The Legacy Project | Week 6 - Friends

The Legacy Project was born out of a need, a responsibility, to write down my own stories, my history, for my children.

Ah, friends. Friends are the family you choose, right? I chose some really good ones. I have been really blessed throughout my life with some amazing friends.


The earliest friends I remember are my friends from elementary school in California. I spent a lot of time playing with my friend Gina, who lived down the street from me, and also a number of friends from school - Pam, who lived around the corner from me, the two Stephanies, Aimee, and Shawnee - who I am still friends with to this day!

We all went to a Catholic school that was K-8th grade. I remember mostly playing a lot at friends' houses. I remember Pam had a "clubhouse" in her garage that we used to hide in and play. We would go to the playground at the local public elementary school a lot to play. I remember sleepover parties happening pretty early - like 3rd grade! I remember watching scary 80's horror movies at those parties when we were pretty young! I was traumatized by "Halloween 2" for quite a while! 

Once we were in junior high, we would do things like go to the mall and the movies. I still remember going to see "Dirty Dancing" and "Desperately Seeking Susan"! On half days from school, we would walk down the street to the local McDonalds for lunch and then go bowling at the bowling alley next door.

The first boy/girl birthday parties started around 7th grade. I remember Shawnee had one in her pool house at her apartment complex. Bon Jovi were all the rage then and Shawnee got a drum set for her birthday! I had a boy/girl pool party that same year that I remember being pretty fun.


Once high school started, all my elementary school friends sort of drifted apart, as we all went to different high schools. My sophomore year of high school I took evening religion classes at our church to prepare for confirmation and that's where I met the group of friends who would become my life-long best friends. Around the same time that we started confirmation classes, a youth group was also formed at the church and we all joined up. I don't even really remember what we did at the meetings - I only remember a few overnight "lock-ins" at the parish hall, and a retreat away in the woods one weekend.

A bunch of us also started working at a pizza place around my junior year of high school. The manager would pile us all in the back of his truck and drive us out into some neighborhood and we would walk around for hours delivering fliers.

Our group consisted of me, Mary, Jen (who we call Fin), Whitney, Neil and Chris. As high school went on, it also grew to include Erika, David, Craig and Bryan and there were various other friends who came and went - Carrie, Sharice, Kara, Matt, Mike, Jeremy, Steve.

We spent a lot of time at Mary's house, and when we weren't there, we were at the pizza place, or driving around in Neil's van, sometimes doing what the boys called "anarchy runs" which basically meant toilet papering someone's house, stealing street signs or some other ridiculousness. We once filled a friend's convertible with a giant box of styrofoam pellets.

What else do I remember about our high school days? We used to have a yearly Christmas party that grew more and more epic every year. We spent many nights at Denny's and Lyon's eating pie. Senior year we all started working at Baskin Robbins - at least me, Mary, Fin and Erika did. Many nights spent there hanging out! 

Occasionally we would drive or take the train up to San Francisco to shop on Haight Street or downtown. We'd go to Capitola sometimes to go to the beach.

I didn't have a great time at my actual high school, but these friends got me through. They are still my dearest friends. We don't see each other that often as I live so very far away (although Mary, Fin and Erika still see each other all the time!) but whenever I am in town it's like no time has passed. I love seeing the next generation grow up as most of us have kids now!


College was a really fun time for me, and I still keep in touch with a number of my dorm-mates from my freshman year at UCSD. Katherine, Tiffany, Monique, Robin, Julie. An amazing group of girls that I just loved living with. I also made some great friends through the theater department while I was in college, and one of my friends, Christopher, became my housemate when I moved to New York and we even started a theater company together. Again, some life-long friendships made there. Christopher lives in Los Angeles now, but I see him when he visits New York, and I still keep in touch with many of my college friends. I saw Tiffany and her family most recently when they visited NYC while I was pregnant with Logan.


After college, I moved back to the Bay Area to do an internship in stage management at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. That's where I met Michele, who was a stage manager there. We became fast friends and have been best friends ever since. We worked on a number of shows together, and spent many a night having drinks in North Beach or hanging out at Michele's apartment. A few years later we actually moved into studio apartments in the same building out in the Richmond district. Michele lived right below me. We loved adventuring together - going to Half Moon Bay every October to fill my car trunk with pumpkins (and then delivering them to friends' doorsteps), going to Tahoe or Yosemite, or Marin. Michele also came out to NYC with me when I moved, and although she didn't stay long (I think she got a job in Vegas, I can't even remember now!), it was so nice to make that big leap with a friend.

Michele lives in Belgium now, so far away, with her husband and two boys. Thank goodness for things like Facebook and email though, that keep us in touch on a regular basis. Michele has also visited quite a bit - the most recent time was this past March. She is my dearest, dearest friend and I am so grateful to have her in my life. 

And then, there is Tanya. I met Tanya a few years after moving back to the Bay Area. We were both stage managers at San Jose Rep together. I remember both stage managing a show at 23 and everyone called us "Matt and Ben" (that was around the time Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won the Oscar for "Good Will Hunting"). Tanya moved out to the east coast a few years ahead of me, with her husband Michael, who worked for a theater consulting business in Connecticut. I loved hearing Tanya's stories of being a production assistant in NYC. I soon joined her :) 

Tanya and Michael's wedding in Las Vegas is one of my favorite memories. I did Tanya's hair :) I also remember wrapping her in a tablecloth at the reception (at the House of Blues) so that she wouldn't get barbecue sauce on her dress!

A few years later, Tanya and Michael moved to New Mexico and I had a number of lovely visits with them there. I loved going to the hot tubs in Santa Fe! (Tanya and I have always been a big fan of the hot tub - going back to our San Jose Rep days when Tanya lived in Santa Cruz and we would go to Well Within spa quite often to get our relaxation on!).

Now Tanya lives in Los Angeles, and I miss her so. Hopefully we will see each other sooner rather than later!! 

I have a few good mom friends now here in New York and I still try to see some of my closest co-workers from both "Spamalot" and "Rock of Ages" when I can, but there is nothing like those life-long friends that "knew you when". Writing this post has made me realize that as nice and convenient as things like Facebook are nowadays, I miss actually TALKING to my friends. It's time to pick up the phone.

I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.
— Helen Keller

Francesca Russell is a documentary-style family photographer and filmmaker located in Garden City South, NY. If you'd like to see more of her recent documentary family photography, head over to her Facebook page or follow her everyday adventures on Instagram. If you are looking for a family photographer or lifestyle videographer on Long Island or in the New York City area to document your family, small business or event, please contact her for more information.

The Legacy Project was inspired by the 52 Stories Project.