Friends like Janie last forever

Published 2:04 am Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sometimes something as simple as familiar handwriting on a letter can catapult us into the past, flooding us with memories of an old friend. When a letter came from Janie a few days ago, that’s what happened. Dear Janie, I thought, the girl who got the giggles.

Janie is in her mid-80s, but in my eyes, she remains a girl of 18. She worked in a company commissary that my mother ran during World War II. My parents had managed the store until the company transferred Daddy to another commissary to fill the vacancy of a butcher who was called into the army.

Janie was just out of high school when my mother took over as store manager and hired her as her clerk. Janie worked hard. She had a pleasant manner and was always joking and laughing. Unfortunately, that laughter sometimes exploded into uncontrollable giggles.

Every day when I stepped off the school bus, I rushed into the store and dumped my books under a counter. Then I waited for my mother or Janie to get my afternoon snack — either an ice cold soft drink from the bottom of the meat display case and a package of cookies or a double-decker ice cream cone. If there were no customers for her to wait on, Janie and I always found something to talk about. Sometimes she even gave me the giggles.

If my mother saw fit to punish or speak harshly to me when I needed correcting, Janie became my comforter. It wasn’t long until my tears vanished and Janie and I were laughing. Years later, mother said Janie actually pouted when Mother scolded me.

I eventually decided Janie was so full of fun because she grew up with three sisters. It wasn’t long after any two of them got together that they got the giggles about something.

There were several times when Janie collapsed in giggles over something that somebody did or said at the store. At those times, Janie hid herself under a counter and tried to muffle her giggling. “I could have pinched her head off,” Mother would say, laughing.

Aside from her giggling fits, there was only one other problem with Janie — her beauty. She had dark curly shoulder-length hair, long eyelashes, twinkling brown eyes, and a peaches and cream complexion. Her teeth were white and even and her smile was so winning that she could have posed for a toothpaste commercial. Every male customer who walked into the store couldn’t help noticing her. Some admired her only with their eyes. A few openly flirted with her.

Once, when a bottling company representative opened a swinging door to go behind the store counter without permission, Mother accidentally mistook him for one of Janie’s amorous admirers and threatened him with a meat cleaver. That clearly was one of my mother’s most embarrassing moments.

Janie is special. Is there a friend in your past with a trait that makes you smile when you think of him or her?