Best Friends

There are some memories that are so vivid you can feel them as if they were happening again. On an unusually warm afternoon in November I walked home from Washington Elementary School with my best friend, Marcella. For some reason we had been let out early on a Friday. In the fifth grade, that’s usually a reason to celebrate.

As we walked we heard conversation among the older kids about the reason for our early dismissal. The president had been shot. We weren’t sure what to make of it. We were growing up in uncertain times. A little more than a year before, we had walked home wondering if the Russian ships had turned around or if there would be a war with atomic weapons. On that sunny afternoon we wanted to know if the Russians had shot our president.

We separated at the driveways that divided our properties, agreeing we would change (there were school clothes and play clothes back then) and meet at Marcella’s house. I can feel myself standing next to her, squinting at the television as the late afternoon sun shone through the living room windows. When a picture of the young, handsome president appeared, the glare made the screen a little hard to see. I shifted my stance to the right a little and saw the graphic in the upper right hand corner. John F. Kennedy 1917-1963.

“I think that means he’s dead,” I said.

“Yes, it does,” she confirmed.

And every November twenty-second since then, when the nightly news carries the inevitable piece about that sad anniversary, I remember that day. I remember standing next to my best friend and learning one of the most frightening things I had ever heard. The next three days are firmly etched in my mind, too. For anyone who was alive then the images of the coffin lying in state, the widow and children paying their respects, the funeral, the cort├Ęge and a host of sad events are all a permanent part of our memories.
First Day of School 1959
And through it all, my best friend was there. We talked about our feelings and the reactions of our parents and the world. And sharing those confusing times with someone I loved and trusted made it bearable.

So it was through many years. Whenever there was something to talk about, something we struggled to understand, we handled it together. We negotiated our way through the births and deaths in our families, the confusing stages of growing into women, matters of war and peace and every big and small event in our town, country and the world.

I want to say ‘thank you’ to Marcella for traveling that road with me. And I encourage everyone to think about the person you considered your best friend when you were growing up. Have you talked to them lately? If not, find them. It’s not hard to do in this information age. Tell them how much they meant and still mean to you. They’re part of who you are.

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