I am afraid that you’ll have to bear with me today, my friends, as I waffle on and try to bring all the disparate things that have been on my mind to some sort of tortured conclusion.

Let’s start with cats. Cats were the dear friends of my youth. I’ve adored them forever. I’m one of those annoying people who cannot pass a cat without cooing, petting, and even picking it up if I am allowed. I have friends who are like that with dogs, except for the picking up part. Ha. But no one that I know other than my best friend’s husband, who I will call Sam, is as crazy for cats as I am.

Saying that makes me laugh. And I remember when my friend and Sam were first married, and they visited me at my parents’ home where I was living. I had a lovely, black, slightly wild kitten and my friend’s husband cooed and tried to pet her, chuckling when the cat began backing up into a narrow corner behind the old wood stove in the kitchen. He gamely crawled after her. So when my mum came into the room to finally meet the husband of my old friend, all she saw was Sam’s backside sticking out from behind the wood stove. Eventually he extricated himself with the struggling kitten in his arms, looking a bit shamefaced. My mum made some dry comment which I cannot recall. I do know we all had a good laugh except, of course, Sam.

My mum, as I may have mentioned before, was the master of the dry comment and the sarcastic rejoinder. Some of the comments she made to friends over the years are legendary and are still regularly trotted out for all to laugh at, all over again.

Here’s a shot of me, aged seven or eight, lolling on the couch with my friend Fluffy. My first kitten. I could not believe my luck at being able to acquire Fluffy. Let me explain. When I was seven, the neighbour’s cat had kittens, and the neighbour said I could have one. I clearly remember scuttling home filled with joy, rehearsing all my best, most convincing arguments to present to Mum, screwing my face up into a plaintive, and hopefully believably earnest, expression. Mum caved. And trust me, Mum was tough. She didn’t cave often. Although if you read my post about my life with cats you might be forgiven for believing otherwise.

First feline friend of my youth.

This is another friend of my youth. Nicky was a stray. A bit smelly and a bit beat up, but I loved him. Mum did not cave on this one. Nicky could NOT live in the house. So I fed him and built alternative outdoors accommodation for him. I can’t remember how long our relationship lasted before he decamped for greener pastures.

Another feline friend of my youth. Age nine or so.

Not all the friends of my youth were cats, of course. And that’s mostly where I’m going with this post. The non-feline friends of my youth. One friend in particular.

When I was a child we lived over a mile from the town where I attended school, and where all my school friends lived. This was long before my mum married my step-father and we moved to the farm. We lived in a big, ugly, flat-roofed building owned by my grandfather Sullivan. It had originally been a garage for his drill machines before he converted it into four apartments. We occupied one of those apartments after my parents split up. The neighbourhood was semi-rural, some older homes, a few farm houses, the river, our apartment house, a big piece of fenced industrial land owned and used by my grandfather for his well-drilling business, some unused farm fields, and the woods.

We moved here when I was almost six. And when I was little, I had two groups of friends. At school I played with my school friends, some of whom I still see regularly. And at home I played with a multi-age gang of neighbourhood kids consisting of one or two who were around my age and a gaggle of younger kids who tagged along.

But I had one friend who belonged in neither of those groups. And she became a very important friend of my youth. The glamorous friend from away.

My friend arrived every summer with her parents to visit her grandfather. They drove from far away, somewhere in Ontario. It seemed as if those visits were the best part of my summer. My mum worked full time, my older brothers and sisters were busy babysitting, or working at summer jobs, and my neighbourhood playmates held little interest for me. My friend’s summertime visits were a huge part of my childhood. When she arrived, my summer began.

It’s funny how little detail I remember of her visits. I can picture snippets, fragments of images. Her dad sometimes wore shorts, I think. I adored her dad. He took us on excursions. We went to the art gallery. I remember she fell in the rain on the marble stairs outside the gallery, and cut her leg. We went bowling. And once, to the laundromat. I was eight, laundromats were exciting. I can picture her glorious, long, bright-blond, curly hair. But I can’t remember when she and her parents stopped coming. Or why. Maybe her grandfather died. I don’t know. I think I might have been eleven the last summer they came. And then life moved on.

