Molly, the foster-mother, in Forty Wagging Tails in based on my mother-in-law. She raised two sons in the Bronx in New York City, and after her sons moved away and her husband retired, they moved to a large retirement community in South Florida with 24 of their best friends. By the time I met Molly, she had lost her husband and 18 of those friends, but she still had six old friends (and lots of new ones) she checked in with every day. A year after her death, only one of the original 24 friends remained, and he spoke fondly of the days he spent with his friends in the sun.
I never felt part of any group like that during my life until my elementary school had a reunion. There were about 50 kids in my class, and most of us started together in kindergarten and went all the way through eighth grade together. I lost track of all but a few, but my classmate Kay kept track of all of us. If someone moved, she tracked him down and gave him orders not to get lost again. When I lived in Australia, she made sure I kept in touch. It was from Kay’s list that we planned our reunion and more than 20 classmates attended.
It was at this reunion that I realized that kindergarten through eighth grade had really been a special time. Even though many of us had not seen each other for 50 years, when we came face-to-face, we knew each other at the most basic level. We remembered the St. Bernard named Queenie who came to visit us on the playground, the smoke from the crematorium wafting over the school grounds, and the intense soccer games the girls played during lunch. Then there was the pickled brain that got tossed around like a softball, the windows we all broke with our balls, and the mystery panties someone had set out to dry on the radiator. Some of us had a tough time growing up in our families but almost everyone had been treated well at school.
I would like to retire to Florida with this bunch. Unfortunately, we are spread out from Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada down a tiny town on the coast of the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. So here’s a piece of advice: If you go to school with some nice kids, appreciate them now and keep track of them so you can keep them in your life forever. Maybe you can retire to Florida with them.