I met Christie and Emily in 1965 in Intermediate Girls at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan. We’ve been friends ever since. I moved up to High School Girls in 1967. They both remained in the Intermediate Division, knowing that they would be leads in the Operetta; and so they were. I wanted the freedom that came with the older division, as well as more intense course work.
That summer, a new girl came to camp. My friends told me about Valerie, a beautiful singer from Traverse City, the largest city near camp. They all became instant friends and I walked across camp to my former division and met her. I, too, was captivated. All of us were in High School Girls in 1968. Valerie and I were in Drama, Choir and Operetta together. We spent hours together every day. By the summer of 1969, we were best friends and inseparable. We were like two peas in a pod. One evening, when she and her boyfriend were thrown out of main camp and sent back to their cabins, separated by a highway and state park, for being too physically close (camp had rigid rules around sexual encounters – the expression was, “Camp frowns” – they meant it), I followed Valerie back to the division for solidarity. She called Joe in his division on the one pay phone, just to stay in touch. She was an intoxicating mixture of intelligence, sexuality, playfulness and spirit.
As camp drew to a close in 1969, Valerie pulled a ring off her finger. We both loved jewelry and both our last names began with the letter “S”. She gave me that gold ring inscribed with our common monogram. I wore it every day thereafter until I became engaged and replaced it with my engagement ring. As you can see, I still have it and cherish it.
Her father was in the aerospace industry and work took the family to Wichita, KS. A group of camp friends met in Washington, DC over New Year’s in 1969 to celebrate the new year. My father allowed me to go, knowing that I’d be going out-of-state for college. This was my first airplane trip; I needed to learn how to navigate airports on my own. I met up with Emily and Valerie. I roomed with Valerie at a friend’s in DC. Our gang visited the Folger Shakespeare Library, Arlington National Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial just as the sun set on the Capitol on the cusp of the new year. It was an exquisite sight.
Over Easter, Emily and I went to Wichita to visit Valerie. We goofed around by day, palled around with her boyfriend and some of his friends by night. We ate Easter dinner at her father’s country club. This was a new experience for me, but I had good manners and tried to fit in. Her mother played piano and Valerie had a lovely voice, much better than mine. We sang around the piano. Valerie went off to college at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK. I lost track of her at that point.
Christie and I came east to Brandeis, Emily stayed in New York at Manhattan College of Music. We all remained close friends. Christie stayed in Boston for a year after graduating. In 1975, we decided to go back and visit camp for the first time in five years. We stayed at my parents for a day or two, rented a car and drove up to Interlochen, staying in her aunt’s cabin. We had such a marvelous time that we vowed to make an annual event of it.
Quite by chance one August while staying at my parents’, out of the blue, Valerie called. I hadn’t heard from her in years. I was thrilled. We have always had the ability to pick up right where we left off. It is remarkable and remains true to this day. She had a slight accent now. “Yep, I’m an Oakie now”. She was married to Jon and they lived outside of Dallas. She was a drama teacher, having gotten a Masters in psychology too. He worked for a company that sold replacement joints to orthopedic surgeons. I told her that Christie was with me and we were on our way to camp. What a coincidence that she found me at my parents. We exchanged information and have never been out of touch since. We called or wrote letters, shared our news. Through the ensuing years, we would visit occasionally.
By 1984, Valerie worked in sales for a book publisher and I was in software sales. She came to visit us in Boston. We had a great time shopping, dining, just running around like friends will. Here we are on the patio of our Back Bay condo.
After David was born in 1985, she sent a huge box a children’s books, cardboard books, books for the bath, one of the best presents I received. I spent hours reading to both my children as soon as they could pay attention and those books were cornerstones of the collection.