In 2009, out of the blue, she contacted me. I received an email at work: “Is this the Susan Burpee with whom I played 45 years ago when I visited my grandfather’s farm in Marysville, New Brunswick?” I read the email on my laptop in my classroom. “Oh my god,” I gasped out loud, interrupting my students who were writing a test. “Are you okay, Miss?” one girl asked. “Yes, yes. Sorry to interrupt you,” I whispered.

My old friend and I exchanged a few emails. We’d love to see each other, but I now lived in Ontario and she had ironically moved down east. Then life got in the way again, and our communication lapsed. My stepfather had died, Mum’s life was in flux, then I retired, Hubby was ill. Well, you know. You wait too long to reply. Feel embarrassed. And even more time passes.

Until this past week.

When I decided to make a concerted effort to get in touch. If I could find her. I still have our email exchange from 2009 saved in my files. But her work email would no doubt be as defunct as mine is. After all it was fifteen years ago. A lot can happen in fifteen years. I tried the various publications for whom she had written, looking for her contact details. No luck. Then I tried the general email address for a small magazine which had published some of her articles. I explained who I was and asked them to pass on my contact details. Her reply was in my mailbox the next morning. I was thrilled to read it.

And so we will begin again. I will be down east several times this year. We are determined we will get together this time.

But, you know. I still worry how that will go. How do you begin to explain to someone how much you have changed in over fifty years? We’ll be strangers who share a past. A brief past, a small part of our childhood. But however brief, her friendship was a very important part of my growing up. I hope I can tell her that without blubbering.

So. Back to cats.

I don’t have many photos of my childhood after we moved to live in my grandfather’s apartment in Marysville. And I have none of my old friend and I together. But she does. She says she found, amongst her father’s old slides, photos of us together in Marysville on one of those summer visits. I can’t wait to see them.

And the cat photos? Well, those are the only photos I could find of me at about the age when I met and had adventures with my friend from away. I’d have been seven or eight, through maybe ten or eleven, over the course of those few summers of our friendship. And since in each photo in this post I’m hugging a childhood friend, a friend of my youth, albeit a feline one, I thought maybe they’d be relevant.

I know I’m stretching things there. But don’t I always?

So. Over to you my friends. Any stories about friends of your youth you’d like to share?

You know, ever since I typed the title into this post, I’ve been trying to think why that phrase “friend of my youth” sounded so familiar. Then this evening, I scoured my bookshelf. Yep. It’s the title of an Alice Munro book of short stories. I knew it sounded familiar. I love Alice Munro stories. They feel like home. If that makes any sense. You can find that particular book here, if you’re interested.

P.S. That book link is an affiliate link. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a small commission which helps to pay for the blog.

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36 thoughts on “Friend of My Youth”

  1. I have a few friends of my youth and young adult years who drifted away. One moved to Queensland, another to New Zealand and one to England. Two long-standing friends drifted away about 15 years ago, shortly after my father died. I was never able to figure out why, but I long ago stopped wondering. I prefer to enjoy the friendships that have continued. Best of luck reconnecting with your childhood friend. And the cat photos are very sweet.

    1. It’s easier to explain why childhood friends slip away, isn’t it? I have had the same experience with adult friends who had been in my life for decades. Not sure what happened there.

  2. Wonderful post, enjoy your reunion with your friend from your youth…bet it will be fun. My oldest friends are from my mid teens, still friend today, and my college roommates…besties for life. Kitties and puppies from my youth were the best. My kittie was a little girl named Ralphie, sweetest kittie ever. I cried and cried when she was gone.

