I remember once when Toni (short for Antonia) and I were walking up the lane behind her house. It was the summer of grade seven and I was in my tomboy phase. I, sporting short hair a la Jodi Foster, wore cutoff jean shorts and a shirt with stripes on the sleeves and a number on the front. I can't remember what Toni wore but it was no doubt more feminine than what I was wearing. It wouldn't have mattered anyway because people were starting to say she looked like Brooke Shields with her big blue eyes, long wavy hair and dark eyebrows.
Some boys were perched on the rock wall along Herridge Lane, and we walked by them without looking. We had walked a little further when one of them called out in a sing-song voice, "Toni's got a boyfriend!" It took me a few seconds to register exactly what they had meant by that. Either they truly thought I was a boy, or they were trying to let me know I looked like one. That wouldn't have surprised me. Kids were always letting each other know how to be socially acceptable. I started dressing more like a girl after that.
Toni and I have been friends since we were six. In fact one of my early posts is all about her and her family, who immigrated from Zambia when Toni was four years old. (The post is called 'Zambian Dreams'.) Toni was a dreamy little person when I met her. She loved big words and writing stories, and we spent hours making paper dolls, real doll clothes, cakes in her Easy-bake oven, and spending her allowance on ice-cream cones. Our friendship waxed and waned over the teen years as she stuck to her purpose of doing well in school, at synchronized swimming, and various creative projects, and I, well, concentrated on other things more socially inclined. If we had both known and understood the terms 'introvert' and 'extrovert' perhaps we would have avoided some of the pitfalls of being two opposite personalities. We sorted it all out eventually, though and have been dedicated friends all along.
We had other friends, too and we had a good group by grade nine or ten (ages 14-15 for my European friends). Val, Rachel, Tanja, Toni and I wove in and out of each others' lives and still do. In our later teen years and early twenties we began to go our seperate ways to college, some of us marrying young. We now all have families and successful careers (or at least they all do) and I am proud to be able to call them my friends. In about grade ten or eleven, when kids were starting to be able to aquire drivers' licenses, we added new friends from neighbouring communities to our expanding group. Several boys from the Slocan Valley began to come to our parties at Mike Bean's house, to our high school dances, and to generally be seen on the streets of our hometown. Most of these kids were children of alternative lifestyle types - many dodgers of the American draft during the Vietnam war, and others just people who had looked for and found a spread-out community along the meandering Slocan River where they could live peacefully and independantly.
During our first year at the community college, Toni and I made friends with Jakob and Kai, both hippie kids from the Valley. We spent a year hanging out together as a foursome . I remember we would all lie on pillows in Toni's room and talk about life, people, and the universe in general. Sometimes we would drive out to Kai's place in winter and spend an hour in their outdoor wood heated sauna. Laquered pictures covered the walls of the wooden outbuilding and we would sit on benches sweating in the moist, eucalyptus scented heat that was created by ladling water onto the hot woodstove. When we couldn't take the heat any longer we would go out into the snow and visit the donkey behind the fence to cool off. That was a good year, an innocent time, and several years later Toni married a Slocan Valley friend of Jakob and Kai's.
Several years ago, when Toni was doing her Master's degree in Creative Writing at a university in Australia, she wrote the first draft of a novel about a group of friends who meet for a memorial, ten years after they graduate from high school. She sent me the manuscript two years ago to read (and enjoy!) and this spring it has been published by Thistledown Press, a Canadian publisher. Never Going Back is Toni's second book, but her first novel. It is set in Nelson, British Columbia, our real hometown, and although it is not about any of Toni's friends in particular and the events are purely fictional, I like to think that it is, in a way, about all of us in our small town group, a generation ago.
Toni has just started a blog which you can find at http://abanyard.blogspot.com/ to promote her books and share bits and bobs about being a writer and a new mother at the same time. You can also find it on my blog roll, and if you do visit her there, you will find a photo of Toni and I in her back yard as thirteen-year olds, dressed like twins with the beautiful Kootenay Lake as a backdrop.