They called themselves a gang, the girls of Dundee.
Their 1940s childhood of 20-cent ice cream sodas at Cris' drugstore and stay-out-till-the-streetlights-come-on led them to a 1950s coming-of-age.
When their paths converged at Omaha Central High School, this group of smart, silly girls who held sing-alongs at Memorial Park and once laced some brownies with Ex-Lax to feed to the Central High boys, was fairly unstoppable.
They held sleepovers. They went to summer camp in Colorado. Two tied for valedictorian. And when they drove by one another's houses along Happy Hollow Boulevard and on both sides of Dodge Street, a car horn would blare their signal: honk, honk-honk, honk-honk-honk-honk, honk-honk.
Now their hair is gray. Now some of them are widows. Now they are turning 76, an age that doesn't feel old to their adventurous spirits.
But none can deny time's march. The Sudoku puzzles to stave off Alzheimer's. The TV volume turned way up. The obits with familiar names.
While they are still mostly healthy and mostly game, the old Dundee gang now feels an urgent need to see one another and keep this long friendship going. Their every-other-year gatherings at Judy's place in Sun Valley, Idaho, are wonderful, but they yearn for more time.
So last week, they met here in Omaha. Carol, Trish, Silvia, Dorothy and Sally, who already live here. Suzi flew in from Seattle. Julie came from Bozeman, Mont.; Lineve from Ann Arbor, Mich.; Judy from Minneapolis; and Prudie from Herman, Neb., where she has spent her post-Dundee life on a farm.
They gathered in Omaha to remember, to celebrate and to serve as mirrors of their long-ago selves. They went to the zoo. They toured Joslyn.
I met them inside the Regency home of Trish Parsons Robertson.
Trish built this house about 40 years ago with her late husband, Dick, when Regency was barely on the map and they were suburban pioneers.
Trish had grown up near 60th and Hickory Streets. She had walked to school at Washington Elementary, picking up pals Sally and Carol along the way. They'd walk home each day for lunch, then back to Washington, a pattern they'd keep through eighth grade.
Then it was off to Central, where the south-of-Dodge Washington gang hooked up with the north-of-Dodge Dundee Elementary gang, and suddenly there were about 15 of them. They shared lockers, shared classes, shared the uncomfortable experience of wearing some torture device called panty girdles.
They split banana splits after John Wayne flicks at the Dundee Theatre, practiced the Charleston for the Central High Roadshow and a few took Central's first driver's ed course.
Dorothy still remembers the day, crystal clear, when she steered down North 59th Street to drop something at Lineve's house.
Lineve flitted outside in — scandal! — baby doll pajamas, and there were boys in the back seat and an instructor in the front.
One by one, 10 women here today take turns telling their stories: where they grew up and what happened after graduation from Central in 1955.
Although their paths diverged that year, the what-happened-next was so similar. College at Smith, Colorado State, Northwestern and the University of Nebraska. All-girl dorms with strictly enforced curfews. Early careers where it was normal for employers to dismiss you for being pregnant and to ask questions such as: Are you married or planning to marry? Are you taking birth control?
Boyfriends became husbands. Husbands had careers that led the friends, typically, away from Omaha. Then came children, homemaking and life's tides of joys and sorrows.
There were surprises, found in second husbands or second careers or grown children who said, “Mom, I'm gay.”
They marveled at the turns their lives have taken.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
» Suzi Festersen Clark became a public health nurse and traveled with her doctor husband to Ethiopia for the Peace Corps. Suzi gave birth to their first child there.
» Lineve McKie won a Fulbright scholarship to study in London and had a career in social work.
» Judy Lewis Bachman had a long career in retail with Dayton Hudson and bought a second home in Sun Valley.
» Dorothy Loring Rasgorshek raised eight children and now has 20 grandchildren. She is a community volunteer.
» Prudie Morrow Skinner left the farm for about six summers in order to retrace the steps of Lewis and Clark.
» Carol Vingers Rowe raised three kids in Omaha and now spends half the year in Hawaii.
» Julie Martin Videon skis and hikes and is still trying to decide what on earth she will be when she grows up.
» Sally Smith Hodges runs a piano studio in her west Omaha home and is organist at her Elkhorn church.
» And Trish. Her chance blind date with Dick led to a 54-year marriage. They worked together in a business he grew called AGRI Associates. Then, when they sold that, she got a job at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She retired when Dick entered hospice. He died two years ago.
The gang grew silent at other somber reminisces, like Julie's great regret that she acquiesced to her husband's higher-ups' warning in 1963: Don't attend the March on Washington. To this day Julie wishes she could have been on the National Mall that August day 50 years ago to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
As each tells her story, the others either nod knowingly or react in surprise. For all these years, there are some details about their lives that either had been forgotten or never shared.
They howled at memories, like the time preschool-age Prudie and Lineve inadvertently locked themselves in Lineve's bathroom and the Fire Department had to get them out.
“I still remember your mother saying, 'Turn your lock to the left!' ” Prudie laughed.
The stories jump from the past to the present.
Their memories of a Dundee childhood with such familiar touchstones as Memorial Park spark my own memories of a childhood in Dundee, my own escapades and epiphanies in that same park.
I suddenly see in these women reflections of my own childhood. The North of Dodge and South of Dodge Rainbow League softball teams. Bike rides to Baum Drug for candy. Movies at the Dundee. Dear friends I still have from grade school, friends I've been way too busy to see. The 40th birthday party in Michigan I skipped because, well, there was no time.
The years pass so quickly. I gulp down the emotion.
In Suzi, sitting to my left, and Trish, to my right, and the others in between, I see friends who go way back, who remember that first kiss at Elmwood Park, that insane hitchhike, a child who died, a husband who left, grandchildren born.
When all else changes, the constant in life is such friends.
Will it seem like only tomorrow when this is us?
I slip out of Trish's home and drive east on Dodge, past Memorial Park, past Happy Hollow, past the Dundee Theatre and all those memories.