your stories

Lucy Smith’s story

Lucy Smith was a friend of Liz’s in middle and high school.  Liz passed along a lot of her jobs to Lucy, including her babysitting gig at the Chamberlains, and the girls were roommates during Liz’s summer in France right before our mom died. Though she understands why the Welches  have such a tortured relationship with their home town, Lucy thinks that Bedford was given a raw deal. This is Lucy’s story.

“I have many great memories of our friendship in high school … in particular I remember spending a day at your house (your beautiful pale grey-blue house with the matching grey-blue Mercedes) when we went blueberry picking and made pies all by ourselves!  And, of course, I recall our summer in Angers, going to Paris on Bastille Day, organizing and hosting a party for our friend Lisa’s birthday and breaking the washing machine belonging to the old woman we lived with.  That summer when your mom was so sick … I have a photo album of you smiling like the rest of us carefree high school students, and a scrap book full of notes you wrote me, each ending in ‘Love, Liz’ with a huge smiley face.  You really did put on a happy face, perhaps better than any actress could have.”

“I remember how you were always incredibly stylish, and how I always copied your haircuts and clothes, though you always pulled them off better than I.  I, too, had sideways hair my junior year and actually went off to college with the haircut with very short hair on top (like bangs sticking straight up).  I remember Amanda as the older sister not to be messed with, Danny as a really cute fun younger brother and Diana as just an adorable little girl; no one else had a little sister that little.  I could go on and on, but truly remember you as an incredibly nice person, a good friend, one who was much more ‘popular’ than I, but always nice to me, and inclusive of me.

I must say I felt I knew so much going into reading the book that I wasn’t sure what would surprise me.  My husband asked me if I thought I’d be in the book, and didn’t think I would be in it per se; but I was clearly in it in that I was there, at that time, and many of the same events you wrote of; it amazed me how the real names of all of the characters came floating back to me, and how I felt compelled to write them in the margins.  It is almost like the book was half “1980s/Fox Lane flashbacks” and half the real story that so few people knew.  I’d been at some of the parties, all of the proms, and knew most of the people and places described.

However, what surprised me the most was the stark difference between the level of detail I knew of some aspects of your life and what I didn’t know about your home life.  I very clearly remember you telling me you lost your virginity, and that you wished you hadn’t.  I so clearly remember the Guess paisley jeans and Guess overalls you mention in the book, yet I never suspected your clothes were shoplifted.  Looking back, it makes perfect sense, and I suppose that’s why they say hindsight is 20/20.  At the time, you were just beautiful and sophisticated; I always thought your mom’s NY friends bought you your clothes.  And I didn’t know of any of your feelings that led to your shoplifting, how you felt the need to put up a front of being a normal teenager.  What I really didn’t know was what happened to your siblings after your mom died, and what happened in the years that followed.  I thought that the Chamberlains adopted Diana, and that Danny was adopted by the Hayes, end of story.  Wrong I was, obviously.

You passed along all of your jobs to me, when you could no longer do them, I think because your mom got too sick.  I remember babysitting for the Chamberlains, and working at their dinner parties too.  For one party in particular, I hired a friend to help, and together we did all the cooking, serving and cleaning up.  I remember their daughter as having allergies, and I remember being treated like the hired help I was.  While I have vivid memories of their home, I only remember them vaguely.

I took your job at the Reginald’s after you could no longer do it, though they paid me $5.00 an hour (not the $7.00 they paid you!) to cook and clean for them for eight hours every Sunday.  I remember Mrs. Reginald showing me the number tattooed on her arm from her time at Auschwitz, and I remember being asked to pick blueberries and make a blueberry pie for them.  They too were wealthy yet warm and friendly, and were patient and kind towards me.

I also took your job at Indigo, a clothing boutique in Chappaqua, an even fancier town than Bedford. The hardest part for me was that they wanted me to buy their clothes to wear to work, and I thought it was all so incredibly expensive that I bought two tops from the sale rack and wore them to work the whole summer after graduation.  You must have given me that job when you left for Norway…?