I visited her in Texas several years later, after Jeffrey was born and Dan could get a day off work so I could fly on a Friday. We went into downtown Dallas to Dealey Plaza and stood on the grassy knoll where the crowd stood that witnessed JFK’s assassination. We went into the Book Depository Building, which by that time was a museum. I looked out the window where Lee Harvey Oswald waited with his rifle. I’ve been obsessed with this event my whole life, coming as it did just after our disastrous move to Huntington Woods, with the clique of mean girls in my new school, my mother’s complete mental breakdown, my father turning 50 the day after the assassination with our somber birthday/house warming party. My mother was bedridden and couldn’t attend. Those national events are inextricably intertwined with my personal moments of unhappiness.
I somehow thought that visiting the hallowed ground where history took place would give me some insight, a moment of clarity. I wrote a treatise in the visitor’s book. But I did not have an “a-ha” moment. I hashed it through with Valerie. It was good to be with such an old friend, someone who knew me so well. Valerie’s husband was recovering from a brain tumor. It gives one a sense of perspective. He was attentive and a wonderful host. She was her usual charming self, still attentive to his needs. They are a good couple. They had a young son. We all went for a dip in their hot tub later in the evening. Their son was sassy. He would get into figure skating, which became the major focus of Valerie’s life for many years – taking him to lessons, competitions, coaching and all that goes with that world. She and her husband love to travel and used to plan several fabulous trips each year. She gave us great advice when we went to DisneyWorld and traveled through the national parks. She knows how to do everything just right.
Emily became an opera singer and traveling to see her perform gave our gang other chances to see one another, but always as a group. Our next visit was also not alone. We had a large camp reunion in 1995. Christie received the Interlochen Distinguished Alumni Award and we all descended on camp for the operetta. It was Valerie’s first (and only) time back since the summer of 1969. It was wonderful to all be together again. We all care deeply about one another.
Valerie had a large 50th birthday party in 2002 and invited all of us. Emily was singing somewhere, but Christie and I went. There was a lovely dinner party. Valerie seated me close to her and her family, as she knew that I was a stranger in Dallas. Always thoughtful, the consummate hostess, she insured everyone enjoyed themselves at her party.
Now it was her turn to visit us again, and she did. This time, we only spent a day around the Boston area. I took her out to historic Concord to see Louisa May Alcott’s home (Orchard House). We happened to be there on the wedding day of the oldest sister, Abigail (Meg in the book) and her actual wedding dress was laid out on her bed. Valerie and I both love history and theater so this was an unexpected treat. The next day, we went to my Martha’s Vineyard home. It was before Memorial Day, so very quiet, a perfect time to stroll around the village, chat, just be together. Since we enjoy each other’s company so much, this was a perfect retreat.
We would chat from time to time, but I was very busy by this time. My kids took up a tremendous amount of time and Dan used to travel constantly, though he had recently retired. For years I had no one to help with my children. Finally, we planned a true get-away in April of 2008, a trip to Lake Austin Spa. Valerie is a great planner, one of many reasons we get along so well. She called them, got their brochure (and sent me one as well). By booking early, we got extra credits for spa services. We shared a room, we planned what services and classes we would take: Pilates (my first encounter with it; now my favorite form of exercise), Tai Chi, yoga, a massage, facial, make-up application. Meals were included. Again, I flew into Dallas where Valerie met me. Jon took us out to dinner and we had a relaxing evening at their home, then took off for Austin early the next morning.
Lake Austin Spa is beyond the city on a pretty piece of land and lake, though not much space to roam, which was a shame, as we would have liked to wander around. The grounds were beautiful. One afternoon we swam in their pool and lounged poolside; delightful. We shared a lovely room and did not have to dress for dinner. We could wear bathrobes if we liked (but we didn’t). Food was light and healthy, though we had been advised that the portions were so small that we might want to eat double just to be satisfied. We took fruit and popcorn back to our room each night and got a DVD of a current movie to watch in the comfort our lodging. One night we watched, “There Will Be Blood”, another, “Juno”, then George Clooney in “Michael Clayton”. I had seen them, but was happy to watch them again. We just relaxed and settled in. It was like a sleep-over with a best friend. No one cared how we looked.
