First Friends

Me and Nancy at Concord Bridge (MA), June 1961

Me and Nancy at Concord Bridge (MA), June 1961

I barely remember my first friend, Regan, who lived next door to us in Cincinnati. There’s a picture of us as at age four on a stone wall, in identical shorts and midriff blouses, belly buttons protruding. But that’s about it. Regan moved away to a neighboring state, which, in the 1950s geography of childhood, may as well have been the moon. Besides, less than a year later, my family moved to New England.

There I met Nancy. She had a pixie haircut and freckled face wide open with friendliness. She lived two corners and a short, steep hill away from me, back in the days when free-range children were the norm. Nancy’s house backed onto the woods, where we spent hours building forts, climbing rocks, and fashioning furniture out of twigs and moss. Her mother, strikingly beautiful and always welcoming, would serve up snacks and listen to our tales of adventure.

In fourth grade, I pushed the two of us to take up violin together. I scratched my way through a few torturous lessons before quitting, but Nancy really took to it.

Despite the disparities in our musical talent, Nancy and I were inseparable. Then, in fifth grade, her family relocated to the far corner of Massachusetts. We promised to stay best friends forever, even visited once or twice. But as often happens, we lost touch.

As I began to delve deeply a couple of years ago into my long-held obsession with ruptures in women’s friendships, I thought about Nancy a lot. Ours was a drift, not a rift—a relationship disrupted by circumstances, but not the complicated messiness I would later come to know with close female friends. I grew nostalgic for our wonderful times together. So, thanks to the modern-day miracles of Google, I found her.

Nancy has the same open, friendly face (we both have better haircuts now), a different last name, a husband and beautiful freckle-faced daughter, and a house in the country with lots of animals. Plus a long string of musical accomplishments under her name. A former symphony violinist, she is now an assistant professor of music, director of her college’s symphony and chamber orchestras, and coordinator for their Strings Program and auditions. I’m glad one of us made it past the scratching stage, and glad that I have such fond memories of my first best friend.

Now Nancy and I exchange emails and holiday news. She signed up for my blog, and even signed up her still beautiful and gracious mother!

Today is Nancy’s birthday.

Happy birthday, old friend!


First friend stories? Are you still in touch? How have your earliest friendships shaped your adult ones?

6 thoughts on “First Friends

  1. Loved this story, reminds me of so many girlfriends I had growing up, but then lost touch of because we always moved away. These kids of friendships were/are fundamental to the woman I became when i grew up.

  2. My first friend and I were inseparable, it was my twin sister Lori. Our next best buddy was our grandmother and really was the love of our lives until she passed away. The world rose and set on our tiny twin faces according to her. But, our first non-familial friend at the ripe age of two or so was our pal whom we called “Little Cathy”. Why the descriptor little? I have no idea why, but we sing-song pleaded her name in unison impatiently waiting for her appearance on the stoop in our garden apartment courtyard.

    My parents moved from the rental to a house of their own in Connecticut two years later. We were bereft as the reality sank in while being driven away in the new red and white Chevrolet. Tears on our faces, we screamed in unison, “My “Little Cathy”!” and she broke free from the constraints of her folks and ran down the streets after us. My father had to stop the car. We reunited briefly to hug each other again, her parents holding her and comforting her.

    It was the beginning of the idea of rebellion for me, look at how easy it was to run away and break free. Even a four year old could do it.

    • Robin, I love this story, and it’s so interesting that you took away from your experience the idea of rebellion. Did you ever have further contact with Little Cathy, or know what became of her? I’m also fascinated about how sisters shape female friendships–especially since I never had a sister. I love that my two daughters have sisters. Twin sisters, I imagine, add yet another dimension. One of my ideas about difficulties in female friendships is that they often arise from problems with differentiation when the “urge to merge” can be so strong among women. One of my friends with a twin sister she adores said she never had these problems because trying to differentiate herself from her twin sister was so much a part of their task from the get-go. Anyway, thanks for writing.

  3. Priceless, lovely. Just remember I only started violin because you did. Our teacher guilted me into continuing!! Thank you my friend.

    • Isn’t it funny how random things can so affect the course of our lives!? Though I doubt there was anything random about our teacher pressuring you, rather than me, to continue! Hope your birthday is happy.

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