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Mary Cosgrove

In the 6th grade, I had a friend named Mary Cosgrove. I had her school photo for awhile, but lost it long ago. I find myself periodically recalling that photo and trying to see her face again, but it's been so many years that the details are provided are probably more what my memory fills in the blank. Even at the time I received the photo, the girl in the image did not seem that much like the real person; she looked so serious in the picture. I remember her being a good student, funny in an almost wry way, as much as a 6th grade girl could be, I suppose. She played the violin and was pretty good at it, one of the better kids in the strings class. I always appreciated those with good intonation. I think of her as sort of no nonsense, but kind. She was nice to me, and I felt she was my friend. I basically have two memories of her. One was on a day when cheerleader announcements were posted. A girl in the class named Carla came in excitedly and said, "I made it! I made it!" It was a quiet excitement--Carla wasn't a particularly loud or outgoing person either, not at all like the mental image I get today hearing about cheerleaders. But at the time she definitely seemed like the type who would make the cheerleading team as she was pretty and seemed well-liked by much of the class.

Mary showed up a little while later, rushing into the classroom and then setting her stuff down at her desk in obvious relief. "I made it!" she said triumphantly. Someone asked, "You made the cheerleading team???" It was a friend of hers, asking in a tone of both wonderment and excitement, and I remember feeling an odd sense of disappointment that that might be what Mary had meant. I had thought she was simply happy to make it to class on time, but the idea that she might have harbored notions of being a cheerleader enough to know when the tryouts were and to actually audition suddenly left me feeling bereft. Mary just gave a sort of snort of laughter and said, "Noooo, I made it to school on time. The bus was running late and I didn't think I would." It's probably shallow of me, but I've always loved her for that. She seemed so darn sensible and humorous at the same time.

My other specific memory of her is being in home-ec class together. It was our last period of the day, and in 6th grade cooking we made some things like fudge, which didn't turn out and had to be taken home and refrigerated, and pudding. The pudding turned out fine, and we were sitting together and eating it, three of us, and chatting about our families. Mary, another girl named Jennifer, and I all had a younger sister or brother who had pesty moments, and we were relating these stories. I don't remember any specifics, other than finding out that Mary had younger brothers, and Jennifer had a little sister. I just remember the tone being one of comraderie where we shared the tribulations of having these annoying little people in our lives, but clearly we loved them on some level. It was a good natured conversation, actually the kind I could hear my older daughter having about her little sister.

Those are basically the only two things that specifically stand out in my mind about Mary Cosgrove. I was looking forward to seeing her in school again in 7th grade. On Labor Day, I was at my mom's real estate office, and I picked up the local newspaper. There was a story about a collision that killed a father and daughter, and I gravitated to that one right away, since it dealt with death. The girl that was killed was Mary Cosgrove, along with her father. They were hit head on while driving home. I later found out they were hit by a drunk driver, but I honestly don't remember the story mentioning that detail at the time. Although I'm not sure how well I read it. It was shocking, you know, to realize a story with a headline about a collision, a man and girl being killed on Highway 55 was a story about someone in my life. It was that first sense of, "Wow, those stories don't happen to other people, it's always someone that someone else knows and loves."

I'm not even sure what I was thinking, honestly. I think my grief was a lot like my niece Lauren's grief, when my own father died. A very self-centered sort of grief that had more to do with how I was supposed to be feeling. I remember crying, and I remember being upset enough to where I went out and climbed atop the jungle gym thing we had in our yard. I sat on the top at sunset just thinking about the nature of life and death, and feeling sad. I went to her funeral, where I her saw the mother, strong and beautiful, holding onto her sons with both hands as the three of them made their way down the aisle, to the front, near where the two closed coffins stood. One had my friend in it, the other had her father. That picture is etched in my mind. I wrote down what I could remember of Mary, probably the two stories above, and I sent her mother a card telling her how sorry I was. She sent me the photo. I looked at that photo frequently at first, looking for some hint that she would not be the happy, vibrant girl she was. And interestingly enough, she looked so serious in the photo, not like I remembered her. It seemed uncanny. I tucked the photo into my Bible, along with a sprig of baby's breath that I found on the floor at the church on the day of the funeral.

At some point when we were moving, my mother took my Bible and packed it in a box with her books which she stuck in the crawl space of our home. They were promptly ruined and she threw them out. I still find that hard to believe, as I had learned to hold onto things and protect them from my throw everything away mother by that age. I am sad that I wasn't able to save that Bible, a Bible I had asked for as a young girl of about 5 or so. My parents made a special trip to buy it, and wrote an inscription in the front. I had thought it was in my room on my bookshelf, but it disappeared.

I went to the 7th grade and life went on. I remember sitting in strings class, half hoping they would call her name for that first rolltaking. I didn't want her to be that easily forgotten; a young girl, a girl our age, had just died and yet life went on as ever. It wasn't until many years later when my father died that I lived through that odd juxtaposition of going on with life while dealing with death in a real way. The strings teacher, a new one that year, did call Mary's name several times. There was a quiet reply in the violin section, but I played the viola and was a little too far away to hear what was said. And that was the last mention of her in school, at least that I heard. Although I ended up having a physics class with her brother, Brian, and I mentioned that I knew here. He nodded solemnly and kindly. He was active in Students Against Drunk Driving. I joined too.

Through the years I've thought about Mary. I haven't kept in touch with any of the kids I knew then, and many of them could have passed on by now through one way or another. I wouldn't know. I think about the ones who were my friends who I lost in one way or another, but I specifically think of Mary because she had such a short life and it ended when I knew her. I think of her at my age now, she having grown up along with me, having gone to college, with a job, with children of her own. She seems older and wiser now, maybe in retrospect because my memories are colored by who I am now. Or maybe I can see her as an adult more easily because I remember myself at that age and I see how I've grown and how I haven't. I like to remember her because it was so long ago that she died, 1978; another lifetime ago, and I want to believe that people really do make a difference in our lives. I want her to live on in memories because that is the only life she has now, so I remember her with the few memories I have.

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November 2010

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