Earlier in the week, I received news that instantly took me back to a scene in the 1986 Rob Reiner movie, Stand By Me, based off the novella by Stephen King. Richard Dreyfuss’ character, Gordie LaChance, was sitting in his truck along the side of the old country-looking road. He was deep in thought, pensive after having just heard the news that an old childhood friend, Chris Chambers, was dead. It had been years since the two had spoken. The memories he had were from when they were barely teenagers, but the thought of Chris having been taken from this Earth brought those memories back as if they had just happened the day prior. Where did the time go? What separated them in life? Well, I didn’t read my news in a newspaper…it was on a Facebook post. It wasn’t even a close friend, to be honest. He was just a kid who grew up in the same neighborhood I did – but the news cut through the heart like a knife and brought back so many childhood memories. It had me deep in thought all week.
My upbringing was less than modest. I grew up in a small little town in the middle of a New England state and none of the families in our little “village” had very much. I had moved there when I was three and, for the most part, didn’t leave until I moved on to college. All the kids in the neighborhood knew each other fairly well. We may not have all been the best of friends, but we were very familiar with each family that resided on “Village Lane.” Many different personalities walked that circle – some were a little scarier than others, while others turned out to be friends for life. While we had our own stories, we also had events that tied us together in a way that will last forever. Perhaps the most devastating of those stories involved a fire that took the innocent lives of three very young siblings. That loss tore us apart individually and yet connected us as a community for the longest time. Even today, when I visit my hometown and pass that particular duplex, despite its restoration and being a home to another family, I can still see those three smiling faces playing in the street and still only imagine their fearful cries locked in that closet during the fire.
The recent news that broke over Facebook ends up being just another one of those stories that connects us “village kids” to some degree. We all knew this particular neighborhood kid , a boy who started fighting his demons early in life. Hey – we all have them. Some just have to start fighting them earlier than others. I don’t remember him as being one of the friendliest of kids when we were young, nor do I remember many happy moments when I was ever around him. However, when I see recent pictures of him on other friends’ walls, he often had a smile on his face, so something had to have gone right somewhere. He would have turned 40 this year, just one month after the oldest of my two younger sisters.
I guess what stirred my thinking the most about this childhood loss was just how much more that part of my life in the “village” meant than I have given it credit. I lived in that tiny little duplex with my mom and two sisters for over 15 years. A lot of things happened while we lived there and a piece of my soul probably still lives in that “box” I called a home. At that point, it was still considered somewhat safe to roam the streets at night and I would often spend most of my time at my best friend’s house seven “boxes” up the lane. I remember playing tennis in the streets with my older next door neighbor, yelling at kids who would cross our yard to cut through the field behind our house and I have faint, but fond memories of the crowds that would gather in that same field to watch the annual airshow that would take place for a number of the years I lived there. I even remember another older neighbor teaching me how to play Gin Rummy during the hot and humid summers. Sadly, I don’t really speak with many of the kids I grew up with there anymore, though I do have a few of them as Facebook friends, including the friend whose family I spent more time with than my own. We have all grown into adults, some moving far away and others staying close by as if they could not take themselves out of the picture. I don’t connect as much as I should with my older next door neighbor, who was beyond patient with my hyperactivity and constant invading of her home and life. I also realized that I tend not to share too many of the details with my own sons of the stories that were written during the particular time of my life. Hmmmm – I guess I probably should consider doing so.
It’s amazing. You can go decades without hearing someone’s name or even remembering one’s existence and, upon hearing news that someone from your childhood neighborhood was no longer on this earth, floods of memories come streaming back. As Gordie LaChance says, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve…does anyone?”
Rest in peace, Anthony. “Sincerely…..”