Yesterday an old friend from high school, back in touch via one of the many online “social networking sites” that allow you to log in and instantly reconnect with the boy who lobbed spit wads at you in second grade, or the gal who sat behind you in 10th grade science, sent me a one-line e-mail.
It read: “Did you know that Mrs. Bourke* passed away recently?”
He was always a good guy, this friend, and I know that in sending it he had no idea he was going to stop my heart.
“BFF.” Mrs. Bourke, also known as “Mrs. B.” you see, was my best friend’s mom. By best friend I mean my “BFF” from junior high through graduation.
Her daughter, “T” and I met in seventh grade and almost instantly merged into one teenage girl.
We dressed alike, walked alike, talked alike and basically passed so many notes back in forth in class that it’s a wonder we aren’t in seventh grade to this very day.
I know very little actual schoolwork was done that year.
To put our friendship “back then” into perspective, you need to know 20 years after graduation, old classmates still ask, “How’s T?” because they assume, somewhat understandably, we are still joined at the hip.
I’ve had to explain more than once the surgery to separate us after graduation was successful.
Unfortunately, as people are prone to doing we also grew up, grew apart and gradually lost touch. Which explains, I’m sure, why I found out Mrs. B. had passed away in an e-mail.
During our teen years, T and I nearly lived at each other’s homes. Our overnight bags perpetually packed for the next weekend sleepover.
When it came to our homes — and moms — T and I couldn’t have been more different.
I was the only child of a single mother. T had two siblings and two parents, too.
In a way, T and I were like foreign exchange students. I allowed her into the Gilmore Girls-esque world of being the sole child of a young, single mother and T, in turn, invited me into a family that by the 1980s was already becoming an anomaly: an honest-to-goodness real life nuclear family.
Mrs. B. gone? How is that even possible? Just thinking about her, I am transported back more than 20 years.
How odd back then, as kids looking into it, that span of time seemed an eternity. Now, looking back, it’s a blink.
Mrs. B. had three active children. She needed another kid hanging around the house like she needed the proverbial hole in her head. Yet she never made me feel anything but welcome.
She let us disassemble her kitchen with our half-baked cooking schemes. Let us take over her living room with sleepovers and pillow fights and what had to be excruciatingly horrific singing and goofy dance contests long before karaoke would make singing off-key even remotely cool.
She was both fun-loving and firm (a feat I didn’t appreciate until I had children of my own).
I realize now she often looked the other way and let us think we were getting away with far more than we really were in order that we could spread our wings and learn to fly — and fall — safely.
She let us raid her refrigerator, make collect calls for rides home and spill soda on her sofa without making anyone feel unwelcome.
She also had the good sense to hand us a towel and say, “Clean that up, please” so we felt more like family than ever
In short, she made every one of her children’s friends feel endlessly welcome in her home. Your problems — from too-short bangs to badly behaved boys — were never “small” to Mrs. B.
She was, I realize now, my role model for the stay-at-home mom. When I strive to make my children’s friends feel welcome, despite their noise, messes, and mishaps, I’d like to think that’s a little bit of Mrs. B. in me.
Shortly after graduation she said to me, “You’re an adult now, you can call me Anne” and I thought, no, I really can’t. Not ever. Out of respect — and love — she’ll always be “Mrs. B.” to me
And in my heart she’s smiling — laughing at us — and saying, “Girls settle down!” but I don’t think she really means it.
She always encouraged our giggling — and our dreams.
And if it’s any consolation to her grieving family, I have to believe the great ones like “Mrs. B.” are never truly gone.
People like her live on forever in the hearts of not only their own children — but of all the children they touched along the way, too.
*Name changed for privacy.