Yearbook picture: the author (center) and her friend Liz Roper (far right)

Elizabeth Roper Marcus, an… I was going to say old friend, but… a friend since first grade, emailed me last month. I hadn’t heard from her in ages, but just her initials were enough to send me on a little travel through time. Nice to know there are some places you can still go that don’t involve an airport security officer peering through your belongings on a TV screen.

Liz and I go back all the way to Howdy Doody, watched on a tiny black-and-white TV screen (much like the ones that those security officers gaze at endlessly). Except, as I remember, her parents didn’t allow her to watch TV – until PBS was born.

Liz paid attention. I was a philistine. How do I know? We went to the same orthodontist, Dr. Sved. One day, braces all tightened up and throbbing, we did the Awful. We didn’t return directly to school. We went… (shhhh) we went to…. (seriously, don’t tell anyone)… to the Guggenheim Museum.

It was new. Extraordinary. A silo full of art with a breathtaking ramp that made my heart race. Or maybe that can be attributed to the fact that I had never done anything wrong—on purpose, anyway. I was the good girl and here I was with my best friend, playing hooky. Looking at art. ART! We rode the elevator to the top of the ramp, we started down.

I was terrified we’d get caught and wanted to race down, get it over with. Liz was oblivious. She stopped at almost every painting. And identified each picture without looking at the little sign. Klee. Mondrian. Modigliani. Pollock. Picasso. You know the group. But I didn’t.

“Yeah-but… how do you know?” I kept asking.

“These boxes, those lines, that long face…”

Back in school at that very moment, Mrs. Corby would be teaching Ninth Grade History.  Like this: 20 nice girls sitting compliantly at tidy desks as she dictated outlines. Yup. That’s it. For four years. And it was a good school for which our parents paid dearly.

Yet here we were, two children: a committed teacher, a stunned student.

I was scared of Liz’s father. He banned all the good TV shows. He told me once, when I was even younger and Liz’s guest at their weekend house, that I had not been Liz’s first choice of guest—the other girls were busy. He was also my dentist. He wore Mickey Mouse space shoes and I can hear him saying, “Don’t move; you don’t want me to hurt you with the drill.” He was honest, you’ve got to give him that. He gave Liz a way to look at the world and clearly she loved him.

Here’s what Liz wrote to me last month. ”I have a little piece in Tuesday’s New York Times Science Section that I thought you might enjoy, given that you knew the subject so well.  Here is the link.”

I hope that someday, no matter how difficult I appear to them, my children will write so fondly of me.

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  • b. elliott August 18, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Such an evocative memory. You have prompted me to send a long overdue e-mail to my great friend from kindergarten, now living in Alaska. Thanks!