My sister, Donna, called me last Wednesday from her new home in Corinth to tell me the mother of her best friend from home had died. The best friend, Tina, had called Donna that morning and left a message on her answering machine with the news.
Donna was in a quandary about whether she should try to make it home to Dothan, Ala., for the funeral. After all, this was her best friend from age 8 until their early 20s, when Tina moved to Texas and their phone calls became more infrequent and their visits few and far between. On the other hand, it was a long drive, Donna didn’t have much time off from work and she and Tina had only seen each other once or twice in the last several years. Would I go, she said, if Mrs. Groover died?
Mrs. Groover, June Groover, was the mother of one of my three best childhood friends. The Groovers, who moved across the street from us when I was in fourth grade, had four children: Holly, who was four years older than me; Merry, who was my age; Jeff, who was three years younger than me; and Clint, who was born the year they moved in. (Mrs. Groover started the girls’ names with a Christmas theme … Holly … Merry… and then Jeff came along. Mrs. Groover wanted to name him Noel, but Mr. Groover vetoed the idea. So he was named Jeffrey Daniel instead.)
Merry and I became fast friends because we were the same age, the same year in school and we both liked playing Barbies and reading Nancy Drew mysteries. We also liked boys (a lot) and playing touch football in the front yard on fall afternoons with Jeff and Holly and riding our bikes on the sidewalk to Murphy’s Market to buy penny candy like Grasshoppers and Jolly Ranchers and Bazooka Joe bubblegum.
It didn’t take long for me to become a fixture at the Groovers’ house. The year after they moved across from us, Donna got married and moved out of the house so rather than become a latchkey kid, I went to the Groovers’ house every day after school. And in the summers, I was over there so much my name was put on the chores chart that hung on the kitchen. Two lunches a week I set the table, one breakfast I cleared, on Wednesdays I had to wash the lunch dishes and on Fridays I took the garbage out. Merry, Holly and Jeff had similar chores throughout the week as well.
You can imagine that when kids become this close, the parents generally do also. Every Friday night we ate as a family at one house or the other. Sometimes we grilled hamburgers or steaks, sometimes Mrs. Groover made homemade pizza, sometimes Mama made fried chicken and rice and gravy and turnip greens and corn on the cob.
We took trips together in the summers, mostly to the beach. (To the beach means Panama City Beach, which was about an hour and a half from Dothan.) Sometimes in the fall, we’d go with a bus of Georgia Bulldog fans to a football game. Mr. Groover was an alumnus and Mrs. Groover, who was from New Hampshire, learned to love the ‘Dawgs anyway.
Every Christmas morning, after we opened gifts at our house, we’d load up the Groovers’ presents and head across the street where Mrs. Groover would be preparing a late-morning feast for us. Our families also ate Thanksgiving dinner together every year, even after I left for college.
I grew up with that family. I probably spent more nights in their house than my own. But time and distance have a way of separating childhood friendships. Charlie and I went home for Merry’s wedding in 1991 and that’s the last time I’ve had contact with any of the Groovers – that’s five years since I’ve seen or talked to any of them.
But would I go home for Mrs. Groover’s funeral? You bet.
Ginna Parsons is Daily Journal news editor.