52 Ancestors #3 – Longevity: My "Oldest" Friend – Doreen Bernabucci Brown

 I spend a good deal of time making sure the stories of our ancestors don’t get forgotten.It is sometimes easy to forget that my stories are important also. For that reason, I have decided to focus on my generation for this year’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. This is the (long) story of my 48-year-old friendship with my best friend, Doreen Bernabucci Brown.

This plate, a gift from Doreen, hangs in my dining room.

I don’t really remember meeting Doreen. She, on the other hand, has a very vivid memory – we were riding the bus to Sleeping Giant Junior High School in Hamden, Connecticut. It was 1969, and Doreen’s family had recently moved from southern Hamden (Michael J.Whalen Junior High School territory – a whole ‘nother world!) to the “country” of northern Hamden. We were 14.

The next year, we entered Hamden High School. There were 2400 kids across 3 grades – almost 800 in our class alone. SO MANY PEOPLE! It was the fall of 1969. Tensions were running high in our town. Race riots had broken out in the school earlier that year, prompting a mention of Hamden High in the February 7, 1969, issue of Time magazine. We, the women of the class of ’72 were one of the first classes in which the girls could wear pants to school. The times, they were a-changin’.

As in most schools, the students separated into cliques – the jocks, the frat boys, the sorority kids. (Yes! In high school!) Teetering on the edges of the drama club group and the student council group, I really didn’t fit anywhere. Luckily, Doreen, myself, a few other girls made our own group. We pretty spent the rest of our high school career hanging out in the office of Mr. Pfeffer – the head of the Social Studies department. Prom time came – oh no! We wouldn’t dare be caught dead going to the Prom (Yes “the Prom” – that’s how we said it in 1972!) The fact we didn’t have dates didn’t factor into our decision – we were simply “too cool” to waste our money going to the Prom. We spent the evening at our friend Patty’s house, drinking Grasshoppers. Remember – the drinking age was 18 back then. I’ll save you the trouble of trying to do the math – yes – I was only 17 and 4 months old. It’s not my fault my mother had me start kindergarten at age 4 1/2.

Probably the early 1970s – L-to-R:
My sister, Betsy, my mom, Doreen

We often hung out at my house. Both of us had bedrooms in the basement of our homes so we could escape the craziness of our large families. My stepdad loved “Chlorine.” I’m not even sure he ever called her by her real name. He and Doreen’s dad knew each other from working in the tire business.

Doreen and I managed to survive high school. I had a job working at a local drug store, Maxwell Drugs and was able to get Doreen a job there as well. We were very good at our jobs. We were trusted. We were responsible for balancing the cash registers at the end of the night and spent a good deal of time working behind the pharmacy counter. I can’t divulge details, but let’s just say our shared experience working at the drug store only further cemented our friendship. Oh – and Doreen met her future husband while working there.

We dated a little bit – guys that worked/hung out at the stores in the Hamden Mart – most regrettable. Again, many stories that probably should stay between Doreen and me. Let’s just say that during this period, we followed my mother’s rules:
1. Don’t do anything that will change your life forever.
2. Don’t ever get brought home by the police.
3. If you do do something really stupid, make sure I never find out.

We both entered Southern Connecticut State College, now a university. Doreen was majoring in Biology and I was planning on becoming a “cool” high school English teacher. By our sophomore year, I had discovered that English was REALLY boring and decided to become a Special Education teacher. Doreen stuck it out in Biology.

Doreen – at my wedding,
May 1983

In October 1974, I met Scott, the man whom I would marry (nine years later!) By Spring 1975, I had moved into an apartment with another friend of ours from high school. Shortly after that, Scott moved in as well.

Doreen began dating a customer who frequented the drugstore. Pretty soon, they were a steady thing. By the fall of 1975, the four of us had a regular Saturday night date. We hung out with with a third couple most Saturday nights for maybe a couple of years. One particular New Year’s Eve stands out: We were all laying on the floor watching Saturday Night Live when Scott started mumbling something to me. I couldn’ hear him so I asked Doreen what he had said. She replied, ‘He asked you to marry him.” By then, Scott had already fallen asleep. (Or maybe passed out… ) Sadly (for me) there was a vehement denial of that conversation by Scott the following morning.

Doreen was (is) a woman who knew what she wanted. She and John married in 1977. After three engagements, Scott and I finally tied the knot on May 28, 1983. Doreen was my Matron of Honor.

Meeting Doreen for coffee: July 1985
3 months after the birth of my first child.
Doreen and John – New Year’s Eve – some year….

Over the next couple of decades, Doreen and I would lose touch, then reunite. (Hence, the appropriateness of the plate she gave me.) Our lives were quite different. I was working full-time and had two young girls. Doreen had opened her own store, Pottery Plus. Every so often, we would get together. And we still laughed.

In 2011, my mother was suffering from the last illness of her life. Doreen was there through it all.

Mom and Doreen –  at the Arden Nursing Home – 2011

Doreen lost her beloved father, Dario (Doc) on September 19, 2013. Sadly, I was not there to support her as were attending the memorial service for Scott’s brother. But, as always, I was with her in spirit.

Undated photo of a holiday get -together with Doreen’s family
L-to-R around table: her Mom – Shirley, Aunt Rose, sister Sharon, her Dad – Doc, John and her uncle.
On October 15, 2015, our grand-daughter, Paisley May, was born. It was Doreen’s birthday. The bond that connects our families just grows stronger and stronger.

In August 2016, John and Doreen joined Scott and me for a week-long cruise to Alaska. The saying goes that the best way to test a relationship is travel with the person. I can say, with certainty, that we have passed the test! It was a fabulous week. Now that Doreen is finally joining the three us in retirement, I look forward to even more trips together.

Alaska – August 2016

It is truly something special to have a friend with whom you don’t have to explain the “backstory” when stuff happens. It’s even better to have a friend who tells you the truth and gives you the strength you need. Doreen is that person for me. Over the years, I’ve had some tough decisions to make. Somehow, Doreen always had the clarity of vision to help me wade through the minutia of information I tended to gather, and guide me towards the best choice. Pretty sure she is completely unaware of how many times I said to my husband, “But, Doreen says… “

I could go on and on. This seems like a good stopping place. I’ll simply end by saying, “Doreen, I love you! Can’t wait to see what the next 48 years will bring!” (I’ll be 110 – now that’s longevity!)

2 thoughts on “52 Ancestors #3 – Longevity: My "Oldest" Friend – Doreen Bernabucci Brown

  1. This is a lovely and loving tribute to your very good friend, a part of your family by choice! I think \”family friends\” are really important to the history of every family, and you're adding to the story with this wonderful post.

    Like

  2. I love this – and you're right that recording your stories are every bit as important as recording those of your ancestors. You have a very special relationship with Doreen and you honored her well with this post 🙂

    Like

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