The hearts were quite popular, worn by two-halves-of-a-steady-couple, or by almost-engaged pairs, or even by married folks---she’d wear her half proudly with her sweater set, and he’d tuck his discreetly beneath his T-shirt.
The word MIZPAH, as we all knew from seeing it, half and whole, meant “The Lord watch between me and thee when we are absent one from another.” But mine did not say that---it had the cryptic message "BE FRI," since it had been bought in conjunction with my best friend, on one of the MidSouth Fair trips we took together.
We’d been to Memphis to the regular school-day-out “Mississippi Day” for all our lives, most usually together, with one set of parents or the other, seeing the exhibits, marveling at the artistry and the craft of all those women whose quilts and pickles were so beautifully and artfully done. We’d strolled the MidWay countless times, repeatedly riding the TumbleBug, which would shake your bones and send you rocketing up against the thighs and sides of perfect strangers as it whirled your hair-do horizontal and your stomach sidewise.
We never DID ride the Pippin---the oldest rickety wooden roller-coaster outside Coney Island, I imagine. Even we, foolhardy and fourteen, did not trust the safety of that clattery thing---we’d STOOD beneath it as it roared overhead, the whole structure like a great nest of graying garden lattice, and you could SEE the nails shake in the peeled-paint holes. We’d waste several perfectly good hours of “fair-time” just sitting in the shade, looking pretty, or with the sun on our shining hair, tossing our ponytails and laughing gaily at imaginary jokes for the benefit of any boys walking by.
And the year we saw Elvis---up close and personal---that’s a story for another time.
The little half-hearts were quite popular in those days, coming along in the wake of the “mustard seed” craze---I also had one of those charms on my charm bracelet. And so, passing the booth of bright brassy gewgaws, chains swaying in the breeze from passersby and the clatter of the Pippin, we stopped and chose one. Since we’d seen all the MIZ and PAH swinging on the necks of so many boy/girl pairs, we got the one which said BEST FRIENDS.
We’d been friends-since-four, when I moved down the street from her big ole green house in town. We were walk-over friends, strolling into each other’s screen doors as if they were our own, and shared our love of books and music and piano lessons and perhaps a crush on a cute boy or two.
And we had our names “engraved” on the backs---skewed script almost run off the edge by the vibrations of that electric pen in the thin-squint man’s shaky hand. My half said, “BE FRI,” by mere chance of his grabbing that one first and scrawling my name on; hers got the most letters, and the oddest message, “ST ENDS,” which we thought hilarious, and even now makes me smile. We said it looked like a beat-up road sign, and it sounds to me today like the setting of a murder mystery with a plump little nosy woman as the village detective.
We wore them proudly to school the next day---not nearly as unique and clever as we’d thought, for half the girls there had parted with some of their Fair Money for the same tinkly garish things. We didn’t wear them for too long, for they soon fulfilled their destinies of making our necks green and our fingers smell like old pennies, but the friendship lasted way past high school. She went off to Nursing School in Memphis and I to Ole Miss, and we corresponded and both went home for a lot of weekends and caught up.
We both married, had children, saw each other when she’d come back from Arizona to visit her parents. I still miss her bright smile and her infectious laugh, and I think of her often, as my MIZPAH Friend.