The Things Friends Teach You

December 5, 2013


Linking up with MamaKat today answering the prompt: Tell us about a childhood friend.


For a few brief months, between the move from North Dakota to the Rocky Mountains, we lived in Kansas. I’d like to say I was as fond of Kansas as our dear Dorothy, but that wasn’t the case.

Alas, I didn’t fit in any better in Kansas than I did in North Dakota. My parents chose a suburb with a concentrated Jewish population–a rather wealthy suburb, at that. We weren’t rich. Or Jewish.

As per her usual, my sister made friends within days. Her best friend, Julie Schwartzman, was a smart, pale-skinned girl with jet black hair. Julie was short and popular and had a bowling alley in the basement of her home, along with pinball machines and skee-ball. The first time I set foot in Julie’s basement, I had to pinch myself, because a basement like that surely was the stuff of dreams. All that was missing was a drinking fountain that squirted lemonade, which would have been hoo-boy fantastic, if you asked me.

I found Julie fascinating, particularly the carpet of black hair that covered her pale arms. I’d never seen a person that hairy in my life. Luckily, Julie’s arm hair didn’t phase her in the slightest; she even let me play with it sometimes. And pet it. Nice girl, Julie.

The only friend I was able to wrangle up was a skinny Filipino girl named Maria Vergara who was just as out of place in that school district as I was. Maria had four older brothers who, evidently, thought it important to school her in the finer points in life: whacking the heck out of a tetherball, cheating at cards, and cursing at the neighbors across the street.

I remember one autumn recess, while going up-and-down-and-up-and-down on the teeter-totter* with Maria, I did something that apparently vexed her. She spit out a choice epithet and raised her middle finger at me, defiant. I’ll never forget that moment, Maria ascending above me on the cracked red seat, finger perched in the air, stunning me into silence.

I came home that afternoon, wide-eyed. “Maria gave me the finger,” I told Mama. I think I even whispered the word, I was so scandalized.

“I didn’t know second graders could give the finger.”**

Mama promptly explained to me that ladies–particularly ladies in the second grade–did not give people the finger, and that Maria’s brothers were obviously working overtime on Maria’s extracurricular education.

Whatever my slight, Maria forgave me, and she was my only friend for the brief months I lived in Kansas. Maria’s parents were both doctors and worked long hours, but the one meal I did eat at the Vergara home, I was introduced to pancit. Pancit is a Filipino dish with Chinese influences, and it’s delicious, nutritious and quick.

Silky rice noodles, cooked meat, and fresh vegetables are tossed with a savory sauce and stir-fried for just a few minutes. Life’s pretty good when quick and easy taste this good. It’s weeknight meal perfection.

Maria and I kept in touch for years–she was a stellar pen pal–and Maria now is a mother of two, living just outside of Boston. I only hear from her once a year now, at Christmas, but her letters are always full of vivid detail, written in her impeccable and beautiful cursive. I look forward to them.

Interestingly, Maria remembers neither giving me the finger nor what it was I did that raised her ire. She assures me that nowadays, she keeps her middle finger to herself.

serves 4

1 (6.75 ounce) package thin, Pad-Thai style rice noodles
4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced/crushed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced/crushed
3 cups diced cooked chicken, shrimp, pork or beef (or any combination)
3 cups shredded bok choy or napa cabbage
1 cup bean sprouts or carrots
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 green onions, chopped, green parts only
Lime wedges and peanuts, for garnish~

Soak the rice noodles in warm water for 20 minutes or until pliable; drain.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a heavy large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Saute noodles for 1 minute. Remove and keep warm. Heat remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in skillet. Saute onion, garlic, ginger, and meat for 1 minute. Add bok choy, bean sprouts, oyster sauce, fish sauce, chicken broth, and red pepper flakes. Cover and cook for about a minute or until bok choy is slightly wilted. Toss with noodles. If desired, squeeze lime over noodles and sprinkle with peanuts.

~ The lime and peanuts are my addition; I don’t remember them in the original version, but I like the tang and crunch they lend to the dish.


* Teeter-totter or see-saw? Is it a regional thing? Discuss.

** I’m pretty sure I’d never actually seen anyone give another human being the finger at the tender age of 7, so how come I instantly knew that such a gesture was Naughtypants? Weird.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenny Hartin December 5, 2013 at 8:25 am

Love this story.


Katybeth December 5, 2013 at 9:26 am

Teeter-totter in El Paso, Texas. Looks like a very tasty dish, we’ll give it a try. Funny how selective the memory can be. I love Christmas cards that bring you up to date on peoples lives. Even the Christmas letter. If you live a 1000 miles away and all you are going to do it sign a card, why bother? Sorry, I digress Glad you and Maria say in touch.


anna@herding cats & burning soup December 5, 2013 at 9:52 am

Oh that’s funny. Very neat yall still keep in touch even if once a year. That’s awesome. The dish does look tasty but not one I could eat here since I’m a veggie but totally one I could make at home for the family.


