Barbra Streisand sang it and we cried; graduating classes sang it and we cried harder: "Memories light the corners of my mind, misty water-colored memories, of the way we were."
What is it that's so bittersweet, so lovely, and yet so painful about our memories? Without them, we would be completely stranded, bereft of comfort on lonely Sunday afternoons. But recalling even the tiniest of moments can sometimes bring a flood of tears and excruciating grief, especially if the thoughts are of those who've left this life forever.
These last few years I've lost more loved ones than I ever thought I could bear. I've come to know Westover far too intimately. Just this past holiday season, I said good-bye to two good friends, one a wonderful lady at our church, and the other my "boon" companion since the first day of third grade when she shyly scuffled in to Mrs. McClain's room at Martinez Elementary.
Gail and I were opposites in looks, but alike in everything that mattered. She had beautiful silky yellow ringlets and ocean-blue eyes. I, on the other hand, endured dark brown curly locks my mama insisted on keeping chin-length short, until I got old enough to outrun her, and eyes of identical color.
Gail was shy and quiet, but very friendly. We quickly became the best of buddies, eating lunch together, jumping rope at recess, and watching "Dark Shadows" after school on rainy afternoons. We'd sit in daddy's old La-Z-Boy together and scream in delicious horror as Barnabus sucked the life out of yet another poor, limp damsel, or giggle uncontrollably as poor Joan Bennett, aka Elizabeth Collins, constantly fumbled her lines. We were easy to please in our unsophisticated innocence.
Sometimes, we'd have sleepovers. Mr. Partridge, our bus driver, was so accommodating of our Friday night plans, he'd actually wait for one or the other of us to run in, get permission, pack a bag, and jump back on his big yellow "taxi." Heaven knows what the rest of the kids must have
thought, but no one ever complained.
If my family vacationed at Tybee Island or Williamsburg, Gail was generally the pal who tagged along; I don't think I'd have learned how to make a good sand castle or flirt with boys otherwise.
And she could make me laugh over practically nothing. Once, on an exceptionally long stretch of road, when Daddy was apparently determined to cover at least as much terrain as the pioneers did in three months, Gail asked me if I'd ever noticed the fronts of cars, the grills and headlights, how they looked like faces. Then, she proceeded to imitate every one that passed by us; I howled so much my sides were aching.
Immediately after high school, Gail married and started having babies faster than the rest of us could spell ovulation. All were beautiful, chubby angels, the second even named after me. I, too, married, and our children arrived, and then came all the years, when, as my grandma used to say, "you're too busy to look up."
But Gail and I stayed in touch as much as we could, and even decades later, she could still make me laugh over the simplest of remarks.
So, seeing this dear, sweet woman lying in her casket a few weeks ago, so still, not running happily through our fields with my spaniel, Blackie, and me, I had to pretend it was someone else. It couldn't be Gail; why we'd planned to catch up when I retired!
Thoughts of all the other ones who have most recently left me came flooding back in a tsunami of agony. Others, gone long ago, joined these saints in a parade of sorrows. I could barely breathe under the weight of my losses.
But God, in His infinite wisdom and grace, never temporarily removes one jewel from our collection without sending something to help ease the absence. And too, we eventually learn that nothing once loved is ever truly lost.
My oldest son asked me if I saw the glass as half-empty or half-full. I told him neither really. My cup has always overflowed.
Though no one could ever remotely "replace" those I have had to let go, it has been my joy to welcome sweet new additions to our family, through marriage or birth, and to discover almost everyday, unique and precious friends, especially at work. One in particular I've grown to appreciate even more lately, for her kind and loving manner. She always cheers me up at the end of a long, hard day.
By the way, her name is Gail.
God is good.
(Mindy Jeffers is a Martinez resident.)
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