It’s September again. Sweet sadness fills me.
Even though September’s sun continues its summer ways, the quality of light is thinner, the daytime fragrance is sharper, there are more grasshoppers and fewer butterflies. Summer’s leafy green has turned a brittle gold that the trees are starting to shed.
And September 7th is among the sweetest and saddest of days.
The date’s sweetness comes from my lifelong friend – Julie Stommen.
We met when we were about four. She was a city girl whose family bought the lake house next to ours. I was a country kid, full of curiosity and energy.
We were born the same year. Her birthday (Sept. 7) was three months before mine (Dec. 7). We shared that birthday bond throughout the years; teasing one another and pulling rank on one another because of it. Her birthday signaled the end of summer and beginning of school. My birthday meant Christmas was near.
From kindergarten through fifth grade, we lived next door to one another, sharing dreams and secrets.
I was already dog paddling around in Crooked Lake when Julie took swimming lessons. Her teacher taught me how to swim under water, and once we both mastered the art of that, we spent many summer days pretending to be deep-sea divers.
She was Catholic, although she didn’t actually believe all the stuff her priests and nuns told her. I was Protestant and believed everything with all my heart. We argued heatedly about religion.
She took ballet and piano lessons. I took violin lessons and climbed trees and dreamed of being an explorer.
She had an older brother who was mean to us. I had a younger brother whom we were sometimes mean to.
We read books together (especially the Laura Ingalls Wilder books that described in detail the life and travels of a pioneer American family). We dreamed about traveling the world together. We both loved Roy Rogers.
We wrote and produced plays, performing them in her garage and charging audience members (mainly our parents and older relatives) ten-cents for each performance.
We collected snail shells from along the lakeshore, painted them and tried to sell them to neighbors.
We went through Brownies together. And Girl Scouts.
One summer day we decided to become blood brothers, slicing our thumbs with one of her dad’s razor blades. As we pressed our dripping thumbs together, we swore to share our blood and our lives forever.
One Fathers Day we ran away together. Our ill-timed adventure ended quickly as we were spotted by a neighbor before we were even a mile from home. (In those days and in that place, all adults took responsibility for the safety and good behavior of all neighborhood children). We commiserated for days over our individual punishments.
When we grew up, we both moved to California. We both were married and divorced in our 20s. She gave birth to a son and a daughter.
Although we no longer lived next door to one another, we celebrated birthdays together, went to the beach and to the city together. And talked often on the phone.
We shared the same political sensibilities, the same intensity and stubbornness. We laughed at the same things. And, of course, we shared a world of memories that were ours alone.
She married again and moved to Denver. On July 4th we’d get together either at her house in Denver or at my California mountain cottage. We’d watch the old James Cagney movie "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and reminisce and laugh and talk until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore.
When my mother died, Julie not only attended the funeral, but she also met me and my family that evening at a favorite ice cream parlor where we shared warm and funny memories – including our Father’s Day runaway disaster.
When my ex-husband died unexpectedly, she wrote me the most sensitive letter, fully recognizing that even though we were divorced, his loss cut deep.
Within six months, Julie herself was gone.
She died in September a few days after her 52nd birthday. Alcohol.
Following her death, I learned from her daughter of sad secrets Julie had kept locked up in her heart, and it broke mine.
If I had known, perhaps I could have helped. I know I would have tried, after all, we were "blood brothers."
Now that place in my heart, which was filled with our giggles and arguments and promises and dreams, has become a reflecting pool – deep and still. All past. No future. A pool of sweet sadness.
Especially in September.
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