Abby December 5, 2013 at 10:15 am

I love your writing. And that you remember pancit even though it was so long ago (I have a Filipino cousin.) Maria, the profanity-laced soul that she was, was lucky to know you for those few short months.

As for the see-saw/teeter totter. Equipment that brings with it the slight chance that one will purposely get off when at the bottom, causing the other user to crash down to the ground at a dangerous speed, possibly breaking their tailbone. Depending on weight distribution, there is also the risk that one user will purposely get off and catapult their counterpart across the park, but that could be fun, too!

Good times.


Dana Talusani December 5, 2013 at 11:42 am


My sister delighted in doing the very same teeter-totter jump-off as you described. Many times. That turd.


Shannon December 5, 2013 at 11:13 am

I’m going with teeter-totter. I have some lovely memories of my own on those things, often ending in the way Abby described.
I’m glad you found Maria in Kansas. It sounds like she added much to those months of your young life.


Erica December 5, 2013 at 11:31 am

I want to eat that for lunch! Minus the fish sauce.



Contemporary Troubadour December 5, 2013 at 12:44 pm

See-saw if it was the kind that went up and down on a base attached to the ground. Teeter-totter if it was the kind that hung from a swing set. There’s how I differentiate between the two — but I have no idea if that’s regional or not. I learned the two terms as a kid who spent her first decade in the South. After I moved to the Midwest, we no longer had playground equipment at recess — just an open courtyard — so no references for me thereafter.


Dana Talusani December 6, 2013 at 9:46 am


No playground equipment? That sounds like something out of Dickens. What did you do for fun? Throw stones at one another?


Sherri December 5, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Giving this dish a try for sure. Once again, I feel your pain with the moving and no friends thing….. But there’s always someone – like your Maria – to ease the loneliness – middle fingers and all :).


Lisa @ The Meaning of Me December 5, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Teeter-totter. Because I don’t know why.

Amazing the things that stick with us from childhood experiences. So great that you are still in touch. The dish also looks amazing and I believe we will try it…right after everybody gets done passing the stomach bug back and forth.


Jamie December 5, 2013 at 9:34 pm

You pet a girls arm hair?! No. Poor girl.


Alison December 6, 2013 at 7:10 am

I love everything about this story, and the recipe, oh my, it has my name on it!!


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes December 6, 2013 at 7:59 am

Oh la la… the finger… but really glad you girls got over it. And Pancit seems just the kind of thing this girl needs after a hard day at work…


S in AK December 7, 2013 at 12:47 pm

I’m originally a California girl and it’s an equal-opportunity state for so many things. I used both terms, depending on which came most readily to mind. I loved teeter-totters; still do. Most particularly, the catapult effect. (I used to make a practice of sliding down a horse’s neck–as he was grazing– as a method of dismount. Once, the horse was so surprised, he threw his head up and catapulted me into a flip. I landed on my bum. I was told it was quite spectacular!)

It’s funny a girl who eventually came to appreciate the value of the occasional, well-timed expletive was once scandalized by “the finger.” Sweet innocence.


Velva December 9, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I am completely taken by the idea that you got to pet someone’s arm hair (wow). I am always amazed at what stirs our memory about people. Great post as always.



Rob December 10, 2013 at 10:24 am

That looks delicious! And the story is so funny. Petting Julie’s arm hair. And as for the middle finger – I had no idea what that was in the second grade. What a long time you and Maria have maintained a friendship! That is not easy to do, especially when you met and parted ways at such a young age.

Guess what? I am giving you an award. You are definitely one of my favorite bloggers (and I follow you – maybe using my Crime and Literature blog). Please accept the award, as I believe you are extremely influential! However, if you don’t wish to participate, that is okay, too :)


Rob December 10, 2013 at 10:24 am
Mama Sojourner December 12, 2013 at 7:27 am

Dana! I found you again! (Or perhaps you found me….) In a random search, I came upon your blog and this entry…it’s rather humorous and embarrassing at the same time as your exquisite writing brings me back in time. :0 [scarlet red face] Thirty-eight years later I’m still embarrassed I did that….and you still considered me a friend. Talk about a big heart! BTW–that see-saw is no longer there. Briarwood has changed quite a bit on the outside. We have a lot of catching up to do…please e-mail me so I can send you my Christmas letter. ;p M..


Biz December 12, 2013 at 12:52 pm

It’s see-saw in Chicagoland. And I too had a friend who’s grandparents had a bowling alley in their SUB basement – yes, that is correct, a basement below a basement.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized I hung out at reputed mob boss Tony Accardo’s house – his granddaughter Terry Palermo was my best friend in grade sch0ol!

We lived on the fringe of this rich neighborhood in a townhouse my parents rented. I am confident my high school boy friend only started to date me because I said I lived in River Forest and he took me for a rich girl. I wonder if he was disappointed when I didn’t have a bowling alley in my basement?! :D


Jennifer December 15, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I love your stories so much.


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