  3. My first friend Mary lived in the house in back of us. Our families were friends & I thought Mary had the idyllic childhood I craved. She had a baby sister , a dog, a cat & an immaculate house that her mother ran with precision. She had a pink room with dolls sitting on chairs & pretty pillows with embroidery. I grew up in a chaotic house with a working mom & dad, two needy sisters & two rebellious brothers. We have kept in touch for over 70 years. Her life was not as successful as mine; her relationship with her mother was never harmonious. She’s told me many times how she admired my mother who never cared about outward appearances. We have discussed how I felt she had a perfect home while mine was less than ideal. Funny how at 72 I realize our relationship was always one of balance. We speak often even though we live 3000 miles apart but try to get together when I fly into NY. Any photos I have of my childhood were ones her father took so every so often Mary sends me one that sends my mind reeling trying to recall the who, what, where. I would say our relationship is one that has endured through the years because we both feel a connection neither wants to sever.

  4. How lovely for you! I hope your meetings go well.
    I’ve moved countries five times so have not managed to keep track of childhood friends throughout all the moves.
    However, thanks to Facebook, I was contacted recently by a girl I went to primary school with had seen my name on something and decided to get in touch.
    Also, after making a comment on a photo on FB about a man who was my greatgrandfather, whom I had never met, I received a message from a woman who is my second cousin. We had been good friends when I lived in Scotland but we lost touch after my family moved. Since then we have kept in regular touch and hopefully might manage to visit her some day in France where she now lives. Even funnier is that her husband went to school with my sister -in -law who lives in Australia with her Kiwi husband – my brother -in -law. Small world.

    1. Hubby had a similar experience as you in moving often since his dad was in the Canadian Air Force. They lived all over Canada and in Europe. He has no idea where most of his childhood playmates are.

  5. As you well know I’m a dog person . Any childhood traumas , & there were quite a few , found me hiding away snuggling up to Dusky , a fat rather smelly black Scottish terrier . He was always there for me & was my best friend . But that doesn’t mean I don’t like cats . The first cat I remember was Fluffy – yes that’s a coincidence . Fluffy was a grey Persian type cat who lived up to her name . I would leave my bedroom window open & find her curled up on my bed every morning for years . That was until she had her litter of kittens on my eiderdown & I was not allowed to open the window after that .
    It’s interesting that you contacted your old friend again . As I mentioned to Frances , I’ve been making an effort to rekindle some old friendships lately . It was so easy in our busy working lives to neglect our social life . Plus people were engrossed in their families or moved to other areas . It must be even more difficult keeping in touch in a country the size of Canada . Like you there was a little nervous anticipation as I stepped back into their lives but I needn’t have worried . One in particular went very well . The years just fell away & it was so nice reconnecting with someone who knew the younger me . Someone who knew my parents a little & understood part of what made me the person I am today . So we’ll not be losing touch again . Another coincidence – her name is Sue .

    1. I’m so pleased for you, Wendy, that you reconnected with your childhood friend. I think that some childhood friends fall away because we never really did have anything in common, barring living next door to each other. I think that’s why I have hung onto my school friends. We shared more interests. I remember having to hide the fact that I loved to read from my neighbourhood playmates. They were not from reading families and viewed anyone who spent too much time with a book with suspicion. Or maybe it was just that their parents weren’t readers and the disdain was more of a front for something they saw as beyond them. I don’t know. I do know that there was a lot more trauma and poverty in their lives, than in mine. And while Mum had trouble making ends meet some months, we always had enough to eat, clean clothes to wear, and books to read.

