Erica Mullin was probably one of my best friends when I was in elementary school. Her grandparents were close family friends. I suppose these people were my parents’ version of framily. Rena and Don helped take care of me when I was a super tiny baby. Don worked for Meadow Gold Dairy and brought us milk and ice cream all the time. My Mom likes to tell a story about when she was in the hospital, recovering after my traumatic entry to this world. She received a huge, beautiful bouquet of flowers. All of the nurses oohed and awed. When my mom read the card she laughed and said “it’s from my milk man.” Which every one thought was funny. Rena and Don were like surrogate grandparents. Erica, their granddaughter, was the closest thing to a cousin that I had nearby.
For a while, Rena and Don’s daughter and granddaughter lived in a house on the hill just above Rena and Don. Erica practically lived at our house because my mom would end up taking care of all of us during the day while Erica’s mom was at work. We went every where together. Roller skating, movies, bike rides. Erica had the best toys. She had the Darth Vader case holding all of the Star Wars figures and Hungry Hippo. We traded plastic charms and played dress up with Katrina’s old disco clothes. Our families camped together on what seemed like every weekend. We would take over the RV section of Walnut Grove campground on Keystone Lake with potluck meals and hikes down to the lake to swim. We would spend forever watching a giant ant colony near the playground and hours swinging as high as we possibly could go on the playground swings. That playground had a great big metal swing set. I can still hear Rena warning me that I’d gone high enough and to take it down a notch.
Sometimes we’d all ride to the lake in Erica’s mom’s car. Me, Erica, and Janel, all crammed into the front seat of her mom’s El Camino. At least, I think it was an El Camino. Was there another model of car that looked like an El Camino? I don’t know, but we’d pack ourselves into that car with the windows rolled down because the air conditioning didn’t work and the radio blaring. The air conditioning may have been on the fritz, but the eight track worked just fine. I remember flying down back country roads with the wind blowing our hair all around and all of us singing at the top of our lungs to Neil Diamond’s Coming to America. We were practically glued together from heat and sweat. I can still feel Janel’s prickly leg hairs scratching the side of my right leg. I’ve memorized the motion of pulling hair free from my face as the wind forever twisted my long hair across my cheeks and eyes and mouth. “TODAY!” we’d all shout together.
Erica and her mom moved to Tulsa while I was still in elementary school. Tulsa wasn’t really that far away but the distance and her being a year older changed us from best friends to acquaintances. We drifted apart. Don retired from Meadow Gold and he and Rena upgraded their camper. They spent the rest of his life traveling south during the winter and when Rena settled down in Oklahoma City after Don passed away, the distance changed her relationship with my mom. They sort of drifted apart as well. Any time I hear Neil Diamond singing though, I remember that space in our time line when we were all together, before the great drift.