I’ve known Valarie for 30 years, back when I was 14 and she was almost 16 and her sister and I were science partners.
My family moved to Minneapolis in January 1978, halfway through the school year. I was in ninth grade and lost. At Jasper High School there were 300 students in grades 7-12. At Plymouth Junior High School, there were more than 300 students in my grade. Joining them in the middle of the school year was a death sentence to any kind of social life. Friendships were established, cliques formed, lunchroom territories firmly defended. I was a country bumpkin, dressed in Levis and striped polyester shirts with snap collars. I knew nothing about Nikes or Annie Hall.
I was lost academically, too. Ninth grade students at JHS took earth science. Ninth grade students at PJHS took chemistry. I’d missed an entire semester and never caught on to it. Thank God for Pam. Poor dear Pam.
I’ve never asked Pam how she felt about being assigned a newbie like me as her science partner, but if she was ticked she never let on. She patiently helped me through all the experiments (meaning she did all the experiments as I looked on) and never told the teacher what a bonehead I was. The only thing I learned that entire semester was there are three states of matter: gas, liquid and solid. That’s still the extent of my chemistry knowledge. I think it’s ironic I’m married to a chemist given how I loathe the subject.
Pam and I became friends, despite her added burden of tutoring me through chemistry. She told me she had a sister named Val who dated a boy named Jay. Hmmm…I had a friend named Jay who was dating a girl named Val. Were they the same?
My mom and Jay’s mom met when they were single and working in a bank. They remained friends and our families got together frequently, either for holidays or for weekends at their lake cabin. Jay was three years older than me and I’d always had a little crush on him. He was tall and strong with dark hair and a quirky sense of humor. He always treated me like a little sister, though, so any romance was doomed from the start. But I admit I was a little jealous when I heard of this Val person. Who was she and what was she doing with my never-to-be boyfriend?
Pam invited me to her house after school one day and I met her sister who was indeed the Val dating Jay. Val was thin and lovely with whispery long blond hair. I don’t think she liked me much at first. She was a typical older sister probably because Pam was a typical little sister. They picked and teased, so mostly we stayed out of Val’s way.
Val and Jay got pregnant when Val was in high school. My memories of her pregnancy are vague. I remember watching her walk the halls alone, her head buried in a book or I’d see her eating lunch with a friend or two. She wasn’t someone you pitied, though, because she gave off a strong vibe of “I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of me.” Val was a mystery to me and her pregnancy made her even more enigmatic.
Pam and I stayed friends and I’m sure she told me when Val’s baby was born, but we didn’t talk much about it. Val and Jay were married and living somewhere and that’s all I remember. After I graduated from high school, I didn’t see Pam much anymore, and I heard Val and Jay news through my mother. Val had another baby, and another, and another and another.
When I lived in Minneapolis for a few years in the mid-90s, I reconnected with Pam and we’ve stayed in contact since then. I still didn’t know much about Val or Jay or their growing family. I hate family gossip so I didn’t ask my mother much about them. Then last January, I got an email from Val:
“Hey Lynn. My sister, Pam, sent me the link to your writing a month ago, and I’ve been enjoying it very much. I’m at home with a herd of little kids, and the voice of another adult, plus it’s *your* voice, has been incredibly fun.
“When you talk about your parents, I know who they are. I can picture their mannerisms and hear their voices. Emily is a gorgeous woman now, LOL. It’s very fun.
“Attached is a pic for your amusement. The blonde woman second from the left is my daughter-in-law Alica, married to Dan beside her. On the far right is John with his wife Dannell in front of him and their son William hanging over her arm. The rest are our kids.
“Sending you a real tight hug, girl. Love, Val N”
Suddenly, there she was, leaping out of mystery and into the tangible. And I was no longer Pam’s geeky little friend, but Val’s equal, although I admit for a second I was that ninth-grade dork in Levis and snap shirts with a silly crush on her husband. I shook that off and wrote back. We’ve been writing to each other ever since.
Val is confident and unique. A writer and the mother of 10 children, she writes about her family with grace and humor, but never is she condescending or preachy. She has shared her essays with me on numerous occasions and I asked her if I could share them with my blog readers.
To that end, I’ve added a new page to my blog called Valarie’s Writing Page. I’ll update it, as I do my brother’s writing page, throughout the week. I’m so glad to have another voice join me on this online journal. I hope you enjoy it, too.
Click here to read the essay I chose to introduce Val to you. She wrote it in 2001 and has had two children since then. I tell you that so you don’t think I made a typo when I said she had 10 children rather than eight.
Thanks for reading. I always enjoy your comments, too. Keep them coming!