Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Cast my mem'ry back there now...

I got a telephone call today. Actually, the voice on the other end asked for my mother, because I answered her phone this evening. Mom is out of town visiting friends, and I'd gone with the Loved One and Dear Daughter to eat a dinner that Number One Brother had cooked. It wasn't bad, and it was nice of him to cook for us.

But the phone rang, so I answered it. The voice was hesitant, she asked for Mom, and when I told her she was out of town, she asked to leave a message. Her name was that of a friend from my childhood. Her grandparents lived across the street from us growing up. I was 12, she was 9 when we met. She called to tell me that her cousin, another friend of mine, is dying in a hospital in St. Louis.

As I write, I can see her cousin's face, the way she looked when we were about 13 or 14. The year was 1977. Gerald Ford was president. The Bee Gees ruled the airwaves. We both had feather-bangs, although they always looked much better on Kate Jackson and Farrah Fawcett-Majors. Therese was a blonde, my sister and I were (and still are) redheads. All three of us wore short white shorts and bicentennial-themed shirts in red, white and blue.

We met because my family lived on a dead-end block, and because we knew all of the neighbors. We liked to walk our dogs around the block, not just to exercise the dogs, but to look and see who was out, who was home and who could see us. When the car with Missouri tags showed up at the big house across the street, we were naturally curious. I hooked the dog on the leash and went for a turn around the block.

It didn't take long for me to discover that the new arrivals were visiting from St. Louis with their teenaged son and younger daughter. It didn't take them long to discover there were kids on the block, and before long, they ditched their parents and grandparents and came out to meet us. The rest, as they say, is history.

We were friends from then on, mostly for two or three weeks in the summer, and then around Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. In between, we'd write letters back and forth, in garish Flair pen colors. These were full of talk about school, boys, our parents, stupid things we'd done, nothing at all... I still remember one funny letter where she told us she'd just used the blue felt-tipped pen the letter was written in to color her eyelid like makeup, and now she couldn't get it off. When we saw her next, she made us laugh with the tale of how she went to school for a week with a navy blue eyelid. I told Dear Daughter this story just this spring when we were on a road trip to Arkansas. I don't remember how it came up, but we still laughed over it.

Therese was a lot that we weren't -- her parents were less restrictive than ours, and she had an older brother. She had a best friend named Sue who was into body-building, even as a teenager. She water-skiied, and wore makeup to school, and dated boys and made long-distance phone calls without asking permission. She was always a good girl, but still there was something about her that was open and daring and, compared to us, almost wild. We loved her for her adventurous spirit, her zany ideas, her spontaneous joy. When she married the first time, my sister was her bridesmaid. When we got married, she sent cards and gifts filled with joy and excitement. When her marriage went badly, we mourned with her, but rejoiced years later when she met Sam.

We haven't been in touch closely in a few years. We saw each other when her grandparents passed away. We had drinks and long conversations at Applebee's. We sent each other Christmas cards faithfully, hers with photos of a sweet-faced blonde girl, who had her mother's eyes. The envelopes were addressed in the same handwriting I remembered from my youth, though by now, she'd chosen a more sedate medium than magenta Flair.

And now, she is leaving us all behind. She's my age, and that alone is enough to give me pause. I can't be sad that her trial with cancer is finally over. I can't be sad that she's going to see her beloved grandparents again. I am sad that this is closing the book on those sweet, warm summer days, when we stayed outside until long past dark, walking around the block, singing and talking, laughing and making jokes, swinging our arms to make funny shadows on the sidewalks...

It's almost summer now, and I know that when I look at the summer night sky, she'll always be right there.

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