I debated whether to write about this. Some things are beyond words and this might very well be. But it's part of the heart and soul behind writing the "Last Innocent Age", I guess. Looking back not only to the great times of childhood but to the people...especially to the people...who made them so great.
Tuesday I found out we lost one of those very special people.
I found out on Tuesday that one of our original "Monroe Avenue gang" had died. Sheila was in the younger group of us kids on the block. She was a couple of years younger than me. Her brother Kevin was amongst my very best friends from the day I moved to Monroe Avenue. Her older brother Billy and Frankie were an integral part of my life back then too, as was her sister. Her mom is one of the funniest, goofiest, nicest people in the world. Heck I even knew her grandmother. That's how close we were on that street.
Sheila was the nearly non-stop companion of Monica and Dawn when we were growing up. They were about the same age, and had most of the same interests. I remember in particular, when the three girls had discovered Peter Zezel when he came up as a rookie with the Flyers. (As did every other girl in the Delaware Valley...nobody made them swoon like Pete) When they discovered that Peter and I had become friends, through a hockey clinic, they called me unashamedly asking me to introduce them. They came to the rink at U of D and after the night's session we got together with Peter and I introduced them. Pete was his usual gregarious self and gave the girls 20 minutes or so of his undivided attention. It was great fun watching them interact with this guy they all adored.
Sheila was an irreplaceable part of my childhood. She is interwoven like a thread in a piece of fabric. I couldn't come up with a memory from Monroe Avenue that didn't somehow involve her directly or indirectly...just like everyone else on that street.
I guess I could go off on a path of "Well it's time to start thinking about this...at a certain age your friends start to die..." That's true, but that does Sheila's memory no justice. I prefer to think of how you just never know...as you live your life every day and you become what you hope to become and you start a family and you build a life. You never know, fully, what people mean to you until they leave and you feel the vacuum. You never look at your friends and imagine them gone. Nobody does that unless they are forced to. Maybe we should. Maybe life would be sweeter if we occasionally imagined an obituary for a dear friend before we actually read it. I suppose it would, but we seldom do that and it's a bit morbid.
No, we just tend to live our lives and keep our words inside. Not because we don't want to say them, but because we always think we'll have an opportunity. "I really need to catch up with ..." sadly becomes "I wish I had called...". I remember watching Earl Campbell's acceptance speech when he won the Heismann and being moved by it. I was maybe 12 or 13 but I thought his tribute to his mother was stunning. He quoted an old Wilburn brothers song "Give them the Roses While They Live"
"Wonderful things of folks are said
When they have passed away
Roses adorn the narrow bed
Over the sleeping clay
Give me the roses while I live
Trying to cheer me on
Useless are flowers that you give
After the soul is gone"
I probably could have stopped for a chat on one of my trips home. I could have gotten an address and sent a Christmas card. But I didn't. Sheila and I were on great terms when I moved away so I have no regrets that way. But we never think something like this will happen and so we don't take the few extra minutes to tell someone how much they mattered...and still matter...to us. We just live each day and then each day adds up into years and we fall out of touch. It's how we are and it's a shame. Then when something tragic like this happens we are left trying to put the shattered pieces of our hearts back together again, and cutting ourselves with the jagged shards. Because losing a friend hurts.
So...Monk, Tommy, Donna, Johnny, Kevin, Rich, (and you too Debbie;) ) Billy, Frankie, Misty Amber and Jimmy...I love you guys. You were all the very best thing about growing up on Monroe Avenue and you were what made my childhood happy. You probably made it livable. I hope that we never forget each other, and we never forget the way we have touched each others souls.
We miss you already Sheila! (But now you're hanging out with Elvis...so you have that going for you!)