When I was in the 4th grade a girl in my class invited a whole group of girls to a slumber party at her house. I was excited and nervous because I’d never done that before. None of the girls were really close friends as I recall and there was lots of talk about playing tricks on any girl(s) who went to sleep so I was very nervous and forced myself to stay awake. I don’t recall anything unpleasant happening but I really didn’t enjoy myself and anxiously awaited my parents picking me up the next day. After the indoctrination to slumber parties I remember many other times either going to a friend’s house or one of them coming to my house.
One in particular stands out. We moved to Wichita Falls the summer before my 4th grade (summer 1969) and I became very best friends with Debby Hill. I really loved her and her family. Debby was very good at ballet and already doing point. I thought of her as everything that symbolizes being a girl. Debby’s bedroom was huge to me and it had a walk-in closet. It was furnished with white french provincial style furniture with gold trim that seemed to be popular at that time, which was 1969 & 1970. She had several of the matching pieces such as the vanity & a canopy bed complete with lots of ruffles and frill. Her home was nothing like any I’d ever been in and was decorated in a very modern way.
Debby’s Mom played the autoharp and sang. Often Debby, her Mom and brother sang at nursing homes and other church related functions and I went with them any number of times. Debby’s parents were quite different from mine. I don’t remember much about her bother who was a couple of years older except he seemed smart, collected butterflies, had a small bedroom and was quiet. Her Mom didn’t cook, work or do housework but I think she was in college. She liked to talk on the phone way past 9:00 pm and stay up all night. Then she would take the phone off the hook and sleep well into the afternoon. She was a very warm and loving person, just not like any other adult female I had ever spent time with. Her father, Art, I adored. He was a helicopter pilot and though he was out-of-town fairly often, I thought his occupation sounded cool. He loved to cook (not just grill), which at that time to me was very unusual. He was clearly the person who keep the order in the family and he was loving and fun. Once he made spinach and when I told him I didn’t like spinach, he told me that I would love his spinach. Then he showed me the trick, which is basically cooking it in butter. He was right, I loved it and still do especially when cooked his way.
One day Debby spent the night with me and we stayed up late having fun. Fairly early in the morning the phone rang and sometime later Mom told us that we needed to go ahead and get ready since we needed to take Debby back home. We weren’t happy that our time together was going to be shorter than we had hoped but we did as we were told. When we arrived at Debby’s house there were lots of cars there and inside lots of Debby’s relatives. Almost the moment we walked inside some of Debby’s relatives whisked her back to her bedroom. I don’t recall much else except Mom and Dad sat me down right then, in their living room, and told me that Debby’s dad, Art, had been killed in a car wreck during the night. Art had been in California and decided to drive home for a weekend surprise visit. Apparently, he fell asleep while driving and his car went underneath a large truck killing him instantly.
I wanted to see my friend but no one would let me. I knew she was devastated. I was devastated. When the day came for Art’s funeral, I couldn’t bear the thought, it made me physically ill. I had never been to a funeral and it scared me immensely. Mom went to the funeral but she didn’t force me to go. To this day, I regret not being able to overcome my own pain to be there for my friend.
By the middle of 5th grade we moved to Ohio but Debby and I corresponded through the years. By my sophomore year in college I transferred from a University in North Carolina to one in Texas where, coincidentally Debby was attending. We spent some time together but our childhood friendship didn’t develop further. Just last year I tried to locate Debby but learned that she had died in 2009 at the age of 49. As I read her obituary I learned that she had married but did not have any children. I cried and it was as though I was again that little 9-year-old girl whose best friend’s father had died and now that best friend.
For years I kept many of the letters Debby wrote to me and still have all the photos she sent me. Among my photos I also have a picture of another memorable sleepover. It was the night before we were moving from Ohio to North Carolina and my parents let me and a friend sleep on the front porch. Dad snapped this photo of us laying on our sleeping bags at one end of the small front porch.
I moved all the time growing up so while it was sad to say goodbye to my friend the next morning, it was my way of life up to that time. Once we got to North Carolina we stayed there for 7 years and I had many fun-filled sleepovers with no goodbyes.