  6. Growing up in a small village and attending the one room schoolhouse offered a limited selection of friends my age.
    I was lucky to have two girlfriends who were older than me but allowed me to tag along on so many adventures. I was included in so many trips to the lake to swim all day and go roller skating in the evening. One of these girls was an only child and a challenging friend. I did not like her mother. When I think back and recall comments that were directed at me or her daughter, I can understand why her and her daughter had an estranged relationship later in life.
    The other girlfriend was just a beautiful person, inside and out. We went completely different ways in our lives but I did see her briefly a few years ago.
    It was a great time to grow up in a small community. Yards were full of kids playing from dust til dawn, not with toys but with vivid imaginations! I’ve tried to pass that on to my grandchildren too. There’s no limit to the fun activities you can have with little or no cost at all!
    Oh, a quick last thought. My childhood girlfriends and I would form a club every summer for several years. Sometimes we would meet in a hollowed out lilac bush and take notes or sing a song. Great fun!

    1. When I was a bit older and could venture further from home I had more neighbourhood friends my own age. We formed clubs too. A drawing club, and even a “Barbie Fan Club.” I was always the organizer. Acting like the teacher even then. Ha.

  7. I look forward to reading about this meet-up in a later blog post – how very exciting! I have kept in touch with a lot of friends from my youth, quite deliberately and am glad I did now that I am older. Somehow it makes sense to me to be friends with people who I knew when very young and to meet up with them when possible. Occasionally friendships have faltered, some never to pick up again, others to miraculously re-emerge as your friend did. They are all aspects of my life and represent parts of me that might be quite separate from each other, but are no less valid for that. And as for cats…but of course. Eccles, Ben, Wally, Charlie, Susan. Fine companions all.

    1. I Love that you had a cat named Eccles. That’s Hubby’s last name. It’s uncommon here, and we were surprised to meet a man by that name in Scotland. He worked at a tourist booking agency and was pleased to meet us as well. Then again, so many, many Canadians came from Scotland.

  8. I immediately thought of Alice Munro when I saw the title of your post. Have always loved her stories, maybe partly because my family is from the part of southern Ontario in which her stories are mostly set (though with themes universal of course). She opened my eyes…

    It’s fun to think of childhood friends, although I tend to be more of a moving forward sort of a person in this regard rather than a looking back one. One of the great joys of life is making new friends, particularly from new generations, etc.

    We moved a number of times within Toronto and then outside of it when I was under thirteen and so I didn’t keep in touch with any specific friends from early childhood beyond the letters we wrote to each other during the teen years. I remain friends with my university friends, on the other hand.

    One close friend in the one year I lived on Georgian Bay (I was thirteen at the time) is now the president of an important organization you would have heard of. Even at thirteen she was poised and lovely and brilliant so I wasn’t surprised when I came across her name last year and realized she was the very same friend I had read Jane Eyre with at thirteen and cried with when Jane’s friend died in bed with her. I’ve thought a few times about reaching out to say hello but haven’t done so yet. Perhaps I feel that some memories are best left untarnished in their past form.

    Also, like Wendy, I’m more of a dog person. In one very odd detour in my life I darted into archival studies (I really really love old manuscripts). The first day of class the whole class got up and each person said something such as, “I love books, gardening and cats…” and I thought, “Oh boy, I’m in the wrong place!” That said, it’s not that I dislike cats, exactly, and we had many as my dad was a veterinarian…I just find that cats can be rather strange and unreliable. But that’s a story for another day.

    1. The Alice Munro stories I love the best are the ones she set in the Ottawa Valley. The semi-rural, economically precarious areas she desccribes remind me of New Brunswick. I guess that’s why they make me feel “at home.”

      1. I can think of one very specific story set in the Ottawa Valley that I reread last year, so I know what you mean. My mom’s family was a farm family when she was very young and I spent much of my childhood in that split between city (Toronto, where my dad grew up) and southern Ontario farmland (where my mom’s family was rooted for four or five generations and more). Alice Munro is certainly a master of depicting that life.

        I hope you have a wonderful visit with your friend!

