Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Tribute to a Childhood Friend

April 29, 1949 - July 15, 2009
Jefferson City, Missouri

I was saddened when I recently received the news that a childhood friend had passed away. We grew up in the same small Missouri town, attended the same little Holiness church, & were in the same grade at school. I don't remember that we were great buddies...but he was just always there, part of my growing up memories.

His daddy was a farmer & I remember that at an early age, Gary knew how to maneuver one of those big farm tractors. He had 3 sisters, two older, and one younger...a special little girl that we would now refer to as a "special needs" child. Gary was a mischievous little boy but I don't ever remember him being in a lot of trouble.

Being the same age, we were in the same grade at our consolidated grade school. Although we were from a small town, our school was relatively large & there were lots of baby boomer kids in our class.

I think we were in the first grade & "Miss Georgie" was our teacher. One day she gathered all of her students in a circle & we were going to dance the "Virginia Reel". Being the little innocent Holiness children that we were, we knew our parents would not be pleased if we participated. I think I was the one that had to go to Miss Georgie & tell her that Gary & I weren't supposed to dance. I'll never forget that humiliation! But sweetly, Miss Georgia allowed Gary & I to sit that one out, having us take a seat while the other children whirled around the classroom floor to the music coming from the record player. I wonder if Gary remembered being singled out as much as I do...

Our families were friends & sometimes invited each other to our homes for special dinners. I don't think I'll ever forget the time that Charles & Marie invited my family to their home, a special invitation to listen to their new fancy purchase...a stereo system! Charles had it all set up in their living room & we all gathered around as he played that special recording of sound effects. We were amazed to hear footsteps that sounded like they were walking across the room! I don't remember exactly all of the other sounds, but we thought it was a magnificent system, bringing life like sounds right into their home!

It wasn't very long until we made a trip to Montgomery Wards & also purchased a stereo radio. Back then, the radios were in large cabinets & were actual pieces of furniture that the ladies were happy to display in their living rooms.

Then there is the memory of the time that Gary's little sister was severely burned after playing with matches & fireworks. We were getting ready to go on a vacation, but I remember my parents taking time out to go sit at the hospital through the night, while Gary's parents went home to rest.

And my one special memory of Gary is our "almost date".

It was while I was living away from home, attending KCCBS (a Christian high school). I came home on weekends as much as I could, having to "bum" rides from the guys that went there to College & had cars. Another story in itself...maybe for another time.

One morning the dorm telephone rang & it surprisingly was for me! Gary was calling. It seems that he had begged his mother to let him attend the Hallsville Junior-Senior Prom/Banquet...something that we Holiness kids weren't usually allowed to do. Marie finally agreed to let Gary go--with one condition--that he go with one of his fellow church friends--& the only one available was me. And to make matters more harried, the Banquet was that very night! Nothing like a last minute invitation!!!

I already had a ride home for later that afternoon so I made plans to be Gary's date. Some of the girls decided I needed to wear my hair "up", and after school that day, I got a fancy new "do". Of course I had called Mom to tell her that I had to rush home as soon as my ride arrived at the Columbia exit & for them to not be late. I had a bridesmaids dress that was left over from a wedding & Mom promised to have it ready & waiting for me.

Well, to make a long story short, my chauffeur home for the weekend was late that day. I told him that I needed to be home in a hurry but he & his other passenger decided they had to stop for a bite to eat at a sit down burger joint. I refused to join them & sat steaming in the car. I knew I wasn't going to make it home in time. (Arnold...are you out there?)

When I got home I called Gary telling him how sorry I was that I disappointed him. He was very kind about it & knew that I had tried my best. The next day he came by my house & brought me a corsage that he had ready for me to wear on our "date". So the next morning, being Sunday, I wore my pretty bridesmaid dress & beautiful orchid corsage to church just for Gary. I don't think we even sat together.

It had been years & years since I had seen Gary. Still, when I received that phone call this week, it really did make my heart sad. But as I read his obituary, I knew that he had lived a good life. The list of survivors was long & when I saw his smiling face, I was pretty sure that he had made lots of good family memories. At least I hope so.

He wasn't supposed to die from wounds suffered in a recent war. That was for the boys that had to go to Viet Nam in our high school years. Yet he loved his country enough to serve in the United States Army National Guard as a Sergeant, went to Iraq where he received injuries that would ultimately take his life.

Thank you Gary for all of the sweet childhood memories. But most of all, thank you for serving our beloved country!

My condolences to your family.

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