I see that family over there and their feet dangling from the pew, I lean to grab a book off the tiled floor. I count the feet 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 kid’s shoes! Maybe, friends? I think. I see my mom as she watches the oldest boy hold the baby and the oldest girl skip her sisters to the bathroom. If you have to use the bathroom during Mass you get to miss a few minutes of all the quietness.
We moved to Whitefish, MT in May. On Sundays my parents shove us into something clean, wet our hair with a comb and herd us out the door to our church downtown. We fuss, they insist. Today I am hopeful and happy, another big family, and it’s bigger than ours.
School just started again, a new school for me. She’s in my class, the girl from church with the hand knitted hats, little sisters and big brothers. She has to be the girl with the best laugh in the class and the funniest one too. Today we played on the playground together, swinging back and forth, back and forth. I listened and laughed as she made up a song and sang it to me. We are friends.
Today we painted a picture of Glacier National Park, I love swirling colors together creating a sunset, water, and rugged mountains. My friend took a long time to finish hers, she stares at it thinking and is delicate with her paint brush.
My mom sang at a funeral today, she came home and told me about it, the songs the choir sang, my friend in the front pew and the 10 dangling shoes. She told me about the pretty picture of their mom, the baby girl being passed around, the little girl needing to use the potty and the oldest boy’s poem. My friend and big brother stood behind the too tall podium and shared their heart. My mom said my friend was brave.
I love birthday parties, today is her birthday, she is turning 10. It’s a sleepover with lots of girls. We will paint our nails, braid our hair, make up dances, songs and skits. I really hope we sleep in the backyard, her brother built a fabulous fort, with branches, boards, pulleys and a flag.
My mom picked me up this morning from her house, I could tell she just loved the house; the old doors, the steep staircase and the stained glass. She sat on the bed with her and I trying not to notice the empty space that filled the house. The party was one I will never forget. My face hurts from smiling so much.
Today they will come to stay, the whole family, all the kids but the biggest boy! My mom squished us all into our VW bus, they have backpacks of stuffed animals and each one of them smiles, a kind of smile that makes the whole bus happy. We double buckle, there are 9 kids now. I now have 4 brothers and our families are now the same size. My mom turns up the radio. Us big girls sing our little hearts out, the boys elbow each other for more room and my mom looks like she is going to burst with joy.
We have popcorn, my mom pops it on the stove, covers it in butter and brewer’s yeast. We sip root beer too. The boys wrestle all over the place, up the stairs, rolling into the dining room, onto couches and into chairs. They spill the popcorn.
Outside we run, up and up and up into the dark woods where the yellow larch needles make a soft coating and the aspen leaves lay comfortably under their branches. We spread out blankets, table cloths and babies. We are “The lost kids”, alone in the woods, making our way. Here we all depend on each other, the boys with their knives and bows and arrows, defending us from ghosts, haunts, lions and bears. She and I divvy out the survival food; water, goldfish and pretzels. My mom’s dinner holler seems a thousand years away.
We line up to eat at the bar, some at the kid’s table, others sharing seats for dinner. A big pot of spaghetti sauce has been simmering filling the house with the smell of garlic. We dip our bread into our bowls of noodles. Everyone clears their plate and we beg for a movie. The pillows and blankets are soft and warm and our legs are a mess over knees and under arms, we are at peace.
The girls and I fill my room. The baby (she’s growing fast) lies close to her sister, my mom sings her to sleep, holding her close, just like her own. The little girl is curled up with dolls, animals of all species stuffed with soft filling, my mom runs her fingers through her yellow hair. She and I share my bed, we giggle as my mom tries to squeeze in between us. She runs her fingers up and down our arms like they are piano keys.
The boy sleeps with our boys. Next to my friend’s brother lies an arsenal, his collection of weapons gathered from the woods, a mess of bark, twine and arrowheads on top of his pack. I hear my mom whispering to them and I know she’s rubbing all their backs, rubbing out their boy kinks, softening their hearts.
It’s spring! The snow is close to gone. Finally a break from school. They are coming to stay again my dear friend, her sisters and her brother! We pick them up in the bus and it bounces up the road, leaving town, right to the edge, to our home. We spill out and shiver as we run inside, no one wore coats.
We dig through the dress up box, big yellow dresses, red lace, black leather, the prettiest green one you have ever seen, the tulle on the skirt is endless, it only fits the sister with the yellow hair. There’s a black wig, a blonde wig and a purple wig. We dress the boys in tuxes. When we make them try on a dress we roll around laughing, holding our sides and gasping for air, we almost make the little boys cry. I like to wear gloves; she likes to wear heels. The little sister looks lovely and the baby (who keeps getting bigger) likes to wear flowers in her hair.
We walk, we talk. We tell secrets and we dream.
She is moving. She has spent so many days with me, their family is like ours. We all cry and say, “No, it can’t be!” But it’s true, so we vow to always have them visit.
They are visiting for Christmas break! My grandparents will be here too, the house will be full, it will be full of love. They’re here, their car made it. It is so cold outside they come in with scarves and hats on, bundled up in crochets and knits. We hug like we won’t let go, squeezing in and out and feeling something that only friends feel.
The boy carries bags overflowing with goodies; crackers in fancy boxes, nuts, wasabi peas, cheeses and canned olives, mostly stuff the big people like. My dad swings the girls and shakes the boy’s hand firmly.
We nestle all together to sleep. The snow won’t stop landing on the roof, flake after flake the cars get buried. The next morning is Sunday and the snow is still falling but the sun is pushing it’s way through the clouds and it looks like a glorious day. My Grandpa knocks on everyone’s door telling us it’s time to get to church.
We trade clothes and get into tights and dresses. The boys don’t know how to look nice and come out in jeans with holes and shirts all crooked. We think we look beautiful, the little girls are mismatched and adorable; stripes and patterns. My mom smoothes our hair and sends the boys back for another try.
The snow comes with us as we get into the VW bus for church. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 wet boots tromp into church. It seems as though everyone looks at us, smiles at us and watches us. Puddles form under the pews and my little brother tries to eat the snow frozen to his pant cuffs. We sing, even the kids that can’t read. The church is full of Poinsettia’s and incense. Everyone talks to the kids after Mass, lots of questions. The littlest girl hides behind her sister’s legs.
The winter seems long; I have made new friends at school but no one that makes my belly hurt when I laugh or who can read my mind. We talk on the phone and plan our next adventure, we will beg for it to be Spring break. We know my mom will say yes!
Finally, the snow is starting to melt and another Easter break is here and Yes they will stay with us again! She brings up a whole bag of embroidery floss, her sisters bring bags of coloring books and markers . We make friendship bracelets twisting and knotting blues, greens, oranges and purples into fascinating patterns promising to wear them forever and eternity.
My mom has us all line up on the floor, the new baby too (another brother). Ten of us scattered on the floor in our Sunday best looking up at my mom, her hair on top of her head, her apron covered in messes of all the places our hands have been. She looks down on us and smiles, she looks like she may burst with joy. We smile back and she takes the picture, our forever friendship captured.