  9. The neighborhood I grew up in was idyllic – about 12 kids who played all day and into the night during the summers – lots of in-fighting, cliques, football games, flashlight (hide and seek at night), and adventures in the pastures behind my house. And then life happens – we all moved away and had different adventures. About 10 years ago, through the good part of social media, a message appeared asking me if I were the Sherry she knew from Shreveport on Shadywood. I was! And she was the Diane. It turns out that neither of us live in S’port any more, but both live in South Louisiana about an hour apart. Needless to say, we re-connected and are a big part of each other’s lives now. We correspond via email EVERY Saturday morning, filling each other in on our weeks. I’ve retired from teaching, she’s still working. I have 3 grown children, she and her husband have dogs. We have celebrated holidays together, girl lunches, over-night visits, and soon, my youngest son’s wedding celebrations. It’s so rewarding and comforting to have someone in my life who knows the little girl I was. The tomboy, the Beatles fan, the awkward middle school girl who wanted to be Olivia Hussey in Romeo and Juliet. . . . It’s also interesting to hear her version of me. I wonder if I would have been my friend when I was a girl?? Anyway, she is my friend and always will be. I love having my Diane back in my world. Thanks for the opportunity to share my story!

    1. Sherry, your childhood reminds me of my own.
      The eight to ten kids in our small town neighborhood in Ontario would spend the entire day and evening making our own fun.
      Our mothers would call us in to eat lunch or supper and as soon as we finished we would be back out playing again.
      We are now approaching eighty and still keep in touch by phone or email. Although we are spread far and wide, I still treasure these old friendships and, of course, the newer ones made over the years. I’ve found, as I age, my friendships are so very precious .

    2. I’m so pleased for you, Sherry, that you and “the Diane” found each other again. I agree that it’s wonderful to have someone in your life who knew the little girls we once were. Oh, I remember Olivia Hussey… wasn’t she lovely in R&J?

  10. I had a very good friend growing up and of course I moved away. Went to college basically and never went back. I would just go back to my hometown and see my dad.
    Then we connected on Facebook. Well a few years ago we met and it was so nice to see her again. We will never be best friends again but there is at least a connection there which I like. I do remember and am grateful for her friendship especially when my mom died my senior year of high school. She was there and so was her mom, but we still went our separate ways.
    I am so glad we finally connected after more than 40 years.

  11. I LOVE THIS POST SO MUCH. I had no pets as a child and thought I didn’t like cats. I have no idea why I thought that. When a neighbor asked my husband if we could take in an orphan kitten overnight (his wife was allergic) until the shelter opened the next day, my husband said yes. I happened to be out for the evening with friends. He loved cats and and been raised with them. This tiny kitten had been born in a barn on a farm owned by the neighbor. The rest of the litter and possibly the mama had been killed by a critter of some sort. We had an 18 month old son who fell instantly in love. My husband named the cat before I even got home!!! He was Jellyroll..after Jellyroll Morton, a jazz musician whose music had been playing when the kitten appeared at our door!!! It wasn’t long before I was a cat lover. Our toddler son called her Keeroll…for Kitty Jellyroll. She was with us for many years. Soon we had adopted another stray and by the time my sons were grown there had been at least 10 cats living in and out of our house..once there were 5 at a time. Several were named after Shakespeare characters: Falstaff, Miranda, Othello, Portia, Buckingham to name a few…we even had William Shakespeare himself. After two deaths (one by a car and another by a dog) we turned all our cats into indoor cats. When I moved from Tennessee to Connecticut, my last cat moved with me. She was 16 years old at the time of the move and lived another year. Now I enjoy my family’s
    cats…3 Maine Coons here in Connecticut and 3 rescues in Oregon.

    Vis a vis, childhood friends, I keep up with several who I met at around age 8 when my family moved . I am now nearing age 84. Some of these friends were neighbors and most were with me in school from 4th grade through high school. A few even went to the same University with me and two of us became teachers at the same time. We keep up with each other through social media and have had reunions through the years. We’re scattered all over. Most of them stayed in Ohio or moved south in retirement and I’ve moved to Tennessee, Michigan, back to Tennessee, Northern Virginia, back to Tennessee and finally, 11 years ago to Connecticut. I’ve lost several friends due to death and a few before it was so easy to keep up with and/or find people.

