Last week three of my oldest and dearest friends and I celebrated our birthdays together. Marilyn, Kristi and I met in elementary school. Sandy and I knew each other “before we were born!” Our mothers were sorority sisters in college. The four of us have stayed in touch for over sixty years and have shared many joyful celebrations, as well as heartbreaking losses. Now that we’re all grandmas we have even more to share.
We made arrangements to spend the day together and cap it off with a sleepover at The Hotel Vitale on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. We all agreed we wanted to walk around our old “hood” and reminisce about the “good old days.” We started our walk on the street where I grew up. Just as we crossed the street to my house, I spotted a car driving into the garage. As a man got out of the car, I said: “I grew up in this house! Are you the owner?”
Not only was he the owner, he was the man who bought the house from my parents in 1973. He asked if the four of us would like to come in. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. We walked up the long flight of stairs to the front door. I stood on the porch looking at my three friends in amazement. How could all these years have passed so quickly and yet here we were laughing and giggling like school girls again.
We walked into the living room and each one of us stared at the piano. It was still in the same corner where it stood forty years ago. Except for the furniture, the room looked the same. I wanted to sit down and just let all the memories wash over me. But I listened as my friends recalled slumber parties, lunches in the breakfast room, and my mom’s chaise lounge in her bedroom. I was so grateful to the owner (now a grandpa) for giving us such a wonderful gift at the start of our visit.
We set out down the hill to Kristi’s house and passed an empty garage we used to call the “old witch’s house,” because it always looked so dark and ominous in the thick fog. In the sunlight it seemed like a harmless shed with overgrown weeds, but in those days of Nancy Drew mysteries, our imaginations made it into something much more exciting.
As we walked down the grand Pacheco Stairway, a San Francisco landmark, we commented on the spectacular view of the homes on Twin Peaks and wondered if we ever noticed the view when we were growing up. I doubt it. I just remember trudging up those 100 steps on my way home from school and feeling like I would never get to the top.
Marilyn’s house was just a block over from Kristi’s and as we walked, we remembered the neighbors and friends who lived in all the houses. Marilyn’s mom was our Brownie and Girl Scout leader for six years. That brought up another round of stories and recollections. We stopped in front of West Portal Elementary School, where three of us attended, and reminisced about our favorite teachers and playing jump rope and dodge ball in the schoolyard.
We drove down to the Embarcadero and checked into our two adjacent rooms at the Hotel Vitale. When we told the desk clerk we were celebrating our birthdays, she congratulated all of us. A few hours later she sent up complimentary champagne and chocolates for our slumber party. Happy Hour in the hotel lounge turned into two incredibly happy hours of toasts: to our birthdays, to our friendship, to our beautiful hometown, and to how truly blessed we were to have grown up in such an innocent era of 45s, poodle skirts, Pee Chees, and drive-in movies.
Later, we walked along the Embarcadero, arm in arm, and watched the lights on the Bay Bridge come on like the strands of pearls we wore to our proms. In our hearts we were the same girls from the old neighborhood, carefree, no worries, and excited to get back to champagne, chocolate and several more hours of laughter and stories.