Tonight while continuing to look for our family Christmas book that has not been seen since last Christmas, I stumbled upon a box of memories. The girls and I laughed at some of the letters they had written to us from camp and at some of the essays they wrote in 2nd and 3rd grade. Deeper into the box, I found an envelope that took my breath and sent me on a fast trip back in time. Enclosed in the envelope were a number of snapshots of my oldest friend and I from tap dance classes at 5 to us walking out of high school graduation together, of Girl Scouts and swimming lessons, and of her wedding day. When I was five years old my family moved into a new house, and right across the street lived Sandy and her house full of sisters and brothers. She took me to her country club to swim and drink Brown Cows. I took her camping with our family once and when rain came into the tent and got on her fuzzy slippers she cried, “Those didn’t just cost pennies, they cost dollars.” We went every year of school together from 1st to 12th.
Sandy joined the Marines after high school and traveled the world, becoming a Russian linguist. She was very bright and very beautiful, and she prospered wherever she went. She married, and she and her husband had big interesting careers and they had a daughter, and we managed to keep our friendship alive over the years.
On a Thursday in September of 2002 a package arrived with a fun note, some old photos, and a beautiful dress for each of my girls that she had made. On the day that the dresses arrived, my girls endured with minimal eye rolling my puling out the old Fern Creek High School yearbook once again and showing them Sandy, voted Best Dressed- telling them again that she had made every item of clothes herself. The next day as I was ironing the dresses I got the call that she had been killed the day before- struck by lightening as she was judging an agility course with her beloved golden retrievers in Maine.
Sandy was my idol from the get-go. Woven into every significant occasion of my life, there is Sandy. As we got older, Sandy moved out into the world and did big things and I stayed rooted in Louisville. But as she moved about and did interesting things, my world got bigger because of her. In March when she had visited last, it was fun to swap stories of my small urban neighborhood and her big open spaces in Maine. She encouraged me that I could survive raising girls through teen years. We both admired the grey in each other’s hair, thinking it not so bad after all. We both cried that day when we said good-bye and hugged each other long and hard. At the time, my tears were of joy for the great gift of enduring friendship.
I put the envelope with the note and the pictures away that day, finding them almost too painful to even look at. Tonight when I found them again, I was in a better place to be able to look at them with love and joy, to remember things like our camping trip when we were 18 and didn’t know the first thing about camping and thus pitched our tent on a gravel area, so that sleeping on the floor of the tent was nearly unbearable. Of us as Rainbow Girls, dressed in formals every Saturday afternoon. Making her a champagne bottle costume out of chicken wire and green plastic for the Calendar Girl contest. How we dressed her little brother Stephen up in our dress up clothes when he was a little boy. Tap dancing classes with Miss Rose Marie. The sit-upons and campfire stew of our Girl Scout years.
In this day of facebook, it’s not all that hard to stay connected to old friends, or to re-connect. Our connection was forged of mostly snail mail letters, and occasional visits when she was in town.
So, I’m feeling kind of sappy tonight with a box of old treasures in my lap and a heart full of happy memories of little girls- my own, and of little girl me and my little friend Sandy.