I met Star Parsons when she sat in front of me in grade six. We fought foot wars beneath our desks as the teacher droned on at the front of the room. These silent battles were like arm wrestling only with feet: my toes pushing up on her heels, which were pushing down on my toes. I don’t think there was ever a winner but then that wasn’t the point. From this clandestine game a friendship grew.
In grade seven, Star was placed in a row for A+ students, while I was exiled to some random row across the room. Star’s intelligence was dazzling to me. Once, in grade six, we’d had an assignment to make calendars for people in an old folks home. Each student had to draw one picture to go with twelve tear-off months. I drew a house with a picket fence and a cat. Star drew a cross-section of a brain.
With so much distance between us in class now, our hands had to take over from our feet as silent communicators: we invented our own language of gestures, which we used whenever the teacher’s back was turned. Our signs were often preoccupied with our emerging curiosity with sex.
After school, Star and I sometimes headed for the ravine beyond the schoolyard to read aloud from “Candy”, a novel published in 1958, scandalous in its time. Now in the mid sixties we were discovering its forbidden content in the paperback version which I’d lifted from my big brother’s room.
Sitting on rotting logs, inhaling heady scents of skunk cabbage and pine resin, we giggled over the raunchy language and titillating imagery. Then we got out pencil and foolscap to create our own smut. These co-written bits of juvenilia were buried after each session along with the book in the cool dark earth, to be dug up the next day for more explorations into the unknown world of carnal relations.
Star Parsons was not her real name. But one night I dreamt that name for her and the next day a Star was born. (Well, she was always a star and always will be). In my rec room, Star & I belted out brassy show tunes: “Let Me Entertain You” and “Big Spender”. She played a mean piano. I sat on the piano top or danced, as we sang in our best trashy New York accents: “I don’t pop my cork for every guy I see!”
When grade seven ended, we boarded a ferry for Pender Island, where my grandmother lived in an enchanted house known as The Glade. Road crews, firemen, hydro workers all stayed at The Glade when they came to the island to work, and Grannie often told us stories about them, casual chatty stories that we turned into something else altogether. Refracting every word Grannie spoke through our pornographic prism, her utterances were full of double entendres.
Lighting up a long slender cigarette, Grannie would intone, “I give my men the best deal on the island.” One flash of Star’s ocean blue eyes in my direction and we had to stifle our teeny bopper laughter. Of course, Grannie was talking about room and board but to two tweens with their minds in the magnificent gutter of girlish imaginings, she was a brazen madam, fresh out of the pages of “Candy”.
The subject matter of that book edged ever closer to us as we headed up to junior high that September, wearing for the first time bras, nylons, garter belts. Soon I was sporting a Twiggy cut and walking to school in sling back shoes.
In grade nine when Star turned fourteen I made her a sock monkey accompanied by a poem I’d written in which the monkey’s facial features symbolized our budding lives: “Ruby red lips for our days of ill repute/whether they have gone by or are yet to come.” Gone by? Such innocence!
And then, Star and her family moved away. There was no easy transport between our towns so we kept in touch with weekly letters and monthly visits. The summer after we finished high school would be the last we spent together.
We hitchhiked to Tofino and set up camp on Long Beach. The sixties had just ended but hippies still lived in their jury-rigged A-frames and beach lean-tos. Van Morrison’s “Moondance” album drifted over the land from car radios to mingle with the sound of the pounding surf.
By summer’s end, the government forced the hippies out so the area could be turned into a national park. In true anti-establishment defiance, the squatters burned their glorious homesteads to the ground. Another death knell for the sixties. For Star and me, it didn’t matter the decade – these were the timeless days of our adolescence, the sweet tail end of our long and glorious childhood.
Star Parsons and I, we were born before the wind.
Happy Birthday to my best friend forever, Shirley Connell (aka Star Parsons), pictured here on Long Beach in a double exposure which I shot before double exposures became a thing (that’s my sister’s horse on the right, in another time, in another place).