to the nines

Leigh Pleta (far left), Beth DeVito (third from the left), Maggie Blehar (5th from left), Anne McGinty (6th from left), Emily McGinty (7th from left), Meredith Burger (3rd from right), Elena Rymer (4th from right)

When friends and family told me as I went off to college in 2009 that I was about to find my very best friends, I politely disagreed. I had already found my best friends … in kindergarten. Stephen C. Foster Elementary School brought me eight girls—Leigh Pleta, Meredith Burger, Anne McGinty, Emily McGinty, Beth DeVito, Hope Schrott, Elena Rymer and Bridget King—who have remained my solid group of friends for the past 21. It shocks everyone I tell. Though I realize how rare it is to have had the same friends for my entire life, it’s our normal, and something that none of us takes for granted.

We were in Girl Scouts and Indian Princesses together, we had sleepovers at least once a month (to the very clear annoyance of our parents), and there was never a question of who would be part of our group for high school dances. While classmates around us grew up and apart, we grew up and together. Our conversations went from the latest Barbie dolls and two-wheelers in elementary school, to new sports and clubs in middle school, to boys and our yet unknown futures in high school. Though all of us had other friends from classes or extracurricular activities, it went without saying that nobody could break through our bond.

Emily McGinty, Maggie Blehar, Anne McGinty, Beth DeVito, Leigh Pleta, Elena Rymer, Hope Schrott

The night before our last day of high school, we all snuggled together in a tent in my backyard on Roycroft Avenue. It was a tradition we had started some time in middle school, but this night was different. We were about to start our own journeys away from Mt. Lebanon—three of us were heading to colleges in North Carolina, four to Ohio, one to D.C., and one to the middle of Pennsylvania. Though we swore we would remain the best of friends throughout it all, I worried deep down because we had been no further than a few streets away for the past 13 years of our lives. What if we lost touch? What if they found other best friends? What if I never saw them again?

Emily McGinty, Hope Schrott, Bridget King, Maggie Blehar, Meredith Burger, Elena Rymer, Leigh Pleta, Anne McGinty, Beth DeVito

Fast-forward seven years later, and I have just finished unpacking my suitcase from my recent trip to Wilmington, North Carolina, where our friend Leigh lives. Though all nine of us weren’t able to make it to Leigh’s this summer, six of us were. To us, that’s pretty good odds. Since graduating college, our group of Foster girls has moved all over the country: Meredith to Colorado, Leigh and Emily to North Carolina, Anne to Michigan, Hope to D.C, Elena, Beth, and Bridget here in Pittsburgh, and me to Philadelphia. Despite the distance, we make it a point to visit each other’s homes every summer. The week or so that we get to spend together each year reconfirms the strength of our friendship. I never laugh as hard as I do when I’m with these girls I’ve known since age five. We relive old memories, make new ones and travel to places that our friends call home. During our trips, we always find new similarities and embrace our differences. Four of us are dog-owners, three are teachers, two work in the medical field and six have tattoos. Combined, we’ve traveled to almost 30 countries, including Tanzania, Croatia, Taiwan and South Africa. We laugh (though are somewhat serious) about our future kids becoming best friends and we’ve joked many times about picking a random city in the U.S. and all moving there so that we don’t have to spend money on plane tickets. We’ve already planned a week in Philadelphia next summer, and there’ve been hints of one or two weddings within our group for the summer after that.

Beth DeVito, Maggie Blehar, Emily McGinty

I never thought a group of girls in my Foster School kindergarten class would become my lifelong friends, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Last December 23, I hosted our potluck dinner. A group dinner the night before Christmas Eve has become another tradition of ours because it’s a way we can almost guarantee that all nine of us will be in Mt. Lebanon at one time. That night, we laughed until our sides hurt and spent the entire time talking loudly over one another until my sister came down from bed at 2 a.m. and forced everyone to go home. But we also gave a toast before departing: to 20 years of friendship under our belts, and many, many more to come.