Every year the kids and I make the journey from Massachusetts to Mountain Lakes, NJ for Thanksgiving. We go to visit my friend Amy, and her family.

Amy was one of my best friends growing up. She did her homework. She could always find her shoes. She went to college and then she finished college. She was, and is, very different from me.
Amy is now a high school math teacher at our old high school. Her husband, John is a lawyer, and her two kids are a little older than Colin and Kate. Taylor is a senior in high school and James is at college.

Somehow, and I have no idea how I pulled this one off, we have become part of the Amy and John’s extended family. She is the only grown up in the world capable of buying Colin a present he actually likes, and will spend hours on the phone discussing important matters of the day- is Katy old enough to trick or treat with three of her friends, no adult hiding behind bushes or lamp posts. The week of Thanksgiving is the only time, some years, we get to be friends face to face.

This year, we got in late Monday night. I thought the route from my house to her house was 84 to 684 to the Tappanzee to 287.* (That’s wrong, don’t try to take 684 to the Tappanzee Bridge. Unless you want to go on an adventure.) We spent about an hour driving around the Bronx while the navigation system told us to get on, and then off, 95 South).

So when we finally got to Amy’s house, I was a little wired. The kids fell into their beds, I hugged Amy good night, and I took Sophia, the Most Patient of Dogs, for a long over due walk.

It was 12:30 at night. I listened to David Gray on the headphones. The streets were shiny with rain, but the rain stopped right after we got outside. My thoughts turned to people I knew that I would not see this time home, or at any reunions down the road.

I didn’t know her well, but the first person I missed was Suzie Stanfield. She was the little sister of a good friend of mine. Her sentences always ended in exclamation points. She was indiscriminately kind to everyone and everything, from the idiot 4th grader that pulled her hair to the spider she found in the bathroom. I don’t think people always shared her enthusiasms. I don’t think people, in high school anyway, were always kind to her. She had a million freckles, a crooked smile and I am reminded of her voice when I listen to my daughter open gifts on Christmas morning. That was Suzie, a Christmas morning kind of girl.

I walk by Lloyd’s house. He lived there alone. He was a few years older than me. When I was in high school I spent a lot of time walking around the “Big Lake”. Most of the time, I would end up stopping by Lloyd’s for a drink. He always had the tv on, and he was always watching Mash. I must have a crush on him because I really can’t remember why I was always walking around the lake and I had already seen every episode of Mash. A lot of girls had crushes on him, he was a blonde surfer late 70’s Gary Cooper.

I still tell my kids about the bone marrow on toast Mrs Houlihan used to give my friend Onk for breakfast when she was little. Mrs. Houlihan. Maybe it’s strange, in this sentimental journey my thoughts would turn to one of best friend’s mothers’. But I would given anything last night to find myself inside Mrs. Houlihans’ kitchen. She looked like a little bird, small and quick. She would make us snacks, flutter her hands when she talked about her daughter, and she spoke with an Easter European accent that made her words sound sweet as pancakes. I was lucky to visit her kitchen and sit at her table.

Remembering people that I loved could have been a lonely business, but Sophia, my beautiful companion, kept me warm. And she would have served as the perfect alibi, I was wandering around wearing leopard flannel pants and a Patriot sweatshirt. It is an established code, dog walkers can wear anything, and all people will think is “what a nice woman, walking her dog when it’s clear she is so tired she is incapable of dressing herself.”

I would never go out for a late walk in my pajama bottoms back home.

But here I was in a strange place, that in some ways, I knew better than home, and it turned into a long, long walk.

I am a New Jersey girl, A Milton Mom, and a Complicated Woman with a Past. I had a lot to think about.

Happy Thanksgiving. And a huge thank you to the Harrington/Eveleth family. Thank you for inviting me home.

*84 to 287 to the Tappanzee Bridge, in case you’re wondering what the right sequence would have been. But don’t try it without confirming this information with a reliable navigation system.

My first memories of Mountain Lakes are golden, they are colored by that magical belief that my parents could solve every problem in the world. I remember The Club, and egg throwing and the fishing contest at Birchwood. I remember Hap, the king and dictator of The Club, and musicals and baiting my hook, or having my Dad do it for me.

I was so lucky. We were so lucky. To have all those moments of utter confidence that the world was kind, that Easter was about catching a hardboiled egg, and that someone would always be there to help with the nasty business of fishing.

At a point, it turned. Dad got sick, I grew up, the fish stopped biting, the eggs stopped flying, I don’t know the exact moment. I trace my steps, we trace our steps, here, or while we try to sleep, or search for the right words for a eulogy, or a christening.

It turned for everyone, the things we remember are not the things that exist these days.

These days are different. Let us celebrate them, what is to come, and what is past.