    I’m loving the memories your post has elicited. Thank you.

  12. I am so envious of your Mom allowing you to have a kitten..I was that age when I dearly , desperately, desired a kitten but a brother with allergies did not allow for it. I succumbed to cat napping neighbourhood felines. Yup, telling Mom and Dad that this cat had NO home and needed to live in our garage…it got to be that neighbours missing cats knew where to check first! At fourteen I got my first live in cat after it was determined that brother was not allergic. I’ve had several since but our last left us for the big litter box in the sky in 2017 and he has never been replaced. We had our dog ( who missed his cat) but he left us in November. We are looking at moving to a condo and many have pet restrictions so we’ll wait until we move to see f we are allowed. I miss them all very much…
    Many childhood friends on FB have connected with me which is lovely! We enjoy sharing our lives as we age..partners, kids, grand kids and pets. So nice to have that connection. A few years ago I noticed a close college friend who I had lost touch with was writing for a health magazine. She had moved to BC and running a thriving business, I was working and raising a family in Ontario which is why we lost touch. I emailed her and received a pleasant but short answer that it looked like our lives had gone in different trajectories she had a lot going on and would be in touch, of course I never heard from her….ghosted.
    They say people are in our lives for a reason a season or a lifetime. Maybe she recognized that we were only meant to have a season of our youth together and was trying to gently tell me that. I silently wished her well on her path and let the hope of rekindling our friendship go. Sometimes our paths run parallel then diverge or connect briefly and deviate permanently. If we are very blessed they merge for a lifetime. I hope your childhood friendship blooms again!

  13. The best friends are old friends aren’t they? I have a friend who I knew in college, we were in each others weddings the same year. My husband and I moved across the country and eventually we drifted apart. Then, after over 25 years had passed, we reconnected and discovered that we both had divorced the same year, had two children apiece all of which live some distance away, both our sons have become doctors and we both have four grandchildren. I have now moved near her and we are planning to move into my a duplex together. She’s a senior dog lover and I’m happy to help her out with her old dogs. With luck we will have each other to depend on for many years. Wouldn’t that be a nice end to our story?

  14. The internet and Facebook have made it so much easier to get in touch with friends from the past. I’m Facebook friends with a kindergarten classmate! And we’ve gotten together a few times. Now that I’m in my mid-seventies it helps me feel young!

  15. I am thankful for the “friend of my youth” who remains my best friend to this day. We have lived geographically distant from each other for most of our adult lives, but our relationship has continued to flourish largely due to the fact that we both love letter-writing. We kept in regular touch via Canada Post back in the olden days, and are now faithful emailers, communicating on a near-daily basis. She is currently in California while I remain in Ontario, and when we see each other (which is very infrequent), we have almost no catching up to do — we’re always completely up-to-date with the minutiae of each other’s lives!

  16. One summer, when I was 10 or 11, Mariam and her parents moved in next door. She was my age, but was also willing to include my younger sister in our play. We loved board games, especially “Clue” and that summer the three of us played endless games of “Clue”. We never tired of it. Her father worked at the nearby Air Force base and they moved on at the end of summer. Never heard from her again; don’t even remember her last name. But every time I see a reference to Clue, I think of her

  17. I had a friend who lived in our Chicago suburb for only a year or so more than 50 years ago before her family moved out east. Back in 2000 she tracked me down and when she learned that I too had moved east suggested we get together. I was all for it but it was a tricky time for me (parents dying, my own health issues), and it didn’t happen. Some years later I tried to find her contact information but couldn’t. Inspired by your post I just searched and might have found her on LinkedIn. If it’s her we now live on opposite coasts. Trying to decide if it’s really her and if I should write ….

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