Dr. Jeff London looks back at his childhood and his friend, Wally.
Well, if this happened, I know when it happened. I was in that middle time frame between childhood and teens, after my bar mitzvah, before I learned to drive a car and was ready to look for a part-time job. I was every parent’s nightmare … a teenager with time on his hands. And to up the ante, I had a best friend to help me concoct interesting things to do to fill that time.
I met Wally sometime after the end of sixth grade, when my family had moved from Pinehurst to Roselawn, from the neighborhood near MacDowell to one near Bagley Elementary. Though we had met earlier, we solidified our friendship in French class with a teacher Wally dubbed Miss McFoggy.
I loved Wally’s creative sense of humor, how he coined nicknames for everyone, including me. He often called me Lindy Lundy in those days. And we just clicked. Though we would go on to experience high school, college and beyond as friends, this was a time when we were inseparable, joined at the hip. We made up our own shared language. “Dion” (as in Dion DiMucci, our favorite singer) was our word for anything cool. We loved to make up crazy games, like Buddy Bomar basement bowling, when we slept over at each other’s houses (one block apart on Roselawn and Greenlawn, both on the corner of Pickford). And we both had July birthdays and Wally’s family had previously also lived in a house on Pinehurst, a few years before. So of course, we were charter members of the “July Pinehurst Club.” Our best friendship was obviously “beshert” (even though I had never heard of that word at the time!).
I will spare you the details of most of our plans, but I vividly recall the summer when we would both turn 14. We were at the height of our collective imaginations. When you have a best friend at that age, you think anything you can dream up together is possible, even though an underdeveloped part of your brain senses it may not be the best idea. So, not surprisingly, we together developed what I now call the Great Adon Olam Caper.
We had not known each other at the time of our respective bar mitzvahs. I had attended Shaarey Zedek Hebrew School while Wally went to the Chaim Greenberg Hebrew-Yiddish School, located in the Morris Schaver Auditorium. (Really, that’s what he called it every time he talked about it!) We had both had attended many Shabbat services nearby, mostly at the bar mitzvahs of our respective friends.
We both had opted to cease our formal Jewish education post-bar mitzvah, although my decision involved a deal with my mom to continue my piano lessons (which I kept only for the requisite six months). So, we were both quite familiar with the pattern of Saturday morning services at nearby synagogues.
You might wonder why two 14-year-old boys were discussing religious services at that time. We were not longing for spiritual awakening nor missing the davening and chanting from our pre-bar mitzvah days. Our needs were much more basic than that. We missed the seven-layer cake served at the kiddush after services. And so, we began to think of finding a way to have our cake and eat it too, which did not involve us sitting through a long religious service.
Obviously, the idea of going to a synagogue for a Saturday morning service, after which we would be eligible to eat a slice of seven-layer cake was much too simple a plan for the Dynamic Duo!
We began to contemplate various options. We could play cards, one of our favorite past times, and have the loser go to services and sneak some cake out for the winner. Nah! We had to do this together to make it worthy of our partnership. We could go to Zeman’s and purchase a sliver of our favorite cake with our allowance money. Nah, that was no fun at all!
Gradually, over the next few weeks, we fleshed out a plan worthy of our partnership (with a dose of Mission Impossible): We would arrange a Friday night sleepover at Wally’s. I would sneak my bar mitzvah suit into my overnight bag. We’d sleep in the next morning, until Wally’s father and stepmother had left the house. Avoiding both of his sisters, we’d put on our bar mitzvah clothes, including a tie (oh the brilliance of our disguises), and sneak out of his house and casually walk to Beth Abraham, the nearest synagogue.
One of us would walk up to the front door and check that the coast was clear. Waving the other guy in, we would grab two taleisim from the collection and hang them up near the bathroom, so that it would appear we had been present for services all morning. Checking ourselves in the mirror, we would make sure we looked presentable (sharing the comb one of us had strategically remembered to bring along). Then we would leave the rest room, put on our borrowed taleysm, and enter the sanctuary together, greeted by those sweet words from the bimah: “Will the congregation please rise for our concluding prayer, Adon Olam!”
After joining the congregation in song, we would then casually join the queue and leave the sanctuary, heading over to the kiddush, waiting respectfully for the bracha before we each claimed our rightful slice of seven-layer cake.
What a plan! I still remember it in surprising detail. The story lives on, at least in my imagination. But the question haunts me … did we really follow through and do it? I honestly wasn’t sure. So, of course, I went directly to the source. With some trepidation, I called my old friend Wally, now retired in Arizona. Did he remember the plan? Absolutely. Now the big ask: Did we actually pull it off?
He asked me why I needed to know. I explained that I was writing an article about that time and our relationship. I could hear the smile in his voice. “It’ll make a better story if you write it as if it happened.”
And then, I remembered one of our favorite sayings from those days of intense friendship. When one of our friends who had a higher risk tolerance than either of us teenage wannabes suggested a dubious plan, Wally and I would turn to each other and together in unison say those words of wisdom that saved us from ourselves more times than we could count: “Let’s not and say we did!”
Looking back to those simpler times, I still remember how special it was to have a friend like Wally. Sixty years later, we are both older and perhaps wiser, but, as you can see, Wally also still remembers those times — and he’s still got my back!