Vail Daily column: A piece of my childhood
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I missed my high school reunion this summer. Life and work and family commitments made making the trip to Oregon impossible. So I opted out this year, thinking I could catch up with everyone in five years.
But then I found out that one of my classmates was killed in a car accident this week. It stopped me in my tracks. This man was not one of my closest friends in school, but I’ve known him for as long as I can remember.
Like many of the people I grew up with, Byron and I spent our entire childhoods in North Bend. I’ve known a bunch of our classmates since the first grade, kindergarten, nursery school even. There once was a time when I could name just about everyone we graduated with. And while we weren’t all the best of friends, we have a shared history that binds us together.
These people are my childhood. We made the longest paper chain ever in the history of Hillcrest Elementary School. We celebrated the nation’s bicentennial on the football field of the high school, each grade re-creating the important events of America’s history. We remember when our eighth-grade science teacher, Mrs. Kerr, died in the middle of the school year. We were in the rain together our senior year, screaming and yelling as the football team beat our crosstown rivals and made its way to the state tournament. We rode school buses together, sat through countless classes together, played in the band or on sports teams together. We took notes and passed notes in class. We knew the same people, had the same teachers, went to the same places. We became friends and sometimes drifted apart. We grew up together.
Throughout our school years, Byron and I crossed paths frequently. I remember my mom explaining to me when I was quite young, early elementary school sometime, that the patch of blondish-gray hair on the back of his head was a birthmark, just like we have on our skin. I looked all over myself for a birthmark as distinctive as his but ended the search disappointed, only finding moles.
Just like his hair, Byron was a unique individual. He was irreverent, seemingly thumbing his nose at convention but taking part nonetheless. He was popular but in an unconventional way. He was outspoken and opinionated, elected student body president during our senior year. He played the bassoon in the band. And he was smart. Very smart.
We were in honors classes together during high school. Oh, yes, I was smart back then! But Byron had a way of always knowing what to say to throw me off balance, to make me question myself. He had one of those memories that could pull every fact or reference to support his arguments, so he rarely came out on the bottom of a debate. I think he actually made me a better student because I didn’t want to be unsure of a statement or an answer the next time he challenged me.
He was well-liked, but I never got the impression that was important to him. He always seemed destined for greater things than what was occurring inside the walls of our school. And I was not the only one to believe this. Our senior class voted him Most Likely to Succeed, Best Leader, Most Likely to Make a Million and Cutest Dimples. Not sure how the dimples played into the master plan, but I’m sure they didn’t hurt.
I never knew Byron as an adult. I saw him a couple times at the previous reunions and had brief conversations with him. I don’t recall exactly what he was doing, whether he felt he was a success, if he had continued to lead or if he’d made a million dollars. But that’s my loss for not paying close enough attention. Byron will be missed.
Hearing that another classmate has passed away, and remember those who died before him, is like losing a small piece of my childhood. It saddens me that it takes the death of a childhood friend to make me look back on my own life and appreciate the people that have passed through it. And while we may now live vastly different lives, they played a part in making me the person I am today.
Linda Stamper Boyne of Edwards can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org