One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible.
--Henry Brooks Adams, 1838-1918
Remember the time that Toni got that gorgeous guy on the gymnastics team, Frank Sinclair, to go to the beach with her at night? And then what does he do? He takes a football! Everybody else is under a blanket, making out, and Toni is throwing a football back and forth in the dark. God.
And you remember that time, with the ironing ? When Florene got us that service project to help that family whose house had burned down? We ironed for 10 hours!
Or the cheer, remember, at the games? "Hit him in the right knee! Hit him in the left knee! We nee, we nee, we need a touchdown!"
Then there was the funeral, when Janet's husband was killed. She was only 33 then. We were all only 33 then. But remember? We even had a good time then. Janet was laughing. Then she felt guilty.
And the vow. We're never going to forget that. How old were we then? 17. God, can you believe we were ever 17 years old? We were sitting in the cafeteria, all of us at our table near the back. And it was June 6, 1966--6/6/66--and when we realized that, we said that from then on, wherever we happened to be, we would get together on 7/7/77. And we did that. And now, it's 8/8/88 and we're here. All of us together, all nine of us. And we never doubted that we would be.
This is forever.
Toni, Janet, Sandy, Lauralee, Carole, Lynn, Cindy, Delfina and Carol. So far their last names have changed a collective total of 18 times what with all the husbands, ex and otherwise, along the way.
Carole's been married the longest, since 1969, and to the same man. Most of the other girls--that's what they still call themselves--got married within a year after they all graduated from Magnolia High School in Anaheim. The year was 1966 and the school was almost brand new then. They were in the school's third graduating class and when they marched up to get their diplomas, they were all wearing gold robes.
But it was even earlier, 25 years this fall, that the girls became The Girls.
Florene Pebley, a.k.a. Mama P, thought that a Tri-Hi-Y club would be a good way for her stepdaughter, Sandy, to meet some friends after they had just moved to the area. So she offered to organize one, and the girls, all nine of them, joined up. They called it Y-Beta-Phi and they worked liked crazy to become the best club around. There were hours and hours of community service work and lots of meetings. The year they graduated they were named Anaheim's YMCA Club of the Year.
Through it all, they had a blast. It was good clean fun. They didn't smoke, they didn't drink and they wouldn't have known marijuana from oregano. The naughtiest they ever got was sneaking out during their slumber parties to wrap some unsuspecting classmate's yard in toilet paper. And they loved Chinese fire drills. They'd get out of the car at a stop light and run around it, hooting and screaming, until the light changed. Sometimes Janet and Lauralee would climb inside the trunk.
But something else happened with The Girls. They never let go. They've made new friends, married, divorced, started careers and, among them, given birth to 14 children. Cindy's gone the farthest afield, to Tucson, and the others have scattered throughout Southern California.
Their paths have diverged and the personalities they've developed are as different from each other as sweet and sour, yin and yang. But the girls' friendship, the bond they cemented as Y-Beta-Phi's original nine members, has only grown stronger. They are all parts of a whole.
The S.S. Azure Seas is berthed at San Pedro Harbor, its engines warming for the start of a three-day pleasure cruise to Catalina and Ensenada, and Michael the piano player is tinkling out his rendition of the Carole Bayer Sager-Burt Bacharach tune "That's What Friends Are For."
Encircling a bar table cluttered with tulip-shaped glasses, Janet Conatser, Sandy Leaverton, Carol Crump, Cindy Kay, Delfina Asher, Lauralee Stark, Lynn Levandowski Boyd, Carole Dare and Toni LaPorte stand with their arms around each other's waists. They are singing along, swaying with the music and reveling in the sappy sentimentality of it all. A few of them wipe tears from their eyes.
The Miramar Lounge is maybe half full of passengers, most of them couples lingering over their drinks, and everybody's head is turned toward the undulating circle of off-key singers. Everybody, too, is smiling, some of them actually beaming, a few others flashing slightly embarrassed grins.
But this is just the warm-up, as most everyone on the Azure Seas, staff and passengers alike, will find out soon enough. This is the start of a memory that these nine best friends have planned for a year, the fulfillment of that vow solemnly taken on 6/6/66. Eleven years ago, on 7/7/77, most of them got together for a lunch that stretched to dinner, that stretched to dancing.