May 7, 2009 | My Joys

I’ve been waiting a long time to introduce you to Denel. img_0008I hardly know where to begin, because she and I have been friends for so long, and we are such an ingrained and beloved part of each others’ lives that it seems almost impossible to summarize in a simple blog entry what we mean to each other. I feel like it would be more appropriate to embark on a full-length book about our friendship, instead of a humble blog post.

Denel and I met when we were spindly-legged seven year-olds in second grade in Southern California. We were both in Mrs. Lokken’s class and have been friends ever since — forty-four years and still counting. She was the oldest child of Eddie and Millie, who became like second parents to me. Eddie was the principal of an elementary school and Millie was a health conscious stay-at-home mom who always welcomed me in their home. Denel and I became inseparable, and today I can hardly think back to a time in our youth where there isn’t some sparkling memory to laugh or marvel over.

Denel and I even took vacations together. When her family went south to San Diego for a week, I was invited. We sat in the back of their blue-with-wood-grain-sides Ford station wagon and listened to music or made up silly games. When my family drove north to Morro Bay for a long weekend, Denel was invited. We bought salt-water taffy on the Embarcadero, played at the park at the foot of Morro Rock, and we would stop on the way at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo to look at the over-the-top interior and the unique bathrooms with the miniature toilets.

Here are some memories I have of this rich friendship God has blessed me with: riding our bikes (Schwinn Sting Rays with banana seats and plastic-flowered baskets) all over our neighborhood, and later when we were cool enough to graduate to 10-speeds, riding for an all-day excursion to the Eastland Shopping Center. We shopped at C.H. Baker’s for shoes, The Show-Off to buy dresses that were too short, and had lunch at the cafeteria in the basement of The May Company. In the summer we swam at The Plunge, our city’s huge public pool, and we bought candy necklaces at the concession stand there. We went to the beach together dozens of times. Denel always tanned, I always burned. In this photo taken at Huntington Beach, CA, we were nine years old and had been best friends for two years.


I told you we had spindly legs.

Music was a big part of our lives and friendship. In 1966, when we were nine years old, Denel’s uncle took us to the Beatles concert at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. We were surrounded by thousands of screaming and swooning young women and the music was almost impossible to hear, but we will never forget that night.

Denel also loved Elton John and we saw him in concert twice, once when he was a new phenom at The Amphitheater and another years later when he packed out The Forum and wore those hideous outfits and flashing eyeglasses. We used to sit in her room, which had pink and lavender ballerina wallpaper, and listen to Madman Across the Water, Honky Chateau and Tumbleweed Connection. We spent a lot of time dancing. We would turn up the song “All Right Now” by the group Free, and dance while it played over and over. Denel’s mom would be making manicotti with sausage in the kitchen, and we would close our eyes and wildly dance in the living room with hair swinging and dreams winging. We weren’t even teens yet.

Denel’s father is a USC alumnus, so we went to many football games at The Coliseum, and even had gold and maroon striped matching dresses we wore to show our fervent support for the mighty Trojans. We were certain our dresses would help USC win the game. Denel later graduated from USC as well.

We spent one New Year’s eve together in her uncle’s apartment in downtown Los Angeles, and we went out on to his balcony high above the city traffic and banged pots and pans together and whooped and hollered at the stroke of midnight. Then we leaned over the edge of the balcony and took turns spitting, and watching until we could see the splats on the pavement below. We were having so much fun. We went to The Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena the next day.

To try to list the silly things and sayings that made us erupt in laughter over the years would take pages. We could take a simple phrase and turn it into a gut splitting event that we still talk about now that we’re in our fifties. With Denel’s younger brother Brian’s invaluable assistance, we took the simple sentence “I want an apple” and said it with snapping jaws, jutting chins and weird voices that entertained us for hours on end. We hid in the bushes in Echo Park in LA, and jumped out at unsuspecting people, spraying them with a powerful, imaginary mist that we could emit from our armpits. “PSSSSSSST!!” we would hiss as we sprayed, and then laugh uncontrollably when we saw peoples’ startled reactions. In the retelling this sounds so mean, but we weren’t mean-spirited little girls – you had to have been there, I guess.

We went to the movies on summer Saturdays a lot. I remember the year our mothers had to hold a serious conference on the phone, because they weren’t sure that Denel and I should be allowed to see a questionable Elvis movie with a bikini/beach theme. Looking back on how relatively benign those movies were compared with what our young people see today is pretty sobering.

We always spent the night at each others’ houses. At Denel’s, I loved her white Samoyed dog named Yuki and her black cat named Sebrena. We played hopscotch and rode the dizzying whirlybird in her back yard. We listened to music, talked with her mom Millie, and sometimes played foursquare.

At my house we listened to music, shot baskets, ate popcorn balls my mother made, tinkered around on my mom’s huge Hammond B-3, and watched TV. Denel and I both loved to read, and we traded our Nancy Drew books back and forth a lot.

For a while Denel and I were into wearing matching clothes. We would occasionally call each other before school in the morning to make sure we were going to wear the same outfit — my mom helped our cause by making us each a pair of bell-bottoms that were a black print with bright daisies on them, and we wore identical black turtlenecks to match. This was the ultimate in cool, believe me.

