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lost and found
toads, popsicles and the boy next door
by juli mccarthy

I was completely bored online yesterday afternoon, and on a whim, I started punching names into an Internet search engine. I was delighted when one of the names, that of a long-lost childhood friend, yielded results.

This long-lost friend is one I haven't talked to in nearly twenty years. As soon as the search engine came up with a valid e-mail address for his name, I dropped him a line and then sat in front of my computer monitor, completely immersed in old memories. Now, mind you, this boy and I met the day before my fifth birthday - he was going on seven. I had just moved into the house next door to his, and we forged an immediate friendship based on nothing more than proximity. I moved away again only two years later, so all my memories of this boy are from a very brief time. Yet the memories of him are the clearest ones I have of my entire childhood.

This is the boy who taught me that I could remember which hand was my right one by facing my garage and remembering that the light was on the right. (To this day, I keep a mental picture of that garage in my head whenever I am given driving directions.) After school, he ordered me to walk half a block behind him, because it simply would not do for him to be seen with a girl, but once we were out of the immediate school area and out of sight of the schoolyard bullies, he'd wait for me on the corner and walk the last two blocks home with me. When I fell down the stairs at school and knocked my two front teeth loose, he put aside his mortification at being seen with me and dried my tears with
his shirtsleeve.

When I had my tonsils out, this boy came to see me in the hospital and brought with him a huge bag of coloring books and an orange popsicle. He taught me that even though worms feel slimy, they were worth catching anyway because they look really cool under a microscope, and he was the one who told me that toads don't really give you warts, even if they pee on you.

He took piano lessons, I took dance. When he saw me dancing to Donny Osmond music, he rolled his eyes, sat down at his piano and introduced me to Mozart and Beethoven, planting the seed for what would become a lifelong love of classical music.

When I got stuck in a tree I had unwisely climbed, it was he who ran for my father to rescue me. He tried in vain to teach me how to jump on a pogo stick, and when I proved to be a miserable failure at that, he willingly lent me his "Hippity-Hop" inflatable bouncing toy so I could still play. When other boys accused him of the heinous crime of having a "girlfriend" one summer afternoon, he stood up to them all and kissed me lightly on the cheek right in front of them.

Hours we spent together in his basement and bedroom were filled with puzzles and Colorforms sets and the Mary Poppins soundtrack. We read Peanuts comic strips out loud to one another. We spun our bodies into dizzy little tornadoes in the front yard and then fell gasping onto the grass to the watch the sky swirl. Our friendship was utterly innocent. Far too young to even be interested in exploring the mysteries of the opposite sex, we simply enjoyed one another's company unreservedly.

Now that I am a mother, I can't even count the number of times the memory of this boy has come back to me.

My daughter is close friends with our current boy-next-door, and like my own childhood friend, he is a serious and thoughtful boy. It truly makes my heart sing to see them in the backyard together, their heads touching as they examine a freshly-caught insect or confer with one another about whether stars are more like lightbulbs or rocks.

"Did you know, Mommy," she asked me one day, "that frogs and toads don't really give you warts? David says so."

I checked my e-mail last night. In my mailbox was a note from this boy, now a man, living hundreds of miles away from me. He was happy to hear from me. He still likes Mozart, and I still prefer Beethoven. Our lives have gone in very different directions, but the warmth that comes from having once been best friends is still there.

I read somewhere that psychologists think a child's personality is most fully influenced between the ages of four and seven. What happens to that child in that time will become the roots of the adult character, influencing everything from taste in music to deeply-held moral convictions. If this is true, I owe a lot of what I am to the boy next door.

Author's note: this was written as a writing contest entry some time ago. I think the topic was supposed to be something like "what the Internet has done for me." As I was writing, it turned into something completely different, so it never got entered and has been sitting in my hard drive for awhile. I've never been happy with the ending -- somehow the entire tone shifted into both awkward and preachy-sounding, and I couldn't get it quite right. Criticism is welcome, and appreciated.


A whole gallon of attitude, poured into a pint container.

more about juli mccarthy


let go
by juli mccarthy
topic: writing
published: 8.23.05

traveling backwards
riding the trains
by juli mccarthy
topic: writing
published: 11.11.04


sarah ficke
10.4.02 @ 2:55p

Colorforms! I'd forgotten about colorforms!

This column reminds me of the boy I was best friends with when I was 5. The worst part of having chicken pox was that he couldn't come over and play.

Great job, Juli.

juli mccarthy
10.5.02 @ 1:44a

Thanks, Sarah. When my boy next door had chicken pox, I trick-or-treated for him. And I didn't remember that until I read about your chicken pox!

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