Earlier today I was uploading remote assignments for my students and I typed in the date and a little thought flashed through my mind. Today, May 19th, is the birthday of my oldest friend, Krista Wietelmann. I haven’t really spoken to her in thirty years, save a few letters, so it was sort of weird that her birthday popped up in my memory so clearly. I’m lying here in bed, trying to think of something to write about, and she came back up. So today I will write about my oldest friendship with Krista Wietelmann.
I don’t remember meeting Krista. It’s like how you don’t remember meeting your siblings, they just sort of show up when your memories start. We lived on the same street with one house between us. Our families couldn’t have been more different. My parents were both hippie artist/writer/teachers. Her dad was a Lutheran minister and her mom stayed home to raise her and her brothers. I didn’t really know what a Lutheran was. Krista told me that her parents told her that Santa didn’t exist from the beginning. I asked her why they told her that and she said it was because they didn’t want her to love anything more than God. It was a real testament to the kind of person she was that she didn’t ever spill the beans until we all already knew. I would’ve told every living soul I could find if I had that kind of intel. That’s the kind of kid I was.
My house was free and unfettered by rules and regulations (except when it wasn’t, which wasn’t a fun time). Our clean clothes lived in a towering heap on the counter in the green bathroom. I preferred to never change clothes, rather than look through the pile to find something that fit. Books were stacked on every spare surface. My mom had various art projects running all the time. She had boxes of stained glass and a potter’s wheel in the family room, a kiln in the garage, and printmaking supplies anywhere you might look. At one point there was a full on taxidermied moose head in our living room, which she’d borrowed from the art department at school to practice drawing. With six kids in the family, being alone was practically unheard of. I shared a bed with my sister Joan for forever. One time I didn’t want to get up to use the bathroom and I thought there wasn’t that much in me, so I went ahead and peed in bed. There was much more in me than I thought. I spent the rest of the night trying to keep my sister from rolling into my very large pee spot, more because I didn’t want her to know what I’d done than that I didn’t want her to get pee on her.
I remember once, in kindergarten, having an opportunity to be alone at home and taking it. I rode home everyday in a car pool. On this day, the mom who was driving couldn’t remember if she was supposed to take me home or to the babysitter’s house. Our babysitter was named Dorita Beal. She was an ok sitter but I’d rather be home alone, no question. I hatched a plan on the spot. I told the carpool driver that I couldn’t remember either and maybe she could take me home first and I could run in and see if someone was there. If not, she could take me to Mrs. Beal’s house. She thought that was a good idea. I knew full well that it was a babysitter day, but I prayed that my plan would work. She drove up to the empty house. I ran inside, waited a minute, then ran back out and told her someone was home. She was satisfied and drove away and I went in and sat in the good chair and watched whatever I wanted to on television for a blissful two hours, giggling at my sister who was stuck at Mrs. Beal’s house, probably wondering where I was. My mom got home and found me with my feet kicked up. As I’d hoped, she was too relieved that I was alive to be too mad at me. My dad came home a little later with a bag of day-old jelly donuts, which you could get for a dime a piece from the donut shop on Dixie Highway. I said I wanted a blueberry one. He started to hand it to me and my mom said “she told the carpool mom that I was home when I wasn’t and stayed home alone for two hours!” My dad gasped and tried to pull back on the donut, but I already had a handle on it and I ran off to hide so I could eat it with nobody to bother me.
Krista’s family probably didn’t eat donuts. Their house was always neat and smelled like pot roast and cookies and clean laundry and pencil erasers. She had her own bedroom and her own bed. She probably wouldn’t dream of peeing in the bed rather than getting up, but if she had, she could have rolled over and fallen back to sleep without worry.
One time Joan and Krista and I decided to write a novel because Krista had a typewriter. We got a couple of chapters done before we lost the thread. It was titled “Call Me Rebba,” and it was about a girl and her disabled brother who lived in a box on the street after their parents died. I remember Rebba was trying (unsuccessfully) to get them some money so they could buy a can of beans to eat. I’m not clear if her name is pronounced like its spelled, or if we meant Reba and were trying to be edgy.
Krista was a lovely person. She had long straight blonde hair. She looked a little like a mom, stuck in a kid’s body. Her features weren’t kid features. I don’t remember her losing her teeth, though I’m sure she must have. Krista was always the best at everything. She was the fastest girl in class (she once told me her secret, it was that you have to hold your fingers stiff and wide while you run, like a petrified starfish. I tried it and took a few seconds off my time. It was a good tip). She won the science fair every year with projects involving plants and light bulbs and batteries and science. I remember two of my science fair projects. One was “do hermit crabs make good pets?” and featured my two hermit crabs. The other was “which bubble gum blows the biggest bubbles?” which got an honorable mention, due to the fact that I’d written to Hubba Bubba and they wrote me back, telling me that they can’t tell me how they make their bubbles so big because it’s a trade secret.
Krista and I both played trumpet and she was always first chair, leaving Steve Samoray and me to battle it out for second. She got the part I wanted in Babes in Toyland AND The Sound of Music. In my mind I saw myself as the quintessential Gretel, but when it came time for the audition I froze. I remember my audition. I tried not to look at Bob Klump, the director, instead locking eyes on my own reflection in the glass of the sound booth, stiff as a board, face drawn in fear, whisper singing the Andy Willams arrangement of Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, which was the only song I knew all the words to. I knew it hadn’t gone well. But Krista nailed it and went on to give what was likely the best Gretel performance probably ever, just the right amount of sassy and sweet.
I didn’t hold any of that against her. She worked hard and she played hard. She deserved her accolades. As for me, this was the period in my life where I learned that if I didn’t really try that hard, I’d have a ready made excuse if I failed. That and the fact that I really only enjoyed playing hard and resting hard allowed me to have a LOT of fun and less accolades, which was fine for a while. But it was good for me to see someone who worked hard and had success. I needed to see that so that I knew what it looked like later in life, when I was less content with just having fun.
Krista moved away in the fifth grade. She went somewhere in Ohio and I never saw her again. We wrote letters to each other occasionally. Even though it’s been thirty years, I think about her pretty regularly, sending out a little happy thought to her. She’s not on social media so I have no idea where she is. Happy Birthday Krista, wherever you are!! I hope you’re still nailing it. I’ll bet you are.