About 8 p.m. on Sept. 14, 1971, I was standing in a phone booth on Forest Avenue in Knoxville making a call to Mary Pat to wish her Happy Birthday.
It’s just another of those distinct memories I have retained for no particular reason, but I remember being extremely happy because my boyfriend was standing outside the phone booth waiting for me.
Mary Pat and I have known each other since fourth grade when I first moved to Knoxville, though we weren’t friends then. She was just the girl with platinum blond hair, who talked incessantly in a husky voice that made the 9-year-old sound like she’d been raised on smoky scotch and Chesterfields.
She wasn’t the most popular girl in class — that honor fell to Molly G. — but she was a force to be reckoned with. By seventh grade, she was the one hosting slumber parties, flirting with boys, practicing cheers in her driveway, yearning for her driver’s license. She was all geared up to be a teenager, while I was still clinging to childhood for all it was worth.
Unfortunately I was thrown from preteen rehearsal to full-fledged high school when we moved to Atlanta the next year. I saw Mary Pat once in the intervening two-and-a-half years — at my friend Diane’s house where M.P. stopped by still wearing the bridesmaid’s dress she wore in her sister’s wedding that morning.
When we moved back to Knoxville months later, I fell in with Mary Pat and her “crowd,” but I can’t remember exactly why. Within a short time she and I were “best friends.”
There couldn’t be two girls less alike. She was full of energy, talkative, athletic, up for anything, adaptable, outgoing. I was none of those things. She was a cheerleader; I was the cheerleader’s friend. So, I took a backseat to her through 10th and 11th grades, and that was fine with me.
By Christmas break our senior year, I’d had it with my life. Everything was changing, and I wanted to change, too. I’m not sure this is typical, but I remember telling Mary Pat, I was tired of what we were doing, I wanted to be a hippie. Over Christmas break, I swapped wool slacks for blue jeans, put up my contact lenses and eyeliner and bought a pair of moccasins. Mary Pat and I strung beaded bracelets and necklaces, and found a new group of friends.
Looking back, I realize that may not have been our best decision, but the next few years were an awful lot of fun.
When we were 20, her parents moved out of state. She followed not long after and enrolled in nursing school, where she found her true calling.
Somehow we kept in touch, and I served as a bridesmaid in her wedding. She was a bridesmaid in mine.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, she became one of my biggest cheerleaders. She’d had lots of practice.
Friday I wished Mary Pat Happy Birthday via Facebook post. Technology has changed, but my best wishes for my friend remain the same as 41 years ago, when I slipped a dime into a pay phone and heard that familiar husky voice say, “Hello.”
Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at email@example.com.