Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sammy Jo

July 24, 1992 – July 26, 2011

Sammy Jo died suddenly at age 19, leaving a void in the lives of many.

It is a bit odd that when someone dies, their memory becomes almost like community property. I would never write in detail about a living person without their permission. And yet, if I don’t write about a little girl I once knew named Sam, I might be stuck in this melancholy shadow-place forever.

I have been slow on the tweets and statuses, (statuii?) this past week because I have a creaky old memory reel turning laboriously in my head, starting, then stopping, then rewinding, then making an effort to start again.
I knew Sammy from when she was very little until she was about nine years old. I did not knew her as either a teenager or a young adult, and for that I am sad. I have no doubt that she was a complex and amazing young woman, because she was a complex and amazing child. She had this straight-edge kind of logic that was sometimes hysterical, and sometimes astonishingly wise.

Sam was… well, Sam. I can’t compare her to other children, because she was a unique spirit. She had soft brown hair and serious, observant brown eyes. She could be stubborn, but she could also be winsome - when she wanted to be.

Sammy Jo was reserved. When I say this, what I mean is that she did NOT warm up to me the first time we met. Or the second. And maybe not even the third. Slow-to-warm up is almost an understatement. I might even say she was outright suspicious. Perhaps I was trying too hard (smile), because I really wanted her mother for a friend, and I was determined to win over this little girl.

The reason this is significant is because the first time Samantha Jo met my husband, she fell for him with no holds barred. I’d warned him, “Don’t expect Sammy to like you. She doesn’t like anyone at first.”

Oh, how wrong I was. And my husband was annoyingly smug about it. In fact, every once in a while through the years he’ll ask me, with a glint in his eye, “Are you old yet?” And it brings forth one of our fondest Sammy stories:

Sam: When I grow up, I’m going to marry Dave.
Sam’s mother: But what about SM?
Sam: Oh, she’ll be old by then.

The story seems bigger in memory than just those few lines, and we laughed until our sides ached. Sammy used to follow Dave out to the garage and just hang out with him while he worked on cars. She wasn’t needy or intrusive, she was just there, keeping him company.

Sam was a treasure.

I wish my memory reel was more accessibly archived, but the memories are random and disjointed and out of order.

I remember a time when Sammy’s mom felt the daycare was letting the kids stare at the TV for too many hours a day. She was assured that the children watched a minimum of television, only educational, and only when the worker was preparing lunch or snack. It was a week or two later that we heard Sammy, up in her bedroom, belting out at the top of her lungs, “SAVE BIG MONEY AT MENARD’S!” We looked at each other in surprised silence for a second, then burst out laughing.

I lost Sam (and her firecracker sister and baby brother), ten years ago when they moved away.  I found her again, completely by accident, a year ago. We had a brief message exchange, and I wish I had said more, told her how much I had loved her when she was a little girl, but I didn’t. Old friends of your parents gushing how much they loved you when you were a kid is probably inappropriate, if not downright creepy.

I’m not sure what the lesson is here. I know it doesn’t do anyone good to give too much weight to regret and useless “what if” imaginings.

So I will say this: Recognize that important people will pass in and out of your life. Treasure the good memories. Be grateful for happiness, and mindful of sadness, and know that both will change you in ways that you might not see until you look back.

Thank you darlings, for reminiscing with me.


Time works its quiet magic, mending and molding us so carefully that we rarely notice the stitches, and only see the scars when we take the time to look for them. – SM Johnson, DeVante’s Choice (coming 2012)

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