I met Barbara B. when we were twelve years old and both attended the same church camp. You know the kind. Set out in the middle of the woods. Unpainted plank cabins with row upon row of cots separated by tiny end tables stretch from screened walls of windows to screened walls of windows. These were the camps run by adults we never saw and overseen by young adults only slightly older than the campers. Boys slept on one side of the camp, girls on the other. We began our mornings raising the flag and pledging allegiance to all it represented. We had prayers and sang songs. Between meals we participated in crafts and other activities—swimming and boating and archery to name a few. At night we built campfires and roasted marshmallows, then placed them between graham crackers and a slab of chocolate. We performed scenes from plays that made us giggle until exhaustion sent us scrambling to bed.
Most of all, we made friends. Some would be friends for life, some we’d know only for that particular week in the summer. Some would become friends for a season.
Barbara B. was one of those friends. The latter. Our cots lay next to each other, separated only by that small end table meant for holding cups of water, our Bibles (or other reading material), a tall kerosene lantern (there was no electricity), and (in my case) a pair of cat-eye glasses. We bonded the moment we met. Throughout the week, if you saw one, you saw the other. At night we sat or lay on our cots with their white cotton sheets and thin blankets kept folded at the foot, our faces turned toward each other, our whispered conversations running until a counselor commanded lights out or we simply grew too tired to continue.
It was during one such conversation that we realized that we had something unique in common. During an address exchange (for letter writing after our week came to an end), we discovered that Barbara lived two doors down from my aunt, uncle, and two cousins in nearby Savannah. We were thrilled! My family often visited my father’s brother and his family, which meant Barbara and I would be able to continue our friendship beyond the boundaries of letter writing.
As soon as camp ended, we threw our arms around each other, promising through tear-streaked words to write as soon as we got home. And we did. Our weekly letters crisscrossed the miles and, on weekends when long distance rates went down, we were allowed a few minutes on the telephone. When my father and mother planned a trip to Savannah for a few days, I let Barbara know I’d soon be in that great coastal city and that, finally, we could see each other again. True to plan, within minutes of arriving, my cousin and I ran down to Barbara’s where we hung out the rest of the day. The following day we darted back and forth … playing at one house, then the other. On Sunday we said another tearful goodbye, but reminded each other that we could still write until our next family visit.
The letter writing continued as did the phone calls, until one Saturday afternoon when I called and Barbara’s older sister answered. I asked to speak to Barbara, she asked who was calling, and I gave my name. A few moments later I heard her tell Barbara she had a phone call. “Who is it?” Barbara asked. Her sister replied that it was her friend from camp. “Tell her I’m busy,” I heard her muffled voice say. Which, of course, could have been true. Her sister relayed the message and I said I’d call back … and I did. Still, Barbara was “busy.” I decided to write a letter. It went unanswered. I wrote again. Nothing. I tried calling. “Busy …” The next time we went to Savannah, I hurried to her house and knocked on the door where I was turned away by her mother.
I never knew what happened … what I did wrong, if indeed I did. And I would never find out because I never saw or heard from Barbara again. But, I’ve thought of her over the years, most especially during those times when relationships I believe will never end … do. When a friendship turns sour and I am left to wonder “what happened?”
The story of Barbara B. and me will most likely remain one of my life’s great mysteries, difficult to swallow the unknown of it because friendships have always mattered so much to me.
Who was behind the killing of JFK … how did Marilyn really die … did man actually land and walk on the moon … and what became of Barbara B …