Madison Wisconsin, Spring 1975
She was house sitting, that week, as memory serves. The teacher’s home had an adobe-style wall fencing in a plethora of dogwoods and cherry, plum and almond with an occasional Japanese maple thrown in. There were hydrangeas and rhubarb, the stalks of irises, and some jonquils so newly yellow peeking out from behind some type of vegetation.
“I love it here, don’t you?” she asked. We, two young women, sat swinging on the porch couch, sipping our coffee and enjoying our lives.
The sky above us yawned so that the silvery grey clouds revealed a slumbering sun. From the way things felt around us, it was hard to know if it would be sunny or rainy, chilly or warm. Being Wisconsin, it could be all of those things, in just ten or twelve hours!
“We could bike over to the lumber yard, if you want.” She could tell I was battling simmering emotions. Friends always know these things.
“Are you sure Dar hasn’t forgotten?” I asked, feeling nervous. The deal was, today was crib day. We would make the baby’s crib, from wood that would be carved into beads, and one wooden slat on the bottom to be covered with a soft mattress that would be where the baby would lie. When it was finished, it would hang on ropes hung from the ceiling of the nursery. It was designed so it would be something that could swing back and forth rocking the little one to sleep.
“Dar rarely forgets anything. Are you doing okay?” She glanced at my belly, barely a small bump beneath the peasant blouse. In two weeks I would announce to my women’s writing group that I would be spending the summer taking care of my new baby, and they would all be aghast. Several women would speak up: “But you have to be pregnant to have a baby this summer!” That is how little my stomach revealed.
I climbed down the stairs to the yard and picked a small bouquet of violets and tulips.
“Sue, I think you’ve got a great idea about biking to the lumber place. Right now I have so much energy I could explode.”
“Okay dokey. It has been a while since we biked anywhere.” She went off to the side of the house, and then she was pushing two bikes over to the steps in front of the porch.
I ambled down and took one of the two from her.”I’m not sure what has gotten into you,” she said softly.
I examined her face, so kind so considerate. She looked perplexed. “It’s nothing really, except that my whole life I have been a procrastinator. And now in two months, I have to go through with something no matter what.”
“What got you in this mood?”
“You’ll think I’m nuts. It was the bowling balls last night. Watching you and Dar bowling, and I kept thinking…”
“That a baby’s head was not much smaller,” she finished my statement. The grin on her face could have split that face apart.
“It really isn’t, Sue.”
“I know. I know. I mean, it’s like Yikes, right?” Hearing her being in agreement, the tension inside me broke clean away, and we both began laughing – happy full throttled laughs. We mounted the bikes and rode off, a soft rain starting to fall.
At the lumber yard, Dar was in his element. He had obviously explained his project to the yard’s manager. The two men waved us over to where the lumber was stacked in a rain-free spot on the ground. There was a glorious deep golden mahogany teak for the beads. There was one cedar slab for the crib bottom. And the rope was there too.
“You the mom to be?” queried the man in the navy blue work outfit, with “Ray” inscribed as his monogram.
“I am, but the brains behind the crib is Sue.” I motioned to my friend, who was busy jabbering away at Dar about our bike ride over. “She is studying children’s playground projects. At UW School of Art and Architecture.”
“My daughter goes there. To UW, the nursing school end of things.”
He began whistling as Dar and he carried things out to the truck.
“You know something,” said Sue, as we followed the men out. “Today is gonna be a day we always remember. The day we built the crib.”
As we joined the men at the truck, it began to rain harder. Dar pointed at a store a half block up the street. “None of us have rain duds, what ya say if we go see if the thrift ship has some?”
Without knowing why we all began to run. A moment after we took flight, there was a crack of thunder and then lightning, and the rain came down in buckets. By the time we reached the thrift shop, we were sopping wet. And the three of us laughing, deep belly laughs that filled the store.
As we sauntered around the store, we found everything perfectly laid out for our purposes. Dar and I both selected rain gear that would have made a New England fisherman green with envy, while Sue had found a raincoat-like ensemble in soft and shimmery pink.
After we made the purchases, Sue edged her small frame into Dar’s. “There is one more thing we have to do, Dar.”
“I think I know what you mean. It is Carol’s surprise from you, for her and Jim and the baby. Right?”
She beamed a smile of pure sunshine at him. “Yep, the very same.”
We all squeezed into the front seat of his 1973 aqua GMC truck. Dar carefully angled it down the streets back to my house. But at the last moment, he veered off Langdon to Gilman. There on a shady tree-edged bit of property sat an old but sturdy farmhouse.
Lilacs bloomed from every possible nook and cranny. It had a screened in porch, and something about it tugged at my heart.
“So guess what? Yesterday I put a down payment on this place,” said Sue. “We have a full year’s lease, first and last month already paid, and we move in the first week in July. Little Baby Dude or Baby Madam will be two weeks old by then.”
My face must have carried a worried expression. “Now don’t go looking at me like that. There is plenty of room for you and me and the baby. You married love birds will have the master bedroom. And there’s a whole room to serve as Jim’s music studio, as soon as the Army lets leave of him and he is back here with you.”
I couldn’t make my voice go above a whisper. “What if he never gets back?” The Army had somehow managed to put his paperwork into a dark hole faster than that of all the dark holes of Calcutta. And they kept saying he would be wise to stay in the service.
Something he didn’t want anymore, and I couldn’t fathom either of us agreeing to.
“Don’t worry so much. He’ll be back.” Anyone looking over us from the outside would see why the friendship worked. She was the sunny optimist, me the pessimist. Even our bike rides around Madison were like that. She zoomed ahead, whimsical and daring, while I followed slowly behind. Occasionally I served as a “pick” as though I played basketball on bike: totally needing to intervene and stop some random car from mowing her down.
“It’s made for us, don’t you think? The old tenants are moving out later this month. We can go in and have a look at it then.”
“Susan, I don’t know what to say.”
“Tell me you like it?”
I couldn’t find a single word to say. I leaned in and hugged her, and she held me. Then without knowing how it happened, the moment was pressed into my memory, to stay there solid like a huge and glorious tree. And happy/sad this memory was, like a vista so beautiful that it seems both that you could reach out forever and touch it always, or that it could never have happened.
Next thing I knew it was June and Jim was clear and free of his duty to the US Army. We were so happy to be together all the time. Before I knew it, I had the baby. We were staying on a farm not far from LaCrosse Wisconsin.
And Sue and Dar had visited us the weekend before the baby was born. They rode their bikes there one Friday, the 6th of June, and spent a happy few days visiting all the many people that were staying on this farm. On Tuesday the 10th, they took off. Their ultimate destination was Minneapolis, where they had a few weeks of visiting friends and museums, and attending concerts all planned out.
On Saturday the 14th, my labor ended up taking about three hours. Nature handled everything perfectly. A small bud-like face attached to the imp-like baby body were placed in my arms. And Jim and I realized our lives had been more blessed than we could believe possible.
Some three weeks later, two friends from Madison drove out to visit the three of us. They were eager to see the little baby boy, Gabe Lincoln.
But there was something much sadder behind their reason for coming. The very day that Susan and Dar left the farm, a drunk driver wended his way down the highway they were on. He hit both of the bikers. Dar was only stunned by the blow, but Sue never knew what happened.
When they told me that I had lost my friend, the dreams made sense. Three times I had dreamed that Sue was in this deep and windy fog. “Where are you?” I kept asking. “I don’t know,” she replied, as mystified as I was. “But I had to have you come and be with me, if only for a short few moments. I want you to know we will see each other again. Don’t be sad. We will see each other soon. I promise.”
That was many years ago. But I know that we will.