My dear sweet friend, Bess Harter, died five years ago this week. She’d endured years of breast cancer and its morph into metastatic brain cancer, etc., standard and experimental treatments, and hope and sometimes despair, exhaustion and rebirth.
Bess was kind, smart, and loving, a dedicated mother and wife, loyal friend, gardener extraordinaire, collector of heart-shaped rocks, an original. When I met her in seventh grade, she was already surrounded by friends; nevertheless she brought me into her fold: I was shy, one of the nerdy girls, uncomfortable in my own body. Bess, however, found some silliness in me, bringing me out of my shell (we giggled during algebra class, almost: Horrors: being kicked out; we hid in closets during an high school ski trip in northern Idaho; we coincidentally wore virtually identical “mother made” dresses to our eighth grade dinner dance; she named me, along with other girls, for fruit and vegetables (I recall being “Prune”); we talked late into the night in her alcove bedroom at her family’s farm, delving into the mysteries of life as experienced by sixteen year-old girls; we drove to and from the local cherry packing plant in summers, where we stood for 12-14 hours/day culling cherries on the conveyor belts, realizing how fortunate we were not to have this job for longer than the summer months; we passed in the night at times during college and as we made our way from our home-town, sometimes years going by when we didn’t see one another; she comforted me when I became a single mother only a few weeks after my first son was born; we would meet at diners part-way between our two houses, she in Oregon and me in California).
Our stories are endless, not any one in particular but the culmination of them during our lifetimes. Bess likely had more frequent friends than me, especially those close to her home in Oregon. Maybe she teased out the hidden characters of many of these people. She probably didn’t know how important she was to me and how much I loved her. I last visited with Bess a year before she died; we drank tea and talked; we walked through her prolific garden; she shared stories of her rocks. At her memorial service, we softly dropped those same rocks onto her coffin, each of us in attendance with our own special “Bess” stories. I still miss her.