A few weekends ago I flew home to the small town of Dinuba in the central valley of California. It was as I remembered it, hot and dry… and full of so much life. Growing up, it was a place I couldn’t wait to leave, and now can’t wait to get back to. Home is funny that way.
Going home is always bittersweet but this time was even more so. I was returning with my mom and dad and younger sister to attend a memorial service for a childhood friend. Her death was shocking and horribly sad. Aside from the grief I felt I also was full of regrets that I had lived so intimately alongside her through our youth and had failed to reach out to her as we flailed through our 20′ and 30’s.
Tracey was my very best friend’s little sister. Although, as a twin, she was rarely known as Tracey but was lumped in with her sister and was known as “the twins”. Tracey was feisty and brave and also had a heart that understood the underdog. She just seemed to get people who were misunderstood.
Our families were completely meshed together as I grew up. Keri, her older sister and my closest friend, spent countless nights at my houses. And I at hers. During the summer my mom would start to wonder if I was ever coming home after spending four days in a row at her house. Keri and I loved to pull pranks on the twins, as we did my little sister. I remember frequently trying to bribe the twins to do things for us by promising to pay them a dollar. At home, I had my own bratty little sister. But at Keri’s house, Tracey was also my bratty little sister.
Our families didn’t have fancy vacation homes or full savings accounts but we frequently drove to the mountains and stayed in the quaint little town called Wilsonia where all of us kids roamed the woods freely for hours. When we got thirsty or hungry we’d head to the general store to buy Tootsie rolls and bazooka bubble gum with handfuls of change.
Looking back I see how sheltered and idyllic our childhoods were. We were surrounded by families that loved us, we had the freedom to roam and create things, and were endowed with delicious imaginations.
When I got the news that Tracey had passed away I called my parents and sisters immediately. We were all completely shocked by the news. She was family. It was so hard to believe. We started looking for airline tickets as soon as we knew the date of the memorial.
Driving into Dinuba was surreal. We had all moved away and I never thought we’d all be home together ever again. We stayed with another of our oldest and dearest friends, the Peacocks. Being at their house was like being wrapped in a warm embrace. There’s not a place in their house or on their surrounding property that doesn’t hold so many memories. Years of Thanksgiving dinners, youth group gatherings, swim parties in their very old, deep cement pool. My sisters and I grew up playing with their two boys and occasionally getting in over our heads with mischief. It was overwhelming being surrounded by it all. I know as adults we tend to over romanticize certain periods of our lives but I truly believe this was not the case for me. I’d had a pretty magical childhood.
Tracey’s memorial service was both beautiful and hard. Her parents had been like a second set of parents to me. It was so amazing to see them but so heartbreaking to think what they were going through. And her sisters, all so different, were also still so much the same. I couldn’t believe we were at this beautiful reunion and Tracey was missing it.
A couple of Tracey’s sisters shared during the service. Their memories were funny and sad and so very honoring to who she was. She would have loved it. Watching the slide show was the hardest. Seeing Tracey as a kid, the way I remember her, and then seeing all the parts I missed. She had grown to be even more adventurous, and exquisitely beautiful. I was so sorry for all the parts I had missed. And that I hadn’t been able to know her and love her as an adult.
Her service was packed with people she had known during so many stages of her life. She had clearly made an impact, which likely would have surprised her. So many families came that we had known as children. I was overwhelmed as they came in, one family after another that had been a big part of our childhood. It was amazing to see so many wonderful people and connect after so many years. Several people said to me, “It’s a shame that it takes something like this to get us all back together again.” I know that’s usually the sentiment. But honestly, I felt so completely opposite. I thought – isn’t it amazing that after all these years we still travel from all the places life has taken us so that we can support one of our own. Isn’t that what family does.
It was beautiful. I’m still so moved by what I saw that day. By the love and warmth.
The truth is, growing up is hard. There’s so much heartbreak. I can’t believe all I’ve had to see and experience since my childhood. Sometimes I think I would give anything to go back in time.
But that weekend back home, surrounded by so much love and comfort and goodness, I’m reminded that there’s still so much beauty and goodness to be had, despite so much pain.
Tracey, I’m so sorry that I didn’t get to know you and love on you as you grew older. I know it’s my loss.
I hope you know that you were well-loved by so many and will be deeply missed.