Once upon a time, in 1968, two little girls (one still in diapers) moved
with their parents from New Jersey to Wheaton, Maryland. They didn’t know
anyone who lived in Maryland, but their scientist dad had a new job at NIH,
and the four of them lived in a garden apartment not far from Bethesda,
where his office and lab were located.
Before long, their mom started to play bridge with other moms who lived
with their families in the garden apartments. She met one mom from
California who had three little girls, and the youngest was just a few
months older than one of her little girls. Their dad was an engineer and a
The two families and the five little girls got to be friends. They
befriended another family with a little girl, but her mom didn’t play
bridge. They were from Baltimore, but had recently returned from Montana,
where they’d lived near a Native American reservation where the dad had
been a doctor with the U.S. Public Health Service.
The families did lots of things together, often riding into “The District”
in the California family’s 1960 dark blue Chevy Nova station wagon. On the
Fourth of July, they went to watch the fireworks on the National Mall; in
the winter, they drove to see the National Christmas Tree, and in the
spring, the beautiful pink cherry blossoms. The little girls from New
Jersey loved to ride in the “way back” of the station wagon, look out the
back window, and wave to the drivers behind them. It was much more fun than
riding in their own black Chevy sedan with the “D.C. Last Colony” bumper
sticker on the back.
The girls were in Brownies and Girl Scouts together, and when they weren’t
in school or extra-curricular activities, they hung out together—playing
Monopoly, Yahtzee, and hopscotch, riding bikes with banana seats, and
sledding down snow-covered hills. The biggest girl, who could be very bossy
(and hated raisins), sometimes bossed the littlest one around. The
California family had a black cat named Troubles, and the New Jersey girls
were afraid of him, especially after he scratched one of them on the nose.
The Baltimore family had a parakeet whose cage sat on an old TV cart, and
the little girl with the scratched nose liked to push the cart around the
parakeet’s living room.
The New Jersey mom was a pre-school teacher at the JCC in Rockville, where
the littlest girl went to school. Since the rest of the girls’ school day
ended at lunchtime on Wednesdays (for teacher in-service training and
development), the Baltimore mom watched the New Jersey mom’s older girl
each Wednesday afternoon. The families pitched in to help out in other
ways, too, like when one little girl had eye surgery and another had her
tonsils out. (The little girl with the tonsils brought them home in a jar,
and they sat on her dresser for a very long time.)
When the families celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas together, there often
was homemade ice cream—from a hand-crank ice cream maker—for dessert. The
girls also ate a lot of Spaghetti-O’s and Butoni toaster pizzas, even
though the middles were always cold.
One year, when the Baltimore family
was away—probably in Baltimore—the New Jersey mom and dad planned a
Hawaiian-themed New Year’s eve party. For days beforehand, they cooked a
lot of chicken and pineapple to serve over rice to their guests and
decorated their front door with travel posters for Hawaii, full of people
wearing leis and hula skirts. Unfortunately, it snowed so hard that night,
only the California mom and dad, who could walk from their building to the
next, actually made it to the party. After the New Jersey girls were fast
asleep and all the leftover Hawaiian chicken and rice had been packed away,
the two moms and dads smoked marijuana—probably for the first time, and
maybe the only time—that the California dad had gotten from someone at the
school where he taught.
In 1972, the New Jersey family moved back to New Jersey, so the dad could
teach at Rutgers. Shortly afterward, the California family and the
Baltimore family each moved to a townhouse in the same complex as the
garden apartments. When the California family moved back to California,
they visited the New Jersey family on their way to the west coast. When the
young lady (she wasn’t a little girl anymore) in the Baltimore family
became bat mitzvah, the New Jersey family drove to Maryland for the simcha. They returned each summer to visit the Baltimore family,
who by this time had moved into a house in Silver Spring, and so the little girl who had the
eye surgery could continue to see the same eye doctor in Washington, D.C.
In between visits, the Baltimore and New Jersey moms talked on the phone
every Monday night—beginning at 11 p.m., when the rates went down.
In the summer of 1979, the New Jersey girls flew for the first time, when
the family traveled to Los Angeles to visit the California family in
Manhattan Beach. Together the two families visited Disneyland and Universal
Studios, before the New Jersey family took off in their rented Datsun to
visit San Diego, Ojai, and the Mohave Desert for a few days. Later that
same year, the Baltimore family adopted a little girl, and the older New
Jersey girl got to meet the baby only a few months later when she was in
Washington, D.C. to attend a model United Nations conference for high
school students. When the younger New Jersey girl attended law school in
Washington, D.C., she visited the Baltimore family often. Her sister
visited a few times when she was in Washington, D.C. for work.
Weddings, cross-country business trips, and Ma Bell kept the families
connected throughout the 1980s and 90s, but never did all three gather in
the same place at the same time. In 2002, the elder New Jersey girl, who
lived in Los Angeles at the time, spent a lot of time with the California
family in San Luis Obispo, while she got untangled from her marriage and
prepared to return to the east coast.
In 2010, the New Jersey mom died,
followed in 2013 by the Baltimore mom. We like to think that wherever they
are, they’re together in a place that includes plenty of outlet malls and
deep discount warehouses and that they’re riding around in a big ol’,
gas-guzzling Chevy Impala with lots of room in the back seat and the trunk
for whatever glassware, placemats, or other treasures they pick up.
When the pandemic hit, three generations of the California family’s
girls—sometimes joined by a fourth-generation toddler—and the New Jersey
and Baltimore girls began meeting weekly on Zoom for Bi-Coastal Happy Hour
(BCHH). When the littlest girl, living in New York City, announced a
business trip to Ojai, California, plans for an in-person reunion kicked
For a few days in mid-August, the California mom, the six little girls, and
a daughter of one of the California girls had a magical time together in
Ojai—catching up, celebrating, remembering, reminiscing, and planning for
the next reunion.
The end… but not really.