We met in September 1969. It was the first day at my new school (5th grade) and I was a little anxious. I was a bit overwhelmed by it all and so she just blended in with all of the new faces that day. As the days and weeks went by, things began to fall into place… cliches were formed… friends were made…. fights broke out and love was born and died… you know, the typical stuff. Irene didn’t really stand out from the crowd. She was just an average person in a world of average. We were always friendly to each other and occasionally we would chat but mostly we ran in different circles. That year, like so many others when I was young went flying by with a speed that my few years of experience could not appreciate. Next thing I know, I am graduating from high school. Yeah, I remember seeing Irene in class occasionally or at some of the social functions that we went to back then. We would speak and maybe laugh a little but then again, we would drift off into our separate worlds again. I remember chatting with her on occasion at the Kentucky Fried Chicken when I would drop in for a quick snack and it was always good to catch up on things. I never will forget when I was home visited many, many years later and my mom was telling me about Irene’s transplant. I just couldn’t imagine what her life must have been like. I always asked my mom about her when we would chat, but life always seemed to be taking me in a different direction and I never made the effort to reach out to her.
Now 34 years had past since we graduated from high school and through the miracle of the internet (most specifically Facebook) many of my classmates were reconnecting. Lo and behold, there was Irene again! I quickly came to understand and appreciate that if there was anything you wanted to know about the Northeastern High School class of ’77, Irene was your ‘go to’ person. She kept up with us all! Several of us began to talk of a 35th class reunion and Irene was right there in the mix. She always attended the reunion committee meetings and worked as hard, if not harder than the rest of us to make sure we had all the information we possibly could get about our classmates. As fate would have it, Irene was unable to attend that reunion… but yet, her optimistic spirit was always around us. The spring following the reunion I attended the Potato Festival and gave her a call. She wasn’t able to come out for the festivities so I invited myself to drop by her house. She and I sat and talked and laughed for a couple of hours. It was the best time.
She was the most upbeat and optimistic person I believe I have ever known…. and then there is this story… the one that means the absolute most to me… I have come to realize that Irene wasn’t just a member of the Northeastern High School class of ’77… or just a friend to her other friends…. she genuinely cared about us….. she loved us all… and I have come to love her too. I said good-bye to Irene a couple of days ago. To say I will miss her may be one of the greatest understatements ever. I feel an emptiness that I know will never be filled. I don’t have many regrets in my life but not spending more time getting to know Irene is one of them… but I do have to say, I am unbelievably blessed to have gotten to know her over the last 4 years.
(This story was written in December 2013… thanks again, Irene… for everything)
Several days ago I got an inbox message on Facebook from a friend from high school that I hadn’t talked with in a while. I always love to hear from folks from high school.. I think a lot of that is because of the history we share… they are the roots… the source so to speak of my life.
Well, anyway, all she said was that she wanted my address. She said she had something she wanted to send me. Since a bunch of us had reconnected in the last several years because of reunions and such I was curious but I just assumed it was something related to our class… so I kinda put it out of my mind… well, for a little bit anyway.
This morning when I was looking through the mail I came across a large envelope with her name on it. In a very strange way, it felt a bit like Christmas morning. There was this very ordinary looking envelope that gave up no indication as to what may be inside….so I hurried to open it.
Inside there were several different pieces of paper… plain white ruled notebook paper with a very plain and yet very familiar looking cursive writing. It was a letter inside a sheet protector sleeve. This was a good thing because as I read the letter, the tears began to well up in my eyes… this letter was dated 1970. It was a letter I had written to her mom as part of an assignment back in the 5th grade. In addition to this letter there was another one that I had written to her mom. Apparently we did a lot of letter writing that year. There was also a copy of a newsletter from our 7th grade class… names I hadn’t seen in 40+ years. The memories just washed over me in a flood.
As I sat there and read over and over the documents and relived events from my youth, I couldn’t help but think… this has got to be the best Christmas present I could ever get. I struggle a lot this time of the year.. with all the commercialization of the holiday and trying to have it live up to something that it couldn’t possibly ever meet. But to have something like this happen brings it all back into focus.
I am so glad that I such wonderful memories of my youth… I am glad that Santa still lives in the heart of my dear friend, Irene.. and it was so great to run into the 10 year old me for a little bit. It all just brings a smile and a joyful tear. As my letter said… I have to go now. Merry Christmas to you, Irene!!!