In Honor of A Friend A true Story By Nancy Yearout
In Honor of a Friend
This story you are about to read happened when I was growing up in rural America. The events that occurred in our small town are difficult for me to write but important that I share with you. We are all given free will to live the life we choose, but the choices we make determine our life path. These tragic events occurred over forty-years ago. I have changed the names to honor the family’s privacy.
It was the fall of 1973 in a small farming community in the Midwest. This was a time when everybody knew their neighbors and their names. My best friend, Chelsea, and I were two grade-school kids growing up in a rural America. We were like two peas in a pod, both of us had blond hair and freckles. Chelsea had freckles placed perfectly on her face with a big wide smile. I remember myself as skinny with long hair in pigtails. We were in the same class at school and inseparable. I have two older sisters and one younger, and Chelsea has a big brother and one younger. My family lived on a farm out in the country several miles from town, while Chelsea’s family lived closer in. The location difference made the phone and recess our social time. We chatted on the phone quite a bit as young ten-year-old girls will do. Mostly about cheerleading and boys, as I now recall.
Our big dream was to become cheerleaders when we reached junior high school. Every day when recess time came around, you would find us outside practicing our moves. We worked on our cheers daily and became quite good at it. We would make up new rhymes and giggle at our own cleverness. Sometimes we used colored chalk to make a hopscotch board on the playground concrete. The game of hopping on one foot was something both of us were good at and had fun showing off our skills to the other girls in our class.
This event happened on a Thursday in early fall when the weather was turning cold. It’s hard to believe that it’s been forty years since it happened. I can still remember the smell of leaves burning in people’s yards. The aroma of burned leaves lingered in the air around the schoolyard. It’s funny how you associate life events with simple things like the time of year or a smell.
Reflecting back on that time, I recall that Chelsea and I were focused on the school pictures that had been handed out the day before by our teacher. We were busy writing cool stuff on the backs of our pictures to trade them with our classmates and each other. This is my last memory of our days together.
It’s difficult to tell you about the dreadful events that changed our lives and many others forever that fall day. It was an accident. He would never have meant to hurt his sister. They loved each other dearly. The story told was that two of them were teasing one another and harassing each other as a brother and sister often do. Chelsea’s parents were recently divorced, so Grandpa pitched in when he could because he lived close by. Their mom was working not too far away in town when Tom and Chelsea came home from school that fall day.
The two of them started joking around as most siblings do. At the time, Chelsea was ten and her brother was thirteen years old. Tom said later that they were arguing over something silly and that he picked up Grandpa’s shotgun and said he was going to get her. Chelsea was a fun-loving sort of girl and played along. She ran into her room and hid behind her pillow and some stuffed animals on her bed. What I was told by my parents and the teachers at school was that her brother pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger. The gun fired! It was still loaded from Grandpa’s hunting trip the day before. Her brother Tom had no idea the gun was loaded. After the loud bang sounded, there was silence. They said that the poor boy confessed later that he was horrified by what he had done. He repeated many times that he would never have picked the gun up if he had known that it was loaded.
They said even though Tom was in a state of shock, he managed to call 911 to get an ambulance to the home quickly, knowing in his heart it was too late. His sister was not moving on the bed behind the stuffed toys when the ambulance arrived. The feathers and fluff had flown everywhere around the room is what they said.
Thomas was devastated with grief as he was just a boy himself. His family and the entire community knew it was an accident. Even though everyone forgave him, the choice that Tom made that day changed many families’ lives forever. That one decision to pick up Grandpa’s gun and pull the trigger had ended his beautiful sister’s young life and, in many ways, his life too.
Folks said years later that he was never able to deal with the accident. He was in and out of trouble as a teenager and then in his adult life too. Someone said he had turned to alcohol to numb the pain. Tom never completely recovered from his sister’s death.
Losing my best friend so young made me look at life very differently. It changed all of us in the town where we lived.
The entire fifth-grade class went to the funeral home for visitation the following week. There was an eight-by-ten picture of Chelsea carefully placed on top of the closed casket. We all walked by the casket one by one to say goodbye to our friend and fellow classmate. I will always remember Chelsea as she was in that school picture, full of life with her beautiful blond hair, freckles, and that unforgettable smile.
I imagine that the teachers thought it would give the kids some closure by attending funeral visitation services, which in a way it did. My friend Chelsea’s death changed all of us that year. Everyone in our town felt the shock of the young girl’s passing. I know for myself that what happened made me acutely aware of guns being kept secure in the home, or anywhere else for that matter.
Most of my classmate’s fathers hunted, but they now made a conscious effort to secure their weapons if they had not done so before. We learned to never play around with firearms; we realized firsthand what could happen. We also learned that all of the choices that we make have consequences.
This was a difficult story to share with you and just as hard to write, but it’s important that we realize that the choices we make create our reality.
This was one of those times in life when you question if there is a God and ask why bad things happen to good people.
Maybe this accident prevented other accidents from occurring. All of us who knew Chelsea were extra careful around firearms, poisons, or anything that could harm someone. When something like this happens, you learn to think before you act. Life is precious—we are here and then gone in an instant. My friend’s death had a purpose—to make others think a moment before they act, to realize how fragile life truly is. Life is a gift; honor it.
A New Mind-Set: Think before you act. All our decisions have consequences. Many young adults today play computer games and watch movies where the killing of people is the norm. After a while, a person becomes numb to death, as if it is not real. The realism that when you’re dead your body is gone forever does not seem to register to some young children. We need to instill upon others how precious each life is and that when you’re gone that there is no rewinding or going back. The choices we make create our reality.
We are physically here, and then we are gone as quick as a blink of an eye.
Every choice you make has an end result.
And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.