A childhood friend of mine passed away last week. He lived in the house across the street from us, in a small town where everybody knew everybody else, and most of your relatives lived nearby. My grandma and grandpa lived two doors up from his house, and his grandparents lived two doors up from mine. Our parents knew each other long before either of us was born, and are still good friends today.
He was the oldest of three brothers, and I was the second of four sisters. We were in the same grade throughout grade school and high school, although I don’t remember our having any of the same classes in high school. Most of my memories – and the best ones – were of the summers when we were all kids. The summers that he and I – along with his brothers, my sisters, and all the other kids in the neighborhood – spent playing hide-and-seek and cops-and-robbers during the day, and kick-the-can at night, with “home base” being the streetlight where a block-long alley and a dead-end street intersected, pretty much assuring that no road traffic ever bothered us.
Granted, this was a lifetime ago, and it was long before computers and video games – as well as outdoor dangers – drove kids indoors for entertainment and recreation. And although I was there and can still remember it clearly, I have to admit that even talking about it now feels like I’m talking about something not just from another time and place, but from a different world. Or an old TV sitcom – like Leave It to Beaver or the town of Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show.
One of my most vivid memories from those days – although it’s something so minor and inconsequential that I can’t imagine why it has stayed with me all this time – is of the day my friend found a star. It was a small, gray, metal star, a bit rusty and measuring maybe half an inch in diameter. He found it that morning in the grass of someone’s yard – I don’t even remember whether it was his, ours, or someone else’s – and he was so excited to show it to all of us. It probably came from a box of Crackerjacks or a child’s charm bracelet, but he wondered out loud if it might have fallen from the sky. We were almost – but not quite – old enough to know how impossible that would have been, so we all wondered the same thing.
I wasn’t able to make it back to my hometown for my friend’s funeral, but I sent a card to the family and asked my dad to express my sympathies. I’ll make a point of visiting them the next time I’m in town.
My dad told me that there may have been a thousand people who attended the wake and the funeral service. That didn’t surprise me. The smaller the town you live in, the more people you get to know over the course of your lifetime. Especially when the lifetime and the number of people actually extend through several generations. This doesn’t happen very often anymore in the mobile society we live in today. But there are still some places where it does.
On Saturday this past weekend, I had to be somewhere that necessitated my getting up very early and leaving the house while it was still dark. The stars were shining brightly, which I always enjoy and which still catches me by surprise during the time of year when it’s usually already light out by the time I go anywhere in the morning.
I backed out of my driveway, and as I started driving up the street I saw one star in the sky shining more brightly than the others. It wasn’t part of a constellation I recognized – although I’m no astronomer and admit freely that there are only a few that I’m familiar with – and it was so noticeable that I made a mental note to look it up in an astronomy guide when I got home. I forgot about it by then, however, and I’m not sure whether I’d still be able to track it down now.
So I’ll take comfort in the thought that has occurred to me since then, which is that my childhood friend, gone now from our everyday lives, has replaced the star that may or may not have fallen from the sky when we were kids so long ago. And that he is now up in the heavens where he belongs, shining brightly as he did for all those who knew him and loved him here on earth.
The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on September 26, 2013.
©Betty Liedtke, 2013
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