Poetry helps me to remember

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This morning I pulled out my high school yearbooks all the way back to 1965. I searched the pages looking for one face and finding it in class portraits and club pictures.

In every one, I saw the same thing, a shining head of blond hair, kind eyes and a big smile. Seeing Sherry again as she was when we were teenagers made me smile back at the face that looked up at me from the dusty pages.

I read the messages from friends filling the front and back of the books finding Sherry’s graceful signature under her sentences. As I read her words, “… I won’t forget those parties that seem so long ago,” I laughed at how grown up we thought we were in 1968 when we were sophomores reminiscing about our days way back in sixth and seventh grade.

I took this trip in time because Monday afternoon Sherry returned to Opp lying peacefully under a blanket of flowers while friends and family remembered her life and bid her farewell.

As I stood feeling a light breeze ripple through the group standing at the gravesite, so many memories blew through my mind. I saw friends crowded into Sherry’s living room at one of our many spend-the-night parties. I could almost hear the giggles as we struggled to be quiet and sleep a lost cause for a bunch of adolescent girls.

And, I remembered those parties Sherry wrote about, some of them our first experiences with the opposite sex as we discovered the game of spin-the-bottle. They were a blend of fun, excitement and maybe a little fear of that unknown thing called “boys.”

As we bowed to pray, I closed my eyes hearing the preacher’s voice from far away, seeing in my mind Sherry as a B-team cheerleader and a majorette, remembering how very pretty she looked. Beside me, I heard the small sniffle as another friend, Pat, slipped into her own memories, saying her private goodbye. Several of us came to honor and to remember Sherry, Jimmy the once-upon-a-time boyfriend, Marilyn and Bill and Monica, so many faces from those sweet high school days, so many wonderful memories from a more innocent time.

We moved into our adult lives after graduation, reconnecting at reunions or if we heard about each other through mutual friends or parents. I saw Sherry a few times after we left Opp High School, and every time there was the familiar smile lighting up her eyes.

I thought about that as I read another sentence she wrote in my yearbook, “Keep smiling and the world will smile with you.” Apparently, Sherry understood the value of a smile, the way it could touch and lift the soul.

So, on this bright spring morning as I looked at the pictures and remembered Sherry, I kept smiling and feeling grateful for friends who travel with us as we move from childhood to the grownup world.

Finally, I opened the 1970 Optimist to the senior section, reading a poem by Kahlil Gibran printed “In Memoriam” for two of our classmates who never made it to graduation. In its closing lines, I found hope and joy in the midst of the sadness of saying goodbye to my dear friend Sherry Stanley Vaitis.

“… For what is to die but to stand naked in the wind

and to melt into the sun?

And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath

from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand

to seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence

shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the mountain top,

then shall you begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your limbs,

then shall you truly dance.”