I had three grandparents who died during my childhood, but the first two happened when I was very young and the third one was a grandfather I barely knew. What really stood out was the death of my best childhood friend, Shona. Her mom married the man who lived next door and she became my neighbor. I still remember how we met...
We must have been about 7 or 8 years old the first time we saw each other across the chain link fence. She had a picnic table in her backyard; I had a swing set. And, for some reason, we started taking turns showing off. She would do some kind of dance move or gymnastic trick on her table and then look at me. I would swing as high as I could and jump off. I guess we eventually started talking, but I just remember that initial feeling of trying to 'one up' her.
With blond hair and a crooked smile, Shona made up dances to our favorite movie soundtrack, "Grease." We learned all the moves and the words, though there was one curse word we always had to bleep out. I still consider "Grease" one of my favorite movies.
We lived in a small Kansas town in houses that were about one hundred years old. Each house had several steps going up from the sidewalk to the main yard and there was the chain length fence between us. The fastest way to get to her house was to grab onto the end pole and swing out over the sidewalk. I remember one crazy day when it was raining in her yard and not in mine!
Shona moved to an even smaller Kansas town after only a few years. I got to visit her the summer after our fourth grade year. The houses were spread out and most families had enough land for horses. Instead of walking or riding bikes to visit friends, we rode horses! This was my first real time on a horse and I remember one of them peeing and being told to yank my feet up and learning the hard way that pee splashes on blacktop! I was shocked to see the young boys our age chewing and spitting tobacco while we each sat on a horse and talked. On a weekend night, we attended an old-fashioned barn dash and the teenage girls wore their jeans so tight I saw one of them jumping up and down trying to pull hers back on in the restroom.
The next year, I moved farther away, too. We continued to write each other and at one point she told me that she had Hodgkin's Disease, but then went into remission. We talked less and less as the years went by, but we still sent Christmas cards to each other.
Our senior year I sent out a card but didn't receive a card in reply. Instead, a few days after Christmas, I got a phone call from her older sister. She told me Shona had passed away shortly before Christmas. I hadn't even known her cancer was back.
After hanging up the phone, I ran outside and hid behind a bush near the driveway. I sobbed! I couldn't imagine that Shona would never graduate from high school or go to college. She would never marry or have children of her own. I couldn't believe she was gone. We were just kids with our whole lives before us!
I recently found Shona's tombstone on Find-A-Grave and am thankful for the volunteers who post photos and other details and give family and friends a place to remember loved ones and leave virtual flowers.