Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Remembering Ellen

When I was a kid, I had a best friend named Terri Allen. We were pretty close; as close as siblings, pretty much. We lived two blocks from each other, and few days went by without us hanging out together; doing the things kids do. We had a lot of fun (and got in some scraps), but we always made up. We each had a younger sister in the same grade, and they hung out, too. Terri and I once spent a summer as "Secret Pals" for our little sisters, writing them notes from "Binki" and leaving them little surprise gifts. We listened to music, made forts, and put on skits, enjoying carefree times.

One thing that I did not enjoy that much (but did because I was Terri's friend) was peddling fruits and vegetables with her every summer. The Allen family had a huge garden. I never saw it, so I don't know how big, but it must have been huge, because we sold a lot of fruits and vegetables on those hot summer days. We'd fill a red wagon with them, and Terri's mom, Ellen, would drop us off in a nearby neighborhood filled with huge "mansion"-type houses, and we'd go door-to-door with beautiful strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, eggplants, and other offerings. It didn't take long to sell them; people were very happy with the quality, the service, and the cute little girls working hard to make a little money. We rarely had anything left to sell by the end of our route, but back at Terri's house, we'd eat plenty more. (Her dad, Del, made some mean little red potatoes!)

Eventually, Terri and I drifted apart. I haven't seen her but once or twice in the past 20 years; we kind of moved on in different directions, each of us getting married and moving to other places and lives. I've seen her mom on and off over the years, though (their house is not far away from my mom's). Ellen had been like a second mom to me when I was a kid and young adult. I've taken the time to thank her for that, but we've really not kept in touch like you'd expect.

A few days ago, I was in the grocery store, choosing little red potatoes, when I had a thought of those hot summer days pulling that wagon. I thought of Ellen and realized it had been a while since I'd seen her; I decided to call her. Terri's sister, Sara, answered the telephone and told me that her mom was very ill and in the hospital. When I asked about visiting, she said she didn't think her mom was going to be up for company; it was serious. Ellen had been deathly ill for for a while; in and out of the hospital with heart and lung ailments. Even though Sara had not said so in words, I had a distinct feeling that Ellen was not long for this earth.

I told Mark about it, and during our conversation, he asked, "How old is she?" I told him I didn't know; no matter how old she was, I always thought of Ellen as being 36 or so.

Last Monday, I saw Ellen's obituary in the newspaper. ( She was 65 years old.) Terri called me on Tuesday to make sure I had heard.

After hanging up with Terri, I felt sad, but I didn't shed a tear. Soon after hanging up the phone, I made a plan to make something for the Allen family to eat. I went to the store, bought a bunch of stuff and went home to cook. And cook, I did; for two hours. In the back of my mind, I was thinking to myself, "What's this all about, Barb? You only cook like this when you're stressed out." I didn't feel any stress, but I made a beautiful salad, sloppy joes, taco meat, and a meatloaf. After putting the main dishes in the freezer, I dropped the salad off at the Allen's house (only Del was there) and headed back home.

I decided to write.

And when I got to the part about the "Care Packages" Ellen sent me when I was in college, the tears finally came...

To be continued...(maybe)

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