Ricks & Rippert, a friendship steeped in forever… Kellie Ricks and I met in art school at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 1989. Kellie’s roommate, Tracy, was in one of my classes and we knew of each other. One day at lunch, we sat down together and dove into deep dialogue. Consequently, this was no ordinary lunch conversation. We talked about death.
In November of my first semester of college, I lost my beloved grandmother, Mimi. She was the first significant loss in my life. Kellie shared with me about the tragic death of her mother in 1985. Sheila Ricks, had been killed in car accident right before Christmas. Kellie’s brother, Jamie, was in the back seat but was not seriously injured. John, Kellie’s stepfather, had been driving under the influence. As a result, he took his own life six months later. This was our first conversation. Consequently, our epic journey as best friends began.
We both majored in Illustration and had many classes together. Therefore, we did a lot of projects together. For a while we lived at opposite sides of town and would frequently meet in the middle at the Mount Royal Tavern. Our intentions were to blow off steam and drink. Both Philly girls, we drank Rolling Rocks and shots. Smirnoff vodka for Kellie and Southern Comfort for me. Stops at the Tavern were either after or before working long into the night on our school projects. For the first year or so of our friendship, when we lived in different areas, we walked and met in the middle with no troubles.
Finally, at the right moment, an apartment opened up in the building Kellie lived in. It was right down the hall from hers. At 218 East Preston Street, Kellie occupied apartment 4C and I settled into apartment 4A2. As a result, the scenario couldn’t have been more perfect for the remainder of our college years.
We took turns between apartments, working on our college assignments, sharing meals together, and just being us. Kellie was an amazing cook. Mr. Lee, an older gentleman who managed things and usually ran the elevator was keen on Kellie. Consequently, he often bought shrimp and specialty food for Kellie to cook. As a result, we ate well. Mr. Lee had a deep, rattling laugh that Kellie could imitate with exceptional accuracy. Kellie had that keen ability and imitated many people. In turn, it was a great source of gut wrenching laughter. Kellie never mimicked people with malice, but rather, playfulness.
After I moved into 218 East Preston Street, Kellie and I were elated to be in the same building. That August, before school started back up, we took a trip together to the Tavern for our libations.
That balmy evening on our way home, walking arm in arm and quite tipsy, we laughed heartily. We were filled with gratitude to be walking home together. Suddenly we heard a voice say, “Let’s get em!” Two women were upon us. One lunged at me and grabbed my purse. Next, she and I had a tug of war with my faux leather bag that was gift from my grandparents. The other lunged at Kellie, and grabbed her neon green bag. Kellie screamed loudly, “Take the money and leave the rest!” I started chanting it too. We followed them. Kellie and I chanted repeatedly and in unison, “Take the money and leave the rest! Take the money and leave the rest!” Our steps matched our call to action as we followed our muggers down the alley next to our building. They obeyed our call and started tossing items from our bags. We watched our packs of cigarettes, lipsticks, and random things they didn’t want, hit the ground. We didn’t stop to pick them up, as we continued following them and chanting our call of reason.
One of the women said, “Get the gun out.” I was the only one who heard her, and I stopped. Kellie hadn’t heard and she continued the fevered pursuit of our assailants. However, it was a ruse. There was no gun, and I rejoined Kellie in the wild march after our attackers. We followed them further and suddenly they vanished from our view.
Next, we turned back to get our smokes from the alleyway. Completely sober now, adrenaline pumping, when we returned to the alley, both packs of cigarettes were gone. Someone had witnessed the event and filched our smokes! Following that, another series of comedic events occurred before we finally made it back safely inside Apartment 4C with newly purchased cigarettes. We cracked open a bottle of wine to unravel after the wild experience of being mugged by two women for $15 bucks. This was just one of many of our epic adventures.
Kellie introduced me to the music of John Coltrane, Sade, Jim Hall, Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, the Indigo Girls and so many more. Over the years, Kellie and I sang together (both having pretty decent singing voices), and we would sing the Indigo Girls together most often.
