In my fifth grade class photo, you can see me and some of my fifth grade friends from St. Edward School. I cropped the photo. There were 55 children in my classroom, although I don't know if all were there that day. I can name everyone, at least by their first name.
But I want to focus on Johnabeth. She's the girl with the big smile and head tilted slightly, smack dab in the center. If the picture were in color you would see her red hair. It wasn't carrot red, like some, but a darker shade. Johnabeth had a twin brother John, who does not appear in this photo because, for one reason, he was in the other 5th grade classroom.
Johnabeth, Frances Donnelly, Kathy O'Donnell, and I were the best of friends. Our closeness developed over time from 5th through 8th grades. Johnabeth was hilariously funny. Her humor was spontaneous. I remember cracking up one morning as we filed in ranks from church to our classroom. She took a deep breath and exclaimed, "Ah! The fragrance of the great outdoors --- pause --- dog crap!" Sure enough,we were walking past --- not in --- a fresh pile. We were in stitches as we tried to maintain the decorum expected by our teachers.
After graduation from 8th grade, we went our separate ways. I went to a boarding high school for girls, Sacred Heart Academy, in Springfield; Frances went to The Immaculata H.S. on Irving Park Rd. in the Uptown neighborhood; I don't recall which school Kathy attended, maybe Alvernia, which was on Ridgeway in the Old Irving Park neighborhood; I'm pretty sure Johnabeth went to Good Counsel H.S. on Peterson Ave. in the Albany Park area. Almost all the children in our school went to Catholic High Schools back then. They were much more affordable then, than now.
One day, when I was at Sacred Heart Academy, my freshman or sophomore year, I received a letter from Frances. There was very bad news about Johnabeth. She had died of septicemia or blood-poisoning, as we commonly called it back then. The letter stated that the infection over-whelmed her system and the treatments were administered too late or didn't work. By the time I received word Johnabeth's funeral and burial had already taken place. Frances suggested I send a sympathy card to her parents and twin brother.
I went to the school bookstore and asked if there were any sympathy cards. The Sister in charge wondered why I needed it and I told her. She commiserated with me and complimented me on my maturity in remembering to send a card. Without Frances I don't know if I would really have been that mature.
One day, not too long ago, I was driving; I don't remember where, and I thought of Johnabeth. For whatever reason --- out of a clear blue sky --- I burst into tears, copious tears at that! Maybe I had never properly mourned my good friend. After all, I got the news when all the rites were over. I sent the card, but there was no face-to-face contact. In this day and age I would have had the news so much sooner, and even though I was far from Chicago, it might have been feasible to go to Johnabeth's funeral. I wonder why, at that particular moment, this happened. It mystifies me.