It isn’t often that I hear from my old friends from “back east” in Pennsylvania. Yesterday I got a letter from one of my old sorority sisters and was sad to hear that my friend Lisa had passed on. Lisa, and her sister Lillian were dear friends during my days in high school.
Germantown High School had an unusual group of students because of its location. Part of the student body was like me, middle class kids struggling with the depression, and some much poorer who were in families trying desperately to survive. Then there were those from Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. The Mt. Airy people were what we called “rich” and those from Chestnut Hill were the “very rich, Grace Kelly” students.
Unfortunately, this often caused a rift between the very different “classes” and you could tell immediately who was who by what table they sat at during the lunch hour. I sat with the middle class, of course, and close by were a few of those less fortunate.
You could buy lunch for a dime — I loved the hot dog, baked beans day — and milk or ice cream a nickel. Most brought lunches.
One particular day I’ll never forget was when something occurred the second time I had anything to do with Jackie. Back then I had a couple of “boyfriends” and had been with a group that took the train from Germantown to downtown Philly to see the first showing of the movie Frankenstein. Jackie was in that group. Then there was that second time I saw Jackie, right there in the lunchroom at Germantown High School.
My friend Lisa was one of those chubby teenagers. She was sweet, unassuming, and a great student. We hit it off from the first time we met, and we went on to be sorority sisters. We were sitting there, eating, when she noticed one of the girls we didn’t know sitting by herself at the next table. She wasn’t eating. Lisa asked her if something was wrong?
We realized that she was one of the poorer girls and simply had no money to buy lunch. Lisa, being Lisa, walked over to her and gave her own unopened sandwich. She made some excuse that her mother had made something she didn’t like, and she was going to buy another sandwich. With that said, she simply headed off to the counter.
As she was moving back to our table, she passed Jackie and group.
I was heading to the counter to get some ice cream and I heard Jackie make a remark — one Lisa could hear — saying something about a fatty needing more food. Everybody at the table laughed. I stopped dead in my tracks, looked down at Jackie and told her that Lisa had given her lunch to somebody else who was hungry, and what had she done to help somebody in need?
It became very quiet in the lunchroom. Jackie just laughed and ignored me as I walked away. Back then I had a job grading papers for 25 cents an hour and made about two dollars a week, which really helped. I went to the teacher and told her about the girl who was hungry and asked if she too could grade papers? Soon our new friend was busy doing what I did and could buy her lunch.
It was years later that I saw Jackie for the last time. By then I was married and had five sons. I was walking to town from my home in Ambler to buy some groceries, dragging one of those handcarts we ladies used for shopping. At the back of a group of stores was a parking lot for a doctor’s office. I saw Jackie getting out of a fancy car and heading up the stairs.
Jackie never looked my way as I watched her walk into that doctor’s office.
A few years later I met with my friend Lisa and mentioned my seeing Jackie at the doctor’s. Lisa grew quiet, diverting her eyes from me for a minute. Then she told me the news. Lisa, now a nurse, had seen Jackie at the hospital where she worked. Jackie had inoperable cancer and suffered greatly, passing away the year after I saw her.
I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere. Perhaps it is to never judge, or to never be envious? I’m not certain, but I said a prayer and cried a little for Jackie anyway.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at email@example.com