Ordinary moments with Kellie were special, and full, and dense. We took the Myers Briggs personality test and discovered that I was and INFJ and she was an ENTP. We were both into astrology and often referred to Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs to learn our compatibility with potential love interests. Kellie was a Taurus, I a Virgo. We were different and the same in all the right ways. She was Yang, I was Yin. She was the Sun, I was the Moon. She was masculine, I was feminine. She was black, I was white. We played with these elements of ourselves frequently. We were a living, breathing yin yang.
One February, MICA threw a Masquerade Ball. We were encouraged to create and wear a hand made mask. As always, we made the most of our creativity and became art in motion. We capitalized on the black and white contrast of our skin tones. Kellie wore a white outfit and I dressed in black. Once again, we were a walking Yin Yang.
With our signature cocktail, Jim Beam and ginger ale, packed in jelly jars deep in our purses, we were set for the evening. As always, we did things our way. We stayed at the ball for a little while, sneaking sips of jelly jar juice when we could. When the spirit moved us, we ventured elsewhere in our elegance.
It was cold and snowed that night. Kellie lost her mask and one glove walking home in the blizzard that evening. The following morning, she spoke of an imagined scene. The single glove and mask delicately laying atop the glistening snow covered ground. The intimate picture telling its own story to passerby’s who might catch a glimpse of these elegant mislaid items.
In 1991 in our Junior year at MICA, I did a semester abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. While there, I acquired a boyfriend. Of course, I had shared so much with him about my best friend, Kellie.
He came to visit me in Baltimore, after I returned home and met Kellie in person for the first time. After meeting her, he made an ignorant remark about imaging her to look and be like Aunt Jemima.
Kellie’s creative reaction to this was to dress up like the Aunt Jemima bogeyman he had created in his mind. I took polaroids of her clutching a cast iron frying pan and broom. Next, we sent one the pictures to him in Scotland. We laughed our asses off.
During our Senior Year at MICA, our design teacher, Laura Dirksen Green, had an annual Fuck February party. It was an FU to winter. The rule was that everyone had to come dressed in summer clothing.
As always, Kellie and I took things to the next level. We decided to develop characters and BE them for the party. We crafted an entire story and memorized all the imagined details.
We were sisters, named Mavis and Estelle Leech Popejoy. We were from Jersey and Daddy was a produce distributer… I (Mavis) was a typist and Kellie (Estelle) helped Daddy in the office. We spoke with a thick NJ accent. We were completely over the top and stayed in character the entire evening. People weren’t sure what to make of us. We had an absolute blast!
Interesting note about the outfits. The outfit that Kellie wore was my grandmothers and the outfit that I wore was Kellie’s moms. So both of us were adorned in clothing that belonged to the women we loved who were no longer with us and whom we discussed in our very first conversation, that fated day!
We really knew how knock it out of the park together.
Graduation was the day after Kellie’s 28th birthday.
We were ready. We did the work. Together. Side by side.
We had another plan about the upcoming graduation ceremony. Our last names were conveniently in succession in our class, Ricks, Rippert. Ricks and Rippert. Consequently, we knew, when they called Kellie’s name, we would walk together. We were certain they would call my name too. Everyone knew we had an inseparable bond and they would bend with our steps.
Hence, that’s what happened. Lew Fifield, the chair of the illustration and design department and man with balloon hat in the picture, laughed and shook his head in recognition when he saw us. I don’t know what happened out there in the crowd, and really it didn’t matter. This was OUR moment. We were overflowing with pride and joy and rightfully so.
You can feel our exuberance in the photos. Hopeful and excited for the adventures that would follow.
Before Kellie and I graduated from MICA, we began planning what was next for us. We knew we wanted to move to another city and experience a different place together. We decided to take two weeks and not talk to each other about any of it, and we would each choose three of the top cities we would consider moving to. We had already eliminated the entire South to steer clear of overt racism.
After the two weeks passed, we sat down and revealed our top picks to each other. Both of us had selected Minneapolis as one of the three. Thus, it was decided. After we graduated we would venture to Minneapolis. Thereupon, the synchronicities began every where we turned. Minneapolis connections were turning up daily.
