Rory-the-Dauntless (left), Jeff a.k.a. “Sunshine” (right), and me (bottom)
The Jeff-Effect kicked in shortly after I started 2nd Grade. At first, I didn’t know anyone at La Pluma School and barely said a word. But Jeff, nicknamed “Sunshine,” had “never met a man boy he didn’t like,” and naturally assumed everyone felt the same about him. He instantly adopted me as what a later generation would call his BFF.
Not only did Jeff banish my shyness, he became my new template for how to do school. Both for good—other kids loved my stories and laughed at my antics—and for evil—I spent a lot of time in the “I’m learning not to interrupt” corner, and even under the teacher’s desk (it was a thing in those days).
Along with Jeff, I acquired a second family: Paul, Jeff’s jazz-loving optometrist dad, Roberta “Bert,” Jeff’s suburban-bohemian mom, who treated us as intellectual equals (which I loved), and Jeff’s older brother and younger sister. Sleepovers and adventures ensued!
A short time later, I met a boy at the other end of the block. Apart from being frequently mistaken for “the Beaver” (Jerry Mathers), Rory was, in many ways Jeff’s opposite–he could have been nicknamed “Cloudy.” Rory was good-hearted (deeply so), but shy and hesitant. When he became flustered, he’d sometimes stutter and then become even more flustered (I based the young hero B’frona in The Wishing Map on him). But there was something in Rory that filled in the other missing part of me and so, along with Jeff, he completed our fearsome threesome. I now had two BFFs!
But Rory’s family was a different story. His stepfather Donald rarely smiled and mysteriously came and went. And his mother Pat, although young and pretty, seemed perpetually anxious to please her husband. When I slept over at Rory’s house, she’d tuck us in wearing a low-cut negligee (my first lesson in female anatomy), but it was for Donald, not us. Still, she was kind and patient–unlike Rory’s father. Rory often couldn’t come out to play because, like Cinderella, he was cleaning his half-sisters’ room (sweet girls and not to be blamed). Yet, for his labors Rory never seemed to receive any allowance (I gladly footed the bill from my paper-route money). Only years later did I learn that Rory had been horribly abused by the man he now calls “the Monster,” a serial adulterer and narcissist.
So, Jeff and Rory, thank you for the sunshine and the clouds. Jeff, you set free the sunshine in me. Rory, you showed me how to endure the worst (we still had a good time, didn’t we?) and never give up. By the way, I’m ashamed to admit that, for a time I called Rory my “second” best friend–juvenile thoughtlessness at its worst. I had two BFFs and loved them equally…
And I still do.