I soon found out that Joyce was a year and a half older than me. Unfortunately, she was cursed with extraordinary youthful looks. A youthful appearance is great after the age of thirty-five, but looking eternally fifteen when she was in her late twenties was sometimes a little embarrassing. Joyce was a wife, mother, and business owner, but she had trouble getting waited on in the grocery store. The clerks often thought she was the daughter of the customer in front of her, and would pass her over for the next adult in line.
The two of us became closer than sisters over the next few years, and our kids regarded one another as cousins. We did almost everything together, and helped one another through those early years with young children and small bank accounts.
I remember once when my second daughter, Beverley, was about eighteen months old, and I was about eight and a half months pregnant with my son, I was exhausted, so I put Beverley to bed and locked myself in my room for a good cry and possibly a nap. By the time she was old enough to stand up; there wasn’t a crib on earth that could hold her. She could scale over the side of her bed faster than a Marine at boot camp. Beverley hoisted herself over the crib rails, toddled to my bedroom door, threw herself on the floor, stuck her cherub little face under the crack and screamed bloody murder. I was so overwrought; I did not want to open the door and possibly hurt my precious little one out of frustration. I covered my head with a pillow and just let both of us cry. Joyce heard the baby howling all the way over at her house and came over to see what was wrong. She knocked at my door, but when I did not answer, she came in, analyzed the situation, picked up Beverley, and took her back to her house. She did not judge me, or scold me, or call the nice men in the little white coats. She just loved me, and I don’t know who I would have been without her living next door.
Both of us struggled financially. I can’t count the number of times that the two of us combined our resources just to get through dinner. She would have noodles and canned tomatoes in the cupboard, and I would have a little hamburger and a couple of cans of green beans. Between the two of us we had enough to feed both of our families.
We not only shared our food, but we also sometimes split the housework. I hated to fold clothes. To this day, the very thought of fifteen thousand different little piles of baby socks, training pants, tiny milk-stained t-shirts, lacy ruffled tights, and sleepers with a dozen little snaps that only the most skilled engineer can figure out makes my stomach hurt. Seriously, the same washer that fits only five pair of adult jeans can hold seventy five thousand teeny tiny baby socks, of which it eats at least fifteen per load. Joyce liked folding clothes, but she hated to clean the bathroom. I enjoyed cleaning bathrooms, so sometimes we swapped toilets for laundry. We also got into reading to one another. She came over and read aloud to me while I did my housework, and I read to her while she did hers.
We had so many things in common: She had four kids. I eventually had four kids. Both of us were stay-home mommies. Both of us had a hard time making ends meet. We were genuinely happy, but at the same time, secretly discontent. Both of us had big imaginations and we dreamed of life beyond a doublewide trailer.