Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Memories

When I was very young I had a friend named Jeff.  He was a year ahead of me in school and wasn't afraid of anything in the entire world.  I was in awe of that, because I was afraid of just about everything.

Jeff was a daredevil.  We lived on a very steep hilly street, and Jeff's house was one block higher up the hill from mine.  Jeff would ride his Schwinn Racer bike so fast down the hill and go flying past our house like a blur.  I was too afraid to ride as fast as he did.  In the winters we would sled down the hills of the park across the street from our houses and Jeff could make his sled go so fast, careening around trees and flying off the end of the hill out into the middle of the street.   It is a wonder he didn't break his arms or legs each winter.

One winter,  Jeff got the insane idea that he and I should  pour water down the concrete embankment on the side of my front steps and let it ice over and then slide down the ice on our feet.  He convinced me that nothing bad could possibly happen to us, so we did just that.  We carried pitcher after pitcher of water out and poured it over the concrete, watching as it froze the snow into a sheet of ice.  When he judged that it was frozen enough he took an running start and jumped onto the ice and slid, with a bit of a wobble, all the way down to the bottom of the stairs.

I was terrified, but didn't want to look like a sissy, so I took a try,  it was the most amazing sensation I had ever felt; even better than sledding.  We both took another turn, and then another, which was probably wearing down the ice because on my next turn down the slope I lost my balance completely and fell face first onto the edge of one of the concrete stairs.  I cut my forehead just above my eyebrow, and there was blood everywhere on the crisp white snow.   Facial cuts bleed quite a bit,  apparently.  Jeff went running into my house to get my mom,  when they came back out he was in tears apologizing over and over because it had all been his idea.  My mom had to put a butterfly bandage over my cut eyebrow to stop the bleeding, and then ice over that to keep it from swelling but the cut wasn't really all that big.   To this day you can see the scar there above my eye from our little luge adventure.

He had a fascination with leprechauns, and for one entire summer he carried around a huge butterfly net determined that he was going to catch one in the woods of the park.  My brothers put a doll head in the knot hole of one the trees in the woods and teased him that they had seen one on their way home for lunch.  Jeff got all excited and took his net and ran off into the woods. I remember the look on his face,  he was so full of glee that day.  He was so close to his goal of having his own pet leprechaun.  We followed him up into the woods my brothers giggling  and giggling so hard .  He was so sad when he realized that they had tricked him.

We went to an Elementary School that had an open campus meaning we were allowed to walk home for lunch if we lived close enough to get there, eat lunch and get back in our forty-five minute lunch period.  Since both my mom and Jeff's mom were both better cooks than what we could get from the cafeteria,  we often walked home for lunch; Jeff would leave me at my house and walk the extra block to his house.  When it was time to go back to school Jeff would stop at my house and wait for me so that we could walk back together.  We had wonderful talks about so many things on these walks.  They were very special times.

I remember the last day of his sixth grade year when we were walking back to school and he said, "I am going to miss this next year", because he would be going to Junior High and I still had another year of elementary school/   I didn't say anything then, but I would miss them too.  I took my lunch a lot more often in sixth grade,  somehow going home for lunch had lost its charm.

Jeff had a paper route before I did, in fact it was because of Jeff probably that I got a paper route.  He got his because he wanted a new bike and a new fishing pole and his mom said they couldn't afford it,. so he went out and got himself a job as a paperboy to make enough money to pay for the things he wanted.

He loved to fish, and most of the spring, summer and fall he was never without his fishing pole and tackle box strapped to the back of his bike.  The Mississippi river was just a few miles from our house and he loved to ride down there on his own to fish, sometimes for the entire day.  I hated fishing,  this was one adventure we never shared.

You may wonder why I am suddenly reminiscing about my old friend?  It is because the summer that I was 12 years old Jeff died. On June 8, 1972 Jeff came home from his paper route, gave the money to his mom and went down to the river to watch the fishermen, something he did all of the time.    He was never seen again,  People in the community searched for nearly a week first finding his bike and then his badly decomposed body naked and strangled on June 15.

I miss him so much this year especially for some reason, maybe because there has been so much loss in my life.  Even my sister called to say she had dreamed about him just the other night.   Was Jeff too fearless for his own good?  Was he killed by a serial killer passing through the area?  We have always wondered.  My younger brother spent years trying to solve Jeff's case, which remained open until the mid 80's when the FBI declared it closed due to lack of new evidence.  

We had an idyllic childhood,  we had total freedom to roam wherever we wanted to, miles and miles away from home, until the summer Jeff disappeared, Then everything changed.  I don't know if we were scared, or our parents were scared, but we didn't get as far from home after that summer.

I have wonderful memories, and frightening dreams and a little scar over my eyebrow.  Jeff would be 52 years old this year.  I have always wondered what kind of man he would have become.


Rosemary said...

Oh my goodness. May he rest in peace. Seems like a great person to have for a young friend. What a terrible tragedy.

owenswain said...

Beautifully written. May he rest in peace. It's hard to fathom God in stories like this, as you say such an idyllic life ending in such horror. The soul cannot help but cry out WHY? and settle for silence for an answer. Thank you for sharing it just the same.

Suzanne said...

Oh, I never knew you went through such a wonderful friendship and all that happened later. This was a beautiful tribute, though, and I am sorry. I hope and pray that someday, you both will meet again. Please accept my hug.