And each time we saw a photo booth, we had to get our pictures taken. We’re both twelve here below, and in the seventh grade. Laughing our heads off, as usual. Probably one of us just said, “I want an apple!”


This is one year later – we’re finally teenagers at age thirteen, and in the eighth grade. I’d already had my braces and am wearing a very attractive retainer. Notice the cool factor with Denel’s sunglasses.


Big high schoolers now – we were fourteen year-old Freshmen and still having fun together. Who knew that in four short years our lives would be on the trajectories that helped determine where we are today?


We were sixteen here, Juniors in high school. Now it was Denel’s turn for a retainer.


And we were no longer spraying people with our deadly projectile armpit mist, but were obviously still acting ridiculous. These pictures make me smile.


Denel and I were in Girl Scouts together, and were Junior Scouts from fourth through sixth grades and Cadette Scouts in seventh and eighth grades. I remember camp-outs when we slept six to a tent and sang “Taps” and the haunting round “Rose, Rose, Rose, will I ever see thee wed?” around campfires at night. We camped on the beach of Carpinteria and body-surfed the large, foaming waves until dark. We had many overnights as scouts in our local Girl Scout House where we learned how to tie bowline knots and to roll our sleeping bags up perfectly. We worked on earning badges together, and along with another friend, Ann B., we made matching lime green outfits for our Sewing badge, with Ann’s mother’s cheerful and patient direction.

Like most intense friendships, Denel and I had our squabbles when we were little girls. It was usually because one of us needed to be right (I won’t say who, but some readers might be able to guess), and we were both strong personalities who didn’t hesitate stating our opinions, even when we were young. These times of pouting rarely lasted, though, and we always moved on to more fun times.

We had wild imaginations, Denel and I. For a very short-lived time we thought we’d join forces and become a two-girl detective agency, and using portions of our last names, we were going to call our company The Lupi-soo Detective Agency. **Smile**

We both had our own cars by the time we were sixteen. I wrote about my little blue Opel here, and Denel had a light blue Volkswagen bug with personalized California license plates that I gave her for her birthday – they said 4DENEL.

In high school I was a cheerleader for a year, but stayed behind the scenes and began to veer off in a different direction since I had a boyfriend. Denel was involved in student government, journalism and many service clubs at our high school, and was so well-loved she was crowned homecoming queen our senior year. I cried when I saw the crown come down on her head, even then marveling that such a smart and popular girl would call me her best friend. I couldn’t have been more proud.

After high school our lives took turns that hindered our paths from crossing as much. I married my boyfriend, and his stint in the Air Force took us to northern California and eventually Germany. I gave birth to a daughter at each place. Denel went to USC as I said, and then got her Master’s at San Diego State, becoming a licensed therapist.

She has known her share of heartaches. Her first husband was a police officer and was gunned down in the line of duty by a drug-crazed man in our hometown. I was living in Minnesota by then and felt so helpless talking to her from a distance and hearing the pain in her voice, and wanting so much to do something to help my oldest friend.

Denel eventually married again, and she and Jerry have two beautiful grown children, Nicole and Christopher. Denel and Jerry are both skilled and compassionate therapists who help bring hope and change to their clients’ lives. Their own life experiences make them the kind of empathetic counselors that anyone would appreciate. They own and operate the clinic in which they serve, and it’s no surprise to me that the very traits that made Denel a sought after friend even as a child are the same that have brought her to her life’s work today.

Denel and I keep in touch today by text message and by telephone. Once in a blue moon one of us will fly to the other’s part of the country for a visit, and we always slip right back into that love and comfort and intimate sharing that has been a part of our friendship since we were spindly-legged little seven-year olds.

We have such a long and wonderful history together. Our memories are priceless, and we both know that so well; we don’t take each other for granted. We pray for one another and have supported each other through some of the hardest things life could dish out. And her mom and dad are still like my second parents – I love them so much.

As I look back on forty-four years of friendship, I see the hand of God. My heavenly Father knew I would need a friend like Denel. I think she would say she needed a friend like me. Now that the AARP literature is beginning to arrive in our mailboxes (although I’d like to know why, since it won’t be official for another four years) our enduring friendship becomes more precious to us with each passing day. We have years of love and memories, and we are truly sisters in Christ. I trust her and love her with all my heart. I wish you all could know her.

She exemplifies one of my favorite quotes on friendship: A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.  

Wait…I can hear her voice singing to me now…


  1. Carolyn says:

    I think I was quite old before I realized that “Aunt” Denel was not an actual aunt.

    What a blessing to have such a long and true friendship.

  2. Janell Orr Lucero says:

    Wow Julie…what a great collection of memories you have posted! I’m envious of the detail of your memories! I especially like the Beatles concert (cause I was there!!). I can’t tell you how many people, over the years, were hesitant to believe I actually saw the Beatles!It almost had me second guessing my memory!! So I was very happy to read your thoughts on that! It was all a delight to read as it took me back to many of the places you recall. Our childhood holds such deep & precious memories for all of us. Thank you for taking me back to that place in time. I enjoyed the journey!

  3. Just Julie says:

    Yes I remember Janell – we three and Denel’s Uncle Don. In his Plymouth Barracuda! I remember thinking that we’d never hear the music because of all the screaming around us. Thank you so much for leaving a comment – it is great to hear from you Janell!

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