We planned a trip to visit and secure a place to live after graduation. My Dad had a good friend, James, who lived in our future city. Thankfully, we were able to stay at his place while we explored the city. James was a traveling businessman and wasn’t home for most of our visit. The one day he was there, the three of us enjoyed dinner out together.
Kellie and I went around looking at several apartments. We found one we really liked and wanted. The apartment was available as of July 1st but we wouldn’t be able to move in until August 1st. The landlord, Wayne said we could have it anyway. Later that day he called and let us know he had another interested party that could move in on July 1st.
We were crushed and didn’t know what to do. It was our last day there and we didn’t have any other options. We went to dinner that night at Yvette, a fabulous restaurant we had dined in the first night we arrived. As we were getting dolled up for our evening, I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we got a call from Wayne that the other people bailed and we got the apartment?!” So, we went to dinner and savored every morsel. When we got back to James’ condo that night, there was a message from Wayne, exactly as I had declared.
3641 Park Avenue South was to be our future home in Minneapolis.
Kellie and I both got jobs at Glamour Shots in the Mall of America in Minneapolis. I was a makeup artist and stylist and Kellie was a Sales Consultant.
On slow days if we were both on the schedule and our boss, Julie wasn’t there, we would do our own creative photos. I was smitten with one of the photographers there and he would take our pictures.
We had a ton of fun at Glamour Shots and met a lot of interesting and very ordinary people. The photos of us are completely priceless.
Our wild adventures continued in Minneapolis. Neither of us had a car and we rode the bus everywhere in the city. Grocery Shopping was particularly interesting. The bus stop was several blocks from our apartment. Therefore, we each had one of those wheeled grocery carts to help us manage the big stuff.
On one particularly frigid day, we had an infamous grocery trip. It was difficult enough to manage cat and dog food and kitty litter, along with the rest of the groceries we needed. However, we were young and determined, so we approached most things with a lot of gusto. There we were, walking briskly from the bus stop to our place, our individual grocery carts overflowing with stuff we needed. Firstly, a wheel broke on one of the carts. Secondly, a hole appeared in the kitty litter bag from it scraping the ground when the wheel broke. Thirdly, we were now frantically trying to save the kitty litter and figure out how to make it to our apartment with all this stuff in a broken cart. We laughed our asses off about it all.
Some other adventures in Minneapolis include seeing Tracy Chapman and Youssou N’Dour at First Avenue. We sang along with Tracy and cried together. When we first moved there we saw The Indigo Girls at Orchestra Hall. It was exquisite. McCoy Tyner met Kellie when we worked at the Mall of America and he gave her two tickets to his show at a jazz club that evening. We went and it was amazing. Glueks bar was a favorite stop for us. Our epic adventures were endless.
My closing story for this blog fast forwards us to 2016. That was the last ‘fun time’ we spent together in person. Peter Gabriel, who is my favorite musical artist announced Rock, Paper, Scissors tour with Sting that year. He wouldn’t be performing in Florida. Kellie’s birthday was in May, so I figured a double whammy visit was in order. I got us tickets for the show in Camden, NJ and planned a trip to Philly/NJ. It was an absolutely glorious time. Kellie and I did our usual late night talks, we swam at the pool at a club near her home, we went into the city and ate Mussels and Pommes Frites at Monk’s, walked in Rittenhouse Square, and we went to a mindblowingly fabulous concert.
After the concert, Kellie and I both posted our own things on Social Media. Kellie wrote this, “I was completely and utterly mesmorized as well as transported back to my youth by the mix of songs chosen. Truly. An EXCEPTIONAL and MIND-BLOWING NIGHT TO REMEMBER!!! Heather and I emerged virtually speechless with the profundity of it all! Thank you my BESTEST for inviting me and sharing this experience with me… Another milestone in a friendship steeped in ‘Forever’!!!”
There are many more stories to share about me and Kellie. I’ll leave it here right now, and pick up the storytelling when the time is right.
The magic and sisterhood between me and Kellie Lea Ricks lives in my heart, forever.
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