Marigolds, Altars, and Memories

Yesterday on the California State University, Fresno campus, three student groups--M.E.Ch.A, CLAS Club, and First Nations--created displays memorializing their loved ones in honor of the Day of the Dead. I stopped to look at the pictures, the food offerings, the shared memories, and the marigolds. I also thought about friends and family that I have lost--and decided I wanted to blog about two friends that I miss.

Sandy Godfrey Wallentine and I met our freshman year of college. Although she lived near my house in Logan, Utah and our parents were related, we went to different high schools and had never met. But we ended up in the same dorm at BYU and quickly became friends. When I returned to BYU after a year attending Utah State University, I moved in with Sandy and her friends at an off-campus apartment complex. Sandy made me laugh. We joked about Tom Selleck (he was big back then), went to Ronzo Garbanzo's to get shakes, and I even created a list of the inside jokes of "those Godfrey girls." Soon after we became roommates, Sandy started dating Scott Wallentine, a great guy she'd known in high school. She moved back home, married Scott, became an elementary school teacher, and started raising a family. Even though I'd regularly return to our hometown to visit family, I rarely ran into Sandy.

A few years ago, I learned that she had survived a bout with breast cancer, and I re-established contact with her. One sunny summer day, I dropped by her house and we got caught up after years of not seeing each other. Sandy looked much the same to me, and it was still fun to hang out with her. But she had also developed a deep spirituality because of what she had gone through. As she spoke about her experiences, I also recognized her profound strength. Incredibly, when she was going through her treatment, she would drive 50 minutes south (through Sardine Canyon) one way, go through chemo, drive back, and work a full day as a teacher. She told me how much her job meant to her--it was one thing that kept her sane during a really difficult time. As we talked, it was clear that she and Scott shared a strong partnership, a marriage that brought a deep sense of fulfillment and joy to both of them. Within a year or two of our visit, Sandy's cancer returned and, this time, she didn't survive.

Chuck Rhodes and I were friends my first year of graduate school in Arizona. I first met him through my roommate Calee. At first, I was a little overwhelmed by his comedy shtick. Chuck was always "on," whether he was stopping a fan with his tongue (really) or imitating the young Howie Mandel. As I got to know Chuck, though, I also saw his great capacity to love and the joy that he brought into so many people's lives. I remember dropping by his apartment one day when Chuck was outside washing his Saab, which hadn't been running for a couple of months. When I asked him why he bothered, Chuck replied, "Just because it doesn't run, doesn't mean it can't look good." I also remember the amazing graham cracker crumb ice cream he used to make from scratch. Chuck became one of my good friends, someone that I always had fun hanging out with. He was spontaneous, entertaining, silly.

When I moved to Huntington Beach at the end of the school year, Chuck and I kept in touch. Once he came to the airport to see me when I had a layover in Phoenix. And when I'd come to Arizona for weekends, it was always great to go dancing with him and get caught up. A year later, when I returned from a trip to Europe, there was a message that Chuck had called while I was out of the country. I was excited to return the call and see what he was up to. However, within a few hours I found out that a couple of days earlier, Chuck had been riding his bike home from work at night . . . and he was killed in a hit-and-run. I went to his funeral in Las Vegas, and afterwards we all sat around telling stories about Chuck. I shared a story about how one night I got a phone call saying that he was in jail and needed to be bailed out. He wasn't of course, it was a practical joke. There were many stories like that. We sat for several hours laughing as we talked about Chuck's zest for life. He was an unforgettable person.

I offer this blog entry as a metaphorical candle to guide my friends on their journeys home.

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