This week I went to the funeral of a friend I’d known since childhood. She was the first of my close friends to pass away, and her death was eye-opening. A flood of mostly-forgotten memories overwhelmed me as they rushed back. Deborah Roberts Edwards had been even more a part of my life than I recalled.
We were Brownies and Girl Scouts together, making ceramic ashtrays and hand tooling leather coin purses, and she attended my Dress Up Like a Lady tenth birthday party. She was gorgeous; I looked like a madam with a ponytail. When we were in middle school, my mother and her grandfather alternately carpooled us to Alamo Heights Junior High School every morning. He had lost half his stomach after a gas attack in World War I. I don’t remember his name, I probably just called him “Sir,” but her grandmother’s name was Honey, and everyone called her that, including me. I never found out if it was a nickname.
We spent the night at each other’s house frequently, mostly at her house, though. She told me not long ago that whenever I’d invite her to my house, her mother would suggest she invite me to theirs. She said it would be a nice break to get away from taking care of my sister’s kids. I hadn’t known other people knew about that.
Her well-known architect father had designed their house and the pool in the backyard. It was very avant-garde for the time, as different as could be from my parents’ professionally decorated, French Provincial monolith a few blocks away. It always felt warm and welcoming.
She married at 20, even younger than I at 22, and we lost track of each other. We reconnected in San Antonio when I was a young wife. We two couples socialized occasionally, and she accompanied me to the doctor’s office when I went to find out if I was pregnant. My first husband didn’t want to take off from work, so Deborah found out before he did that I was expecting. She knew we were hoping for a boy, so on the way home she stopped and bought a tiny blue sleeper. “Somebody has to make a decision about the sex of this baby!” she told me.
The day I brought my son home from the hospital, I called her in a panic and told her I didn’t know how to make the bottles, and my diaper-changing skills were failing, too. She asked if I was alone, and when I said yes, she said, “I’ll be right there!” I had very little family in town, and most people had assumed the baby’s father would be with me getting in some bonding time. However, he brought us home, dropped us off , and returned to the office. There are reasons that marriage didn’t work out.
Deb showed up at my door in a brightly colored, Chinese print wrapper, with her hair in giant hot curlers, her little boy, Darrell Jr., in tow. She showed me how to change diapers, made a load of sterile bottles for me, made sure I was calmer, and left. Seems she had been getting ready for a fancy night out when I called. The woman was a force of nature.
Three years later, when I was going through my divorce, her father, the architect, and her husband, the custom home builder, gave me a job as a secretary in their office. Her father taught me to compose business letters (“Say what you have to say and shut up!”), and her husband taught me the basic principles of cost accounting. Because of them I had skills other than typing when I moved to Houston in 1981.
Fast forward to 2011. We had lost touch again and I didn’t know until our 45th high school reunion what she and Darrell had gone through. We reconnected and became close friends again. We even got to visit their ranch, and they drove down to Austin and went with us to lunch and the Zach Theatre. We all had tickets to do it again in February when she passed away.
Bryan and I attended her funeral in Fredericksburg last Monday. It was held at St. Barnabas, a beautiful little Episcopal church there. It was packed with friends and family, and we all looked like we were about to fall apart. I know I was. The service was lovely and comforting, and by the end I felt better able to keep a grip.
Afterwards in the parish hall, we sat with a couple who had met Deb and Darrell on a cruise. We shared stories and laughed together, no longer strangers. The healing began there.
Deborah would have loved it. I sincerely hope somehow she got to see it.