While I too grew up in Bedford, I grew up on the other side of town, and truly believe we had a totally different experience.  I lived in a development of 1960s colonials with neighborhood events like summer evening games of spud and Christmas caroling.  While I spent many summer days at the Bedford Golf & Tennis Club with friends, my family did not belong; we didn’t get in because we were ‘not from the horsey side of town.’ For some reason, this confused me, as our best friends, who were also neighbors, were members.  Looking back, though, I realize that the mom grew up in Bedford (in the horsey section) and that likely explains their membership.

After reading the recent article in Bedford’s local paper, I do, in an odd way, feel badly for Bedford (‘Dreadford!’).  I can’t imagine the same thing happening to my sister and I if my parents had died; many names of families come to mind that I truly do think would have taken us in.  But I wonder if that closeness of community I felt growing up was simply a function of my neighborhood, my parents or even just their friends in particular.  I wonder if, on the other, ‘horsey’ side of town, when you can’t see the houses from the streets and you can’t see the houses from each other, if close community relationships suffer.  But I suppose more pontificating on why what happened did is pointless.

Reading your book inspired me to go back through all of my old photo albums.  I have pictures of you smiling on the Middle School field hockey team, smiling on the dock in Chautauqua, smiling on the beach in Florida, smiling at the prom parties, always smiling.  I remember my mom taking a friend and I to Florida to stay with my aunt, and you, Rita and Amy Karpel traveled alone and stayed in a motel down the beach by yourselves…no adults…for spring break.  It seemed so amazing at the time, that your mom would let you go alone on spring break in high school.  But the reality was that she clearly couldn’t take you on spring break, so you took yourself. We were clearly in different groups in high school; you were more popular, of course, but we were both smart so were in lots of classes together, and had lots in common.  But more than that, you were always focused outwardly, on your friends and their feelings, and making them feel worthy and welcomed by you, which must be why everyone wanted to be friends with you.  What an amazing feat for any teenager, much less one whose only parent was dying.  In retrospect, I’m just amazed at what I both knew, and at the same time, what I didn’t…I really didn’t know, or perhaps understand, how truly unsettled things were for you at home during high school, and I just hope that I, or people like me, didn’t make you feel worse than you already did.

I remember being in your new house the fall after our summer in France, and seeing your mom, very sick. I suppose you must remember the quote under your senior photo in the yearbook, which reads, “You can close your eyes to reality but not to memories.”  While the rest of the class put silly quotes and initials under their photos, yours was truly representative of that time in your life.  But did it sink in with any of us, at the time?  I don’t think so, I guess because you hid it all so well.

My husband and I have three children now, and I’ve found that the topic of choosing a guardian for your children is widely discussed.  It is one of those playgroup issues, like potty training, that everyone talks about when you’re a new parent.  It is so hard to believe there was no such plan for you, and the pressure you must have felt to make those decisions that your parents should have made is unimaginable.  Even the most mature 16 year-old, as you were, shouldn’t have to do that.  I had always wondered if any of you would someday have children of your own.  Other friends of mind who lost their mothers young have all remained childless by choice.  And while parenthood is not for everyone, seeing Diana holding a baby on the Good Morning America segment made me feel a strange sense of relief.

As a parent, I feel so much sympathy now for what you must have gone through; to read in the book that Diana’s ‘new mom’ told her she was ugly is truly heart breaking, and I can’t bear the thought of our kids going through anything like you did.  But I do also feel sympathy, to some degree, for the Chamberlains and the Hayes.  As a mom, I now realize how important consistency, routine and traditions are for kids, and how adding new children into a family, even biologically, or even temporarily for a weekend, can truly disrupt things.  Adding a new child to an established family, even an older child like Danny or Diana, would be challenging under the best of circumstances.  I’m not saying those families couldn’t have done better, but maybe in some ways they just couldn’t.  Maybe trying to take care of Danny and Diana, to help them heal from what they’d been through, was just more than they could handle.

I lost a good friend to cancer two years ago.  She, like your mom, had four children, and knew she was dying.  And though she left behind a loving husband, she carefully selected a ‘second Mommy’ for each of her four children, someone who could be a mom for all those times in your life when you need a mom.  She was envisioning things like the first day of Kindergarten, getting your period, buying a prom dress.  I often thought of you, and how things weren’t so thought out, and how they should have been.”

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