Monday, February 14, 2011
September 1942 was an exciting time for Carol Hogerheide and Barbara Stuhr. They were starting first grade at Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley, and it didn't take long for them to become fast friends. (Mary Barnes joined them two years later.)
At the same time, Pam Maloy, Marilee Goodwin, Margie Snyder, Nancy Seavey and Eleanor Price were forming similar friendships at Oxford Elementary School, as were Gail Evans, Jane Simmons, Cathy Zitzer and Toni Sweet at Hillside Elementary School.
All three schools fed into Garfield Junior High, where the three groups of friends made friends with each other, along with girls from other elementary schools, including Ingrid Lund, Betsy Morphet, Carol Walker, Sheilah MacLeod, Joan McMurray, Jean Kwasnicki, Sara Boke, Zeva Shalmy and Marilyn Porter.
In 1951 they moved on to Berkeley High, where they were joined by Nancy Cupit, Jane Lonergan, Ann Bradshaw and Jane Mills, who had gone to Willard Junior High.
By the time they all graduated from Berkeley High they were as thick as thieves.
In elementary school there was a season for every game: a season for jacks, a season for jump rope, a season for hopscotch, and so on.
In junior high they ice-skated, roller-skated, rode their Flexi Flyers, took in the Saturday matinees at the Oaks Theater (ticket price: 25 cents), held slumber parties, and got into mischief such as sneaking into the Claremont Hotel and sliding down the spiral fire escape in back.
High school was a different story.
"The turning point was when we turned 16 and everyone got their drivers' licenses," said Toni. "That meant we could go up to the hills and smooch with our boyfriends."
There is considerable debate, even to this day, over what was the best parking spot. Some liked Cragmont Rock. Others preferred Inspiration Point. Still others swore by "The Flats" on Grizzly Peak Boulevard.
"It had to happen in cars in those days," said Gail. " And nothing much happened!"
They graduated from Berkeley High in 1954. Then life happened. There were marriages and divorces, births and deaths - including several of their own number. But they never completely lost contact.
"We used to stay in touch by word of mouth, but email has just made everything blossom," said Mary.
In 1996 they held a big reunion to celebrate their collective 60th birthday. And they've been holding reunions at irregular intervals ever since.
Last Saturday they gathered again in Berkeley. They call themselves BHS - short for Berkeley High School, but also "Big Hearted Sisters" - and sisters is exactly what they are.
"We're no longer little girls thinking about boys," said Marilyn. "Been there, done that. Some of us have buried our husbands. The real strength of this groups is the emotional connection, and the love and support we share."
They graciously invited me to join the party, and they treated me like their kid brother. More than one told me I was "adorable."
Then they kicked me out. The final item on the agenda was strictly private. At the end of each reunion they arrange their chairs in a circle and, as Amy March said in Little Women, "We bare our souls and tell the most appalling secrets."
It was fun being Laurie, if only for a day.