From kindergarten through our graduation as seniors in high school, I knew a girl named Lynn Kilbane. We were casual friends, nothing more. In third grade her desk was next to mine and one day, for no reason I could understand, she leaned over and kissed me on the left shoulder. I was surprised and confused, and nothing came of it except the memory. A few years later, Lynn’s brother Kevin died. He was our age and, again, no explanation. I haven’t seen Lynn in fifty-one years.
At our high-school reunion on Saturday, Lynn walked up to me and said, “I know you.” We talked for half an hour. She has worked as a nurse for forty-five years. I reminded her of the kiss and she said, “I would do that sometimes. I must have liked you.” I remembered nothing about Kevin’s death except that it happened. Lynn explained that it was cancer and his death was protracted and painful. It came in the summer of 1965. She thanked me for remembering Kevin and for describing what I remembered of how he looked. The word she used was “chunky.” Neither of us expected, when we went to the reunion, to talk about a thirteen-year-old boy who died fifty-six years ago.
In one of his best stories, “Death in the Woods,” Sherwood Anderson describes his narrator’s attempt to accurately recount the death of an old woman in the woods outside of town. He wants to correct his brother’s version, which is not how he remembers it:
“You see it is likely that, when my brother told the story, that night when we got home and my mother and sister sat listening, I did not think he got the point. He was too young and so was I. A thing so complete has its own beauty.”
Anderson was born on this date, September 13, in 1876 in Camden, Ohio.