My friend Kathy's birthday would have been today. We were just a week apart in age and both of us lived on Chestnut Street in Weston's Mills. I rarely got out of school for mine, only if it happened to fall on a weekend. But she on the other hand never had to go to school when hers came around. That's because she had the wonderful fortune of being born on the same date that Christopher Columbus bumped into a continent that hadn't been discovered yet and made it a national holiday. I'll admit, at times I was a bit envious of her and wished that America could have been found on some other day, like a week earlier maybe.
When we were young we spent a lot of time together. Because we were so close in age and only a few houses apart we just naturally sought each other out when needing something to do. The Christmas we were ten we both got Mattel's Lie Detector Game. We couldn't get enough of it, playing it as often as we could. She never made it through the whole night at my house, she'd always get homesick. But I'd sometimes stay overnight at the Williams where we'd sit in the middle of the kitchen floor for hours trying to figure out who'd committed the crime. I still have mine by the way.
Most of the homes on Chestnut and Mill Streets in Weston's had kids, so there were often whole groups of us playing together. Certain games went with certain yards. We used the Cassada's place for dodge ball because they had a side walk that divided their front yard in half. Our place worked best for football and kickball and the Reese's field was perfect for baseball. But one of our favorites was the gentler, quieter game of Mother May I. That one was always reserved for the side yard at the Williams' house. As for Wintertime, there was still plenty to do. Sledding, making snowmen and building fortresses kept everyone occupied. And there was always the Mill Pond. Kathy was a natural on skates, much better than I. We spent hours there, our absolute favorite thing to do during those cold months.
But we didn't always get along. We were both bossy, liked to get the last word in and and have our own way. At times our relationship was a bit strained. I remember one day in particular where we had a horrible argument after getting off the bus and somehow ended up in my neighbor's yard. It escalated to where Kathy took her metal lunch pail and hit me as hard as she could over the head. I followed it up with a hard shove, pushing her into Sally Cassada's flowerbed that ran right next to the house. It was not one of our better moments.
We were also pretty different. She came from a family of all girls. I didn't. Her dad was Irish, so they were good Catholics, the kind that didn't eat meat on Fridays. When I had dinner at their house they always did this strange thing with their hands after saying grace and had a medal of some saint hanging in their car. My family was Protestant. She liked Elvis Presley and had his posters hanging on her bedroom walls. I was more into Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music. She was athletic and played intramural sports at school and she could do a great cartwheel. I couldn't get much beyond a somersault. I played in the band and auditioned for school plays, stuff that didn't interest her all that much. By high school we were pretty much doing our own thing, and the only time I saw her was on the bus.
I went off to college for a year then decided to take some time off and find work. That year turned out to be one of the hardest of my life, a second-shift plant job in an environment that was completely foreign to me. Kathy just happened to be working in that same place and reached out to me almost immediately, ready to pick up where we had left off. I grabbed hold, needing a friend and grateful that it was her.
A year later I was back in school almost a thousand miles away. I was glad, relieved to be gone from the place, but I missed my friend. Our friendship had gone to a deeper level this time, far beyond Mother May I and playing games on the kitchen floor. I'd been teaching children's Bible classes at the school throughout the year. She'd gone with me a few times and with that came questions about my faith and why I believed as I did. When I came home for Christmas a few months later she said she'd been waiting for me, that she was now ready to give her life to Christ. When I told her that she could have done that on her own, she said that it was important I be there. I was honored. Humbled.
Kathy had already been married for a few years when I met Larry and married during his senior year of seminary. Kathy wrote from New York and said she and her husband would love to take a little vacation and come to see us for a few days. We were living in Wilmore, Kentucky in seminary housing in a very small apartment. It had just one bedroom so we put the two of them on a sofa bed in the living room. Kathy was concerned. She knew that to use the bathroom she'd have to walk through the bedroom. Larry assured her not to worry, just to come right through. Nothing would wake him up anyways, so he said. He'd be sleeping like a baby.
I was suddenly awakened when a loud yell came from our bed followed by a horrible scream. Larry had opened his eyes to see a white ghostly figure slowly making its way across the room. As he hollered the startled apparition in the white nightgown began to scream back. "I thought you were a ghost!" He was still shaking. And then she started to laugh, a wonderful loud belly laugh that went on and on, and the next day she was still laughing. All these years later I still laugh out loud when I think about it.
|Kathy the morning after she scared Larry half to death|
I saw Kathy several times over the following years. I always felt that she was a much better friend to me than I ever was to her. When I'd get back home for a visit she'd always try to see me. When I came home for my brother's and dad's funerals she was there. When she remarried, she made arrangements for me to meet her husband Kevin and to see her new home. I spent an evening with her there.
I was living in South Carolina when I got the call from my brother Rex. Kathy was gone, a blood infection of some kind had taken her life. She'd had some serious health issues resulting from a botched surgery a few years earlier, but I'd never expected this. I grieved as if I'd lost my own sister.
When I was a kid you always knew when it was suppertime at the Williams' house. That's because Kathy's dad would stand outside when it was time to eat and call her home. Sometimes we were right in the middle of something and I'd wish she could just stay a few more minutes. But she never hesitated, not even once. She'd drop whatever she was doing and start down the road. Going home. There was no one with a voice like that. It would boom and everyone in Weston's Mills would hear it. The Father calling his daughter home.