A memorial and a reunion | AspenTimes.com

A memorial and a reunion

It was an odd day, the last of August, as we climbed the stairs to the third floor of the Elks building and entered into an afternoon reception that would indelibly color our minds. A certain, long-forgotten electricity could be felt coursing through the crowd, the energy building, with an intertwining of solemnity and festivity that cannot exist without the requisite feelings of deep sorrow.It all had started earlier at the packed Catholic church as we participated in a service for our good friend, Judith Fitzpatrick Byrnes, who died August 22, 2005. A rare type of brain cancer had brought her down, long before her time, and we milled around the church before the mass, uncertain what it all meant for any of us, steadfastly there to pay our last respects to a classmate and friend we had respected since the day we met her.I say good friend, but can honestly say that since high school, I had only seen Judy three or four times. But in that way of really good friends, if we hadn’t seen each other for a hundred years, we’d still have been stalwart buddies. We first met back when we were both a couple of gangly 12-year-olds, the year her family moved to Aspen. My dad was on the school board, her parents were teachers, and between them they cooked up the idea that Judy and I should spend some time on our Woody Creek ranch, getting acquainted a bit before school started. From then on, we had a solid friendship.In junior high, Judy tried, without much success, to teach me to dance so I wouldn’t be quite such a wallflower, and although she had eyes for someone else, let me tag along on some of her dates, allowing me to think I may have been part of the action. We slogged through swamps, climbed mountains, rode horses, built campfires, and starred in the senior high spring drama together – Judy, the quiet, serious athlete, me the rambunctious, serious athlete – and we made a heck of a team.I walked around town the other day, one of those warm, blue-sky, cloudless days, impressed that the leaves hadn’t left us, and reminisced about our high school days, the friendships we all had together, some of the rivalries, but mostly about how, being in that neighborhood of what used to be the red brick school, it was almost possible to reach out through the sunshine and touch a long-ago afternoon. Walking slowly west, I took in the smell of fall and a profusion of memories. Just down Hallam is our classmate Katie’s house, so familiar on the corner it could have been the ’60s, and I reasoned she might actually be there, visiting her mother. There was the strong desire to go back in time, to stop and say hello. The shy person that Judy tried to help on the dance floor kept me from stopping, and it wasn’t until I got home an hour later that I finally dialed the number and got the long-remembered voice of a girl who giggled softly as she said we hadn’t seen each other for at least 35 years, maybe more. Priceless things happen between people when the paradigm is changed in unforeseen ways. There were more people at Judy’s observance than you could ever round up for a class reunion, and bonds were re-established that had gone lacking for many, many years. My soul was soothed by one in particular, and it was satisfying to reintroduce generations of people to each other who had a translucent, but so important connection back then. We let our guards down and there were hugs, kisses, tears, laughs and the holding of hands among friends who probably won’t ever see each other all together again.It was a beautiful day, countered by the dark and insurmountable cost, more than any of us could stand, paid by the woman whose memory we honored. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes comments at ajv@sopris.net

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