Let’s Play: A Tribute to Friendship

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Forest People in Massachusetts and Michigan

This October I am paying tribute to one of my college roommates. I first met, Erica, Labor Day weekend 1991. Twenty-three years ago. I was starting my sophomore year at the University of Michigan School of Art. Erica and her two assigned roommates, Katie and Ellen, were two doors down the hall in a converted triple. This means three freshman are mushed into a double room. Lots of freshman entered the Residential College that year ready to start an intensive language program on top of their regular major. As the year progressed, I was amazed at how they made that tiny room work for three while becoming life long friends. I was in and out of my single room odd hours staying up late juggling studio work, academics and my job downstairs in our dorm. Those three women at the end of the hall were a definite bright spot during a very stressful year.

I learned early that Erica was excellent with kids. Some people just have the “kid thing.” Erica was one of them. She watched little ones for extra spending money. When my niece or nephew visited on siblings weekends (I was the youngest of five, so no little sibs to bring), Erica just had the ability to talk with them and help them fit right in with our house full of crazy college women.

After graduation, our visits were down to once or twice a year. Three of us were married in 2001. Chicago in the spring for me. Back to Ann Arbor in the summer when Erica married Flannery in a perfect, relaxed commitment ceremony. Then to Northern Michigan (Up North to natives) for Katie’s Halloween themed wedding in October. As life became busy, time between visits stretched. But,my daughter Sophia and I were lucky enough to have Erica and Flannery move closer to us in 2006. Flannery started graduate school at Tufts the fall Sophia was turning one. This is when I had the pleasure of seeing Erica’s kid talents shine. It wasn’t just the two of them that trekked from Michigan to Boston. They also brought their two foster children, Collin and Cayla, then just four years old. They juggled the move, graduate school at 30 and two young kids in the city—one with increasing special needs. Erica and Flannery made it work. They worked as a team. Erica was the first of my long term friends to also have kids. It was great to share kid ideas and concerns.

Graduate school was complete. Back to Michigan for them. Visits were limited to once a year when Sophia and I would head to Michigan for family holidays. We have kept in touch with occasional photos, cards or posts. We watched the kids grow—too fast.

During our recent summer road trip, Sophia and I stopped in Ann Arbor to visit the Erica and Flannery house. Their family has grown to six! They recently added another pair of siblings, age four and five. Are they crazy? Yes, but they have a great family. This September, Erica and Flannery were honored with being Michigan’s 2014 “Adoptive Family of Excellence.” Erica never would have told me this. Too modest. Adding more love to the family is just what they do. They expect no recognition. Katie posted a picture of them receiving the award online. Katie is also a marvel of adoption and social work and she is happy to promote the hard work Erica and Flannery have put into their family. When I have a stressful day and work to figure out our week, I think of my college roommate in Ann Arbor juggling a family of six, teaching full time and making childhood magic for her kids.

Now onto the play for October. Erica inspired play. Three years ago I shared a photo of the elf door I made during the holidays. The elf needed a way in and out of our house. Erica emailed. She NEEDED a door! Fairies and elves and forest people were also popular miles away in Ann Arbor. Erica is a master of play and make believe. She is at home covered in the mess and chaos of kids having simple fun. I gathered up the supplies and later that winter the door was boxed on its way. I was reminded of the exchange this week when a letter arrived announcing the final adoption of Heaven and Emanuel into Erica and Flannery’s family. That same day I saw this DIY miniature pumpkin garden idea for a fall inspired house garden for wee folk. Why not make a house for those tiny, magic people as the frost settles in? Heaven loves the magic of fairies the way Sophia did at age five and Erica’s twins before. My Sophia asks for stories of my old life. Anything before her is my old life. College roommate stories are popular. I love making connections for both of us to that family miles and miles away in Michigan.


Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

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