When I was ten or eleven, I had a couple of summer friends, sisters named Wanda and Brenda. Their mother, a stocky woman who wasn’t old enough to wear dentures but did anyway, would holler, “Wan-deeeee, Bren-deeee” so I called them that too. Wandy and Brendy’s house was full of ceramic figurines they called what-nots (I dubbed them what-not to have). Little painted imitations of life – cats, dogs, clowns, pixies, toadstools with frogs, a shepherd boy holding a lamb and such were on the coffee and end tables, mantle, top of the TV. No horizontal surface was left uncovered.

I don’t know how we met. They lived several blocks away and went to different schools. I usually hung out with my best friend, but she was shipped off to her grandparents in Ohio that summer, so I needed sidekicks. Brendy was my age with wavy blond hair, fair complexion and always looked like she was smiling. Wandy was a year younger with straight brown, shoulder length hair and relaxed brown eyes I’d later learn would be called bedroom eyes, although to me she just looked a little sleepy.

They were always game to go on adventures. Those were the days when parents let their kids wander wherever we wanted, before constant sports practices, daycare, and the fear of what might happen to unguarded children. We explored miles away from home, walking or riding our bikes, checking in for a quick meal then dashing outside again. After a day of roaming around, I’d invite Wandy and Brendy to camp out in my backyard and their mother almost always said yes. Our tent was blankets fastened to the clothesline with wooden clothespins, with more blankets inside for covers. Nearly every night we huddled around flashlights, telling ghost stories and making silly jokes while crickets and cicadas sang in the background. Wandy and Brendy were the best friends a free-range kid could ever hope to find.

One day we walked a couple of miles to Robinson woods, a haven of cool, shady trails to escape the summer heat, littered with people’s discards to stimulated our imaginations.  We found a little clearing, and Wandy thought it would be fun to gather some of the junk and make a little kitchen. We fanned out and brought back rusted coffee cans, an old barbecue grill, milky glass pop bottles and other assorted rubble, arranging them into a pretend kitchen for our culinary masterpieces. 

Brendy found a half-buried metal pan that was perfect for a sink. She tugged at it but it wouldn’t come loose. Wandy and I got on either side of her and pulled with all our might. It came free and we fell on our bottoms laughing, but not for long. A million yellow jackets swarmed the air, landing on our arms and legs, crawling under our shirts, making that terrifying buzzing sound you hear in the movies. We all ran, screaming, flailing our arms like we were being dive-bombed by vampire bats. Finally Brendy yelled for us to stop. She began brushing the bees off of my back, and Wandy brushed her, but I was too terrified, I couldn’t stay still and started running again. We flew out of the woods and down the city streets, thrashing our arms, swiping bees off of each other, shrieking the high-pitched screams of young, panicky girls.

When we got back to Wandy and Brendy’s house, we had yellow jacket stings all over us, and they hurt. Her mom put us in the bathtub with baking soda. We counted the stings on each of us – I only had seven, probably because I was the fastest runner and also because Brendy sacrificed herself to brush the bees off of me. They both had way more stings than I did.

To this day, the sound of any insect buzzing causes me to start running. It’s a conditioned response that I haven’t been able to master, even though everybody thinks I’m crazy. “It’s just a fly!” they’ll scold. It doesn’t matter – I run.

When that summer was over, my friend came back and the four of us may have hung out, but soon I was back to my old routine. We never called each other or came to each other’s houses once we went back to our different schools. I don’t know what happened to Wandy and Brendy, but by the next summer I was a school year older and my tastes changed. Wandering all over looking for adventures was replaced with shopping or going to people’s houses to talk about the boys at our school.

I’ve watched my kids have a friend practically living at our house and for no reason I can discern that friend will be replaced with another. When I ask why, they’ll mumble about the person being busy or they just don’t hang out anymore, so it’s what kids do I suppose. Right now, while I’m picturing the three of us running, flailing and screaming bloody murder, I wish I knew where they were and how their lives turned out and what happened to all their mom’s figurines. I’ll never forget the fun times I had with Wandy and Brendy – and the bee memory is the clearest, and dearest, one of all.