“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
— Anais Nin
I met Pippi Longstocking on the first day of school when I was 7 years old, and meeting her changed me forever. I had read the Pippi Longstocking adventure books during the summer between my first and second grades.
On each trip to the public library, I would check out a new Pippi adventure story, and by summer’s end, I was longing to become that little red-haired ball of fire in the worst way.
So, it was with great exhilaration that I welcomed the new girl sitting next to me on the first day of school in that second-grade classroom. Shannon had long, straight red hair, a few freckles, and enough brazen bluster to make Pippi Longstocking herself look kind of backward and shy. Everyone wanted to be this girl’s best friend. For some reason, she picked me. “Ya wanna skip out this afternoon?” she said to me when we went outside for morning recess.
I nearly passed out at the mere thought of misbehaving. My three older sisters had kept me fairly angelic all of my seven years of life by threatening me with bodily harm if I stepped out of line, combined with the oft-repeated admonishment that bad kids do not go to heaven.
“Well, um, where would we go?” I asked.
Shannon said we could always walk down to the grocery store and then take whatever we picked up at the store and head down to the cemetery. “We could even hide in the mausoleum. They would never think to look for us there,” she said with sheer coolness.
“No, not today,” I managed to reply with a shrug of fake bluster. Walking down to the store without a grown-up was something I had never done in my life. Wouldn’t lightning strike me dead if I dared to do such a thing?
Before the end of junior high, when Shannon moved away, she had managed to scare me to death more times than I can count. I was amazed, nearly every day, that lightning never once struck the two of us.
She talked me in to going in to that mausoleum at the cemetery one very dark Halloween night, shutting the heavy doors behind us with a frightening finality. “If you can do this, you can do anything,” she whispered to me.
A town kid, Shannon was used to all kinds of freedom, jumping on her bike and flying anywhere she wanted to go. I felt like a tender-aged goof next to her when she would say, “Just ride your bike to my house and we’ll go to the park and hang out.”
There was no riding my bike to her house; there was always milking to be done and hay to be baled.
One day, when she begged mercilessly, I told her I had to help my sister give iron shots to baby pigs, and then it would be time to milk the cows.
“Just don’t and say you did,” was her flip response. “Come on, I’m waitin’ for ya!”
Before long, my best friend status had been bumped way down to mere mortal acquaintance. I was bruised beyond words. It would be many years later before I would learn that Shannon’s life was not nearly as great as I thought it was.
She was battered and abused by a couple of rough and tough brothers, her mother had left years earlier, and her father was at work more than he was home. I also learned that her bluster had put her in harm’s way in many frightening situations.
It was, as it turned out, lucky for me that I was not her constant side-kick.
But her friendship holds a special place in my heart, even all these years later. I still have vivid dreams about spending fun times with Shannon, and she remains a huge part of my most enjoyable childhood memories.
Each friend we meet in life really does mold us in new and amazing ways. Shannon taught me how to have fun, to be a little less consumed with perfection in every step, to find joy in daring dashes through each day of our life.
When I am in frightening situations, I think of Shannon’s words to me inside that dark, cool, eerie old mausoleum on Halloween night. No matter how frightening, I really can do anything!