Familiar pink birds take wing, carrying love between friends from childhood

08/02/2014 9:17 PM

08/04/2014 7:01 PM

It was mid-spring of our sophomore year in college. She drove her gray Chevy Chevette from her Connecticut school to mine just south of Boston. Our road trip target that weekend: Cape Cod.

Oh, sure, it was chilly and not everything was open, but off-season rates were very tempting to college students. She made the drive just because we needed an adventure together.

We had been the best of friends since we were 5. My family moved to a different town and high school after our freshman year, but I would talk with her on the phone frequently — long calls about nothing except staying connected.

But something happened during that weekend road trip that would bind us together even more.

Something would happen on The Clam Strip.

Despite the way it looks, Cape Cod isn’t attached to Massachusetts by anything except a couple bridges over a canal. Back in the day, getting to those bridges required a drive down a stretch of road lined with touristy shops and vacation food joints. Towels, floaties, lawn art and fried seafood shacks. This area no longer exists in its former delightfully tacky glory, thanks to a highway, but I always thought of it as “The Clam Strip.”

After a weekend of getting wind burn from walking cold beaches, disappointment that most everything was closed but agreement that it was still better than a weekend on our respective campuses, our road trip ended on Sunday afternoon.

But first we wanted a souvenir of our time. We found an open shop on The Clam Strip and discussed our options. T-shirts? Shot glasses?

Too ordinary. Not us. Our friendship had grown though elementary school, middle school and two separate high schools — we cherished each other. We were the sisters that nature hadn’t provided either of us.

“How about that?” Debbie pointed.

I looked.

Bold. Quirky. Impressive.

Us.

“What would we do with them?”

“I dunno, put them in our dorm rooms?”

And so it was. Two boxed sets of plastic pink lawn flamingoes were purchased from a bored clerk who was probably anxious to get the obnoxious college students out of her store.

Once back in my dorm, I inserted the metal legs into the underside of the pink birds and displayed them in the window of the room I shared with an exceptionally tolerant girl from Long Island.

“Why do you have lawn flamingos in your window?” other students would ask.

“Just because I can.”

The birds flew with me as I transferred schools, graduated to the grown-up world, moved from apartment to apartment, house to house. The other day I decided that they were entirely too faded and spray painted them, and several more that have joined the flock, a deep purple.

Just because I can.

Over the years, Debbie and I have sent each other flamingo ... things, tchotchkes. A mug, a shirt, a Christmas ornament. Mostly shared for our birthdays, but sometimes just because.

Recently I was having a horrible day in the middle of a challenging week preceded by a complicated month. I had commissioned Bekah to embroider a flamingo-adorned tea towel that matched Debbie’s kitchen colors.

It had been sitting, finished, on my TO DO pile for almost a month. I finally stuck it in a padded envelope with her Connecticut address on it, scribbled a short note and snapped a picture.

“This is headed your way. Just because,” I texted.

A text came back mere seconds later.

“And I happen to be packing up one for you, too.”

A week later mine arrived: flamingo salt and pepper shakers.

Just because.

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.

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