Lucy Jensen
Lucy Jensen

My friend and I have been writing the story of our shared childhood. I say “my friend” meaning my oldest friend in the whole world. The story goes that she fell into the boating pond in my hometown (all of 2 feet deep) when we were both about 4, my mother fished her out and, from there, our families became firm friends. Her parents then went to, thoughtfully, purchase a house next to ours in this seaside town and from there a forever friendship between us flourished.

Every weekend and holiday we would be headed to our homes by the coast from our homes in the country or city. She was always the last to show up and I would wait impatiently for her to arrive on the Friday night. As soon as I heard the car doors bang next door, I was out of our front door at Number 39 — no matter the time — and into her house at Number 43 and then we were off out again.

Our homes were situated on a parallel street to the seafront that led to the beach and then the sea — in a small town that had one way in and one way out — still does. The next street over was the high street with our favorite shops. From the chip shop to the sweetie shop, toy shop and bookshop; that was our playground and our parents never worried about us. We came and went as we pleased. It was a blissful existence. Even then we knew how very lucky we were.

It has been so fun and such a brain exercise to dig back 56 years ago or so and then crawl slowly forwards in our quest to put some kind of an interesting 1970’s journal together of our formative years in our beloved coastal town. During my last trip there, we sat at the kitchen table of my old cottage (that we managed to rent through Airbnb no less) and scratched away at the surface of our shared memories over a glass of wine or three. So interesting how different recollections and varied interpretations emerge after all this time with much common ground in-between.

Both of my friends’ parents and my own mother and sister are now gone, but it has been so delightful bringing them back to life, as it were, through photos and shared memory banks. We have used my father as an enormous resource in the process. Though 94, he boasts a still razor-sharp memory and an enormous recollection of the history of the time and memory of where and when, historian that he is.

We are inserting into our story his recollections too since this was such a very two-family tale — it’s not just about she and I at all. Actually, many more than two families — truth be told — we were the King Street Gang — a minimum of four houses, adults and kids, with other friends around the periphery and up the town — that enjoyed this marvelous life parallel to the sea front and a skip from the beach and sea that we loved so much.

No matter where I have lived in the world, this seaside town of Aldeburgh has always been my home. It has been the most consistent geographic landmark of my existence, even though I haven’t lived there permanently since I was a small child.

Recreating our childhoods and immersing ourselves with our family members now departed from this planet has been a cathartic endeavor for both of us. We have dug deep for photos and info, laughed hard at some of the images and letters we found (remember those?) and tried to create a nice mixture of text and image for our audience.

Our childhood town is a very well-known burg for art and music and has been for years. Many famous people have resided and/or worked within its boundaries, so we are in good company with our manuscript to be. I am fortunate that my old mucker Lizzie is a graphic designer par excellence and can throw together a book with images like no one’s business. (See our last shared project “The Soup Diaries,” styling and layout entirely her work!)

We are hopeful that the bookshop of our youth will be happy to sell our book within its hallowed walls. (Our mothers both had charge accounts there for years that Lizzie and I used the heck out of! Has to count for something!) And it will be exciting to share our tome with our many family and friends who also love our town alongside us.

But more than that, it is about putting all the memories in one place, collecting the 1970’s technicolor photo images, looking at my mother’s large body of work (pen and ink drawings and oil paintings) from the place and giving a nod to her incredible talent and love for our town, preserving all of it for generations to come.

Our project has forced me to go through photos and be selective. No more clumps of sticky snapshots in a placcy box. We need to extract, scan and insert for posterity. Sometimes even have beautifully framed.

I recently also purchased a bench with a plaque to us all on the sea front in our town and in the neighborhood of all our old houses. At the ripe old age of nearly 60, I feel as if it’s past time to braid together lots of old thread and push the projects in my brain to print, as it were.

As a writer, you are never done. Though I sometimes question why I do this at all. I will never make a living at it — let’s face it — but it does serve a purpose to fill a void inside myself, a need to tell the stories that may matter to some in my circle who may care, especially once I’m gone. I have a few other stories inside me that must be told before I leave our planet, so self-motivation is a good thing and that’s something I’m not lacking. As my baby sister would fondly say, “Better get my sh— together!”

For right now, my old friend Lizzie and I are hoping to get this baby to bed by the holidays, or before she goes on her crazy round-the-world sailing expedition in 2024 at the very least. She has oceans to sail, and I have other books to write. I’ll let you know when our shared project has been safely birthed.

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].


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