My family pulled the Pontiac into Marin County’s Bel Aire Estates driveway in 1956, and Helen watched us unload our car. She was my age and we grew up together. Both Helen and I had brothers named Brian, Brian Brown and Brian White, and they are gone.
Helen and I sang to our baby dolls during the summer, while bathing them in a galvanized bucket in her backyard. Ellen lived across the street, and we became a fundamental threesome, running through my front lawn sprinkler in our underpants. The three of us played ‘two against one,’ one of us was an outsider. For my first overnight at my house, I asked my mom to send them home, because I felt left out.
We attended each other’s birthday parties, and a super-eight movie of my fifth shows the three of us swinging on my backyard swing set. We dressed in frilly pastel party dresses with ribbons in our hair. Both blonde, Ellen and Helen squint up at the camera while I blow out birthday cake candles, with my brown hair braided on top of my head like a little German girl.
Helen’s mom drove us to Tam High’s swimming pool in her 1956 Chevy, listening to KEWB hits along the way. We held our breath for tea parties, smiling through the chlorine, dried our bodies on the wet concrete pool deck, laughing and singing, standing under the girl’s locker room shower heads, pretending Tam’s campus was our mansion.
Helen and I snuck out at night and climbed fencetops, and I’ve blogged about that before. We pretended to be Miwok children, at home in hills above our houses.
Helen kept her roller skate key, nostalgia from skating on uneven squares of concrete sidewalk. We rode bicycles unsupervised around the neighborhood.
We walked down Blackfield to the toy store, The last time Helen and I talked, she reminded me that I kept us from climbing into a stranger’s car down at the toy store. I said no, so she didn’t go, and was annoyed, but claimed I probably saved her life.
My parents drove us over Mt.Tamalpais to Stinson Beach, and stopped at the top of Pan Toll, so carsick Helen could throw up. Once we got there, we body surfed all day long.
I smoked marijuana with Helen, and she sang “had a date with a pretty ballerina.” I thought her voice was the most beautiful I ever heard in my life.
We grew up, lost touch, went different directions in different towns, but childhood counted for the three of us.
Helen died yesterday. She was the first to go, and we’ll follow, because she always was the brave one.