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 college professor.
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.)
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 in.
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.