we attended school, doing such daring things as wearing our "indoor shoes" outdoors, and singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane" in chapel, where we were SUPPOSED to be praying after lunch, and of Jennifer and myself laughing and playing in the fields on the convent property, eating clover, as we "skipped" the school lunch, preferring the rare and glorious sun to the shepherd's pie that day (of course, getting detention when our transgression was discovered).
But on July 29, 1971, I left these friends behind, moving on to the new friendships that would shape my teen years in the States. I maintained some sporadic pen pal communications with these kids, and stayed good friends with Linda, who also returned to the States that year or the next, but eventually lost track of these friends who made those years such a pleasure.
In 2005 I managed to find Mike, and we communicated a couple of times via email. In 2010 I found Mike again, through Facebook and for the first time in 39 years, got to see photos of my old chum....I had to laugh when I saw this distinguished looking man...for in my memories, he is still the tousle-haired boy with the impish grin. I have never reconnected with Anna, Simon, Sarah or Jennifer, and have lost contact with Linda.
Still, with each July 29th my memories of these friends are triggered, and for a little while I am again 13.