Late afternoons there were lectures, some more interesting than others. This was at the height of the “Eat, Pray, Love” craze. Women brought their dog-eared copies to hear “Richard from Texas”. Neither Valerie nor I had read the book, so we had no idea what we were in for. This swaggering dude in cowboy hat, boots, turquoise bolero tie walked in, an older gray-haired man. He, evidently, was a character in her book and knew Elizabeth Gilbert personally. The women swooned over him. He gave little amusing tidbits about her and assured these women that she would marry the man she met in India. The women swarmed him for his autograph. This was all a bit much for Valerie and me. We were bemused and wandered out to go to the bathroom, which was small. I waited until she finished. It was my turn. I froze when a pair of cowboy boots appeared in the bottom of the stall next to me. Are you kidding me? This dude can’t read that sign and realize that he’s in the Lady’s Room? I remained silent, waited for him to use the one sink. Valerie patiently waited outside. She saw what had happened and we roared with laughter after he was out of earshot!
The following photo was after our makeup session. I liked the makeup so much that I bought most of what they used on me and continue to order it from a website, some 13 years later. It was the first mineral makeup I’d ever encountered.
We drove through Austin on our way back to Plano. She showed me the UT campus, which is huge. We got out at the State Capitol and wandered through. Photos of all the governors hung on the walls. The current one at the time was Rick Perry. No comment. Dinner that night was back with Jon. The next morning it was back to the airport and a final farewell from Valerie. I haven’t seen her since. I miss her, We talk about an encore trip when we are released from COVID.
I never miss her birthday, which she always appreciates. She started doing tax returns, at first just for friends, but her practice grew. So she was out of touch during tax season, which stretched on. Then she and Jon would go on long, fabulous vacations.
A while ago, Jon had a medical emergency while they were on Malta, just before heading off on a cruise. It has changed their lives. No more travel. Valerie does not complain. She acknowledges that they have seen what she’d like to see and have lived a good life. She doesn’t mind staying close to home now, though finds COVID restrictions confining. She keeps busy in other ways. She is Jon’s care giver. She is an ardent gardener and takes wonderful care of all her plantings, some of which she has nurtured for years. When it is cold at night, she covers them, then uncovers them so they can breathe and catch the Texas sun. She waters and prunes them, sweeps the deck, takes pride in the beauty of her surroundings.
I am in constant touch during this record-breaking cold spell. She was without power for several days and I was worried about her. Her sister had power and they stayed with her, so remained safe, but worried about their own property. The cold spell has carried on too long. Her pool froze, Jon fell and was rushed to the hospital. Real-time consequences. At least she has been safe during this tragedy that I watched unfold on the news.
She used to stay in touch by texting when she felt like it. She is spontaneous and I know she cares. We say a lot in our texts.
Then COVID hit. Now she is really home. She and her older sister, who lives four blocks away, take care of each other. We have much longer text conversations, much more frequently. She enjoys the old photos I come up with. And a few months ago, at her request, I added her to the list of people to whom I send these stories each week. She says she is learning about me in a much deeper sort of way, and I am about her. I’ve sent her old stories, based on our conversations.
I learned that her father was twice a Golden Glove boxing champion, a scratch golfer and attended college on a basketball scholarship, “not bad for a street kid from Pittsburgh”, she rejoined. I knew that her aunt had been Andy Warhol’s prom date and long ago asked if there were any photos, but those seemed to have been discarded when her aunt passed away.
Since I haven’t seen her in so long, she sent a recent photo; still as beautiful as ever.
She always responds with an email and we have lengthy chats. These stories prompt an exchange of ideas and cause us to communicate at least once a week, usually more often. I asked her permission before writing this story, which she granted. Two peas in a pod. We could go years and pick things up right where we left off, but we longer have to. That’s the beauty of my friendship with Valerie. Unshakeable.
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.