June 23, 1956 – January 2, 2013
at the age of 56 years
I will so miss you Rick
Miss you and love you lots
Good bye my friend………….
More years ago than I care to remember, I met my best friend Arlie. We were both almost 4, me one day short of and she 6 days short. Her family had moved in across the back lane a few days earlier and that particular morning she had spotted me in the back yard with my mother and asked her mom if she could come and meet me. Arlie was painfully shy, she barely ever said a word around strangers and so when she and her mom came across the alleyway to our back gate it was Arlie’s mom who did all the talking while Arlie hung behind her peaking around her skirt at me with a shy smile. I remember that moment so clearly even after so many years because it was the beginning of something so pure it would last a lifetime.
My birthday party was to be held the next day in the backyard. My mom had been planning it for weeks. It was to be an “Indian” themed party and even my big brother had been conscripted to be the Medicine Man. Mom’s students in her Home Ec/Childcare class had decided on the theme and had put together headbands and fringed vests and such as well as construction paper totem poles and big letters spelling HAPPY BIRTHDAY to be posted up on the fence posts around the whole back yard. My Grandpa and my Dad had cut posts and my mom and Grandma had sewn fabric to make two teepees where the birthday food and cake would be served from. My older sister was designated an Indian Princess and was in charge of helping the Medicine Man to serve us our birthday food. I was so excited about the upcoming party and of course wanted my new friend to come too.
When I asked her, she got a big smile and actually said “Can I mommy?” out loud. Her mom said yes and then told me that Arlie was having her birthday just five days after mine. Having just discovered the whole thrill of having a birthday party I asked if she would be having a party too. Her mom shook her head and said that she wouldn’t because she didn’t know anyone in the new neighborhood yet. I thought for a moment and then asked my mom if Arlie could share my birthday party with me and that was the beginning of a lifelong commitment to each other’s happiness.
Years passed, we kept our friendship strong and were there for one another when we were needed and we never judged one another for anything. We just loved each other. Hard and deep and true. We started families, we moved away in distance but we would still talk and touch base. Last summer she started Cancer treatments again and I drove with my sister and her sister to a little town outside of Kamloops where she had moved herself and her boys many years before. She was thin and grey and had little energy but there she was with a crazy hairdo and the spirit of a survivor showing her inner strength. I left with thoughts that she would beat it and get her health back as she had done before. She was such a fighter. But alas, at Christmas the call came that she was now in a hospice and fading fast.
My sister, Maryellen and I jumped in my car and drove the Fraser Canyon through a snow storm to Kamloops and joined her sister Dena and her son Nathan and his family in the vigil at her bedside. She didn’t wake for the first day and I went to the motel that night so sad that I would say my goodbyes to her this way. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her and what a good friend she had been to me and to wish her a safe journey to the other side and to let her know that she could let go assured that I would be there for her boys. The next morning we were back at her bedside sitting and quietly talking to one another and Arlie lay curled on her bed deep in morphine induced sleep. Her son came in and told us that we should get heading back to Vancouver as a big snow storm was predicted and the Fraser Canyon had already been closed due to it.
I rose and went to the bed and leaned over my sweet friend and kissed her goodbye and spoke softly to her thanking her for her friendship all these years and then her eyes flew wide open. “Pammy is that you?” and then she uncurled her pain wracked body and said “just hold me.” As I held her I reminded her of how we met and she said she remembered that day too, that it was the start of something so good and so real. And then she looked me straight in the eye and said “You have to go you know!” and I responded that I could stay a little longer because I was after all a driving instructor and could drive pretty well in the snow. And she looked at me in that way she would when I had just said about the dumbest thing ever and said “I’m not talking about today silly, I am talking about Africa!” For a moment I thought” but I haven’t told her about falling in love with Kelvin”, of my thoughts to go to Nigeria to meet him, none of it. Then I remembered.
Us, at age five or so, sitting in her big bedroom closet with the light on and looking at her parents’ latest copy of National Geographic and ahhhing and ooohing over the beautiful pictures of the rest of the world. Our favorite pictures were of Africa. The animals, the jungles, the people, the bright red earth all captivated us and one day, after watching some movie us deciding to make a pact, using my dad’s hunting knife with the Deer Hoof handle slicing into the meat of our palms and pledging that one day, before we were very old, like Sixty, we would go to Africa together. So I told her of my new love and she said quietly, “Do it Pammy, you are the most loving person I have ever known and if he loves you and you love him then run to him, you deserve love like this before you are sixty. Run to Africa because I will never get really old like sixty and you have to go for both of us! Take me with you and leave me there under a tree so I can grow old in Africa.”
Just down the road from here is a big beautiful tree, it evokes the African Sky in my mind just seeing it. It is growing up out of the glorious red soil that embodies the Africa of National Geographic. It happens to be sitting right in front of a private house which, like many homes in Benin City, is surrounded by high walls with beautiful relief work depicting various people or bible stories or personal beliefs. Some have signs as well and this house in particular has depictions of women, old women to be exact, with a great big sign in metal reading OLD WOMAN across the top of the gate. I know exactly where I am leaving Arlie today. I know she will be happy here. Good bye my dear friend. I will always love you.
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