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Thank God for our memories

The days were still warm with the remnants of summer even though the brilliant colors of yellow and red dotted the trees behind the old Woodland Olney school building that fall morning.

Laughter was the most prominent sound, but in the distant background a school bell rang and even over the shrills of a group of elementary kids, the sharp tone of teachers could be heard as they worked to gather up everyone to head back to class from their much anticipated recess.

It was a day of button-down collar shirts and blue jeans. It was a day of black and white television … a day of learning to write in cursive with giant number two pencils with no erasers and of learning the so-called Golden Rules. And it was a day of innocence for a small group of seven-year-old first graders, a day in which I would love to return.

Life was simple in the first grade, but even as life began to change there were a handful of people in that class that would go on to be a part of my so-called family forever.

I will refer to us as the &uot;Woodland Six&uot; because there were six of us in that class to leave Woodland at the end of our third grade school year and venture into a life of strangers from all across Northampton County with the growing formation of Northeast Academy.

The six of us would learn to know, grow to love and find the strength to leave one another over the next nine years – never forgetting where we came from and who we were.

Through the years that would follow the third grade, new friends came and went. Mostly they came and stayed and our little &uot;Woodland&uot; family opened to include more kids just like us from communities across the county.

Our time together in those young days proved to be some of the best years of my life in that I have never known anyone I trusted any more than the group of boys and girls with whom I graduated high school.

They were the kind of people you knew stood behind you no matter if you were right or wrong.

We were very much like a family in that we could talk junk to one another at any given moment, but nobody else better breath negatively toward any other member of the class without being willing to deal with all of us.

Even though this larger group of kids would go on to become very close over the years, there was always something about the closeness and almost family-like relation between the six of us from Woodland.

Today my heart aches because we have to say goodbye to one of those very special people. Gladys Bowen White was the kind of girl you wanted as your sister. She was pretty, smart, friendly and most of all, very caring and supportive – and for a guy who was an only child, I had just that in her.

As I reflect back on those days of playing on the playground in Woodland, I see this young girl, long blonde hair flowing in the wind and her soft-spoken voice as she laughed at practically anything I said.

Truth be known, Gladys and I spent more time inside writing, &uot;I will not talk in class&uot; on the blackboard than we did playing on the playground. I usually blamed her and she always blamed me, but for the most part, it just seemed we had as much fun as the others were having outside.

That was what made Gladys so special – she loved to talk. Never about herself, but about you and always wanted to know more about the person to whom she was talking.

As we grew older and went our separate ways, I would run into Gladys now and again. This became more frequent when I started working at this newspaper as a reporter. One of my beats was to write up land transfers, and I was forever seeing her at the courthouse as she worked for an attorney here and town and was sent to research various things at the Register of Deeds office.

Like our adolescent days, we spent more time talking than working and always walked away knowing we’d have to go back and get the work done at a later time.

And like Gladys, she always talked about every thing except herself.

When she got married, she called me to tell me the news. She later asked if I would take their photo for the newspaper (many years before I was working in that capacity). I did not know here husband, Pat. But I knew that if Gladys loved him and wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, he must be a pretty special guy.

She talked to me often about Pat, and when her children were born, she shared the news with me, keeping me up to date with them and asking about my children and my wife.

Again, she always spent more time talking about all the other people in her life and not herself.

When I discovered Gladys had breast cancer, I had just talked with her over an hour at the courthouse the day before and not once did she even mention she had been sick. But that was her nature.

As the cancer got worse, she still managed to smile and laugh and act – publicly – as if other people’s problems were more on her mind than her own.

Gladys struggled with cancer for many years, but she never once complained. My wife and I had lunch with her one day, and though I knew she was not doing well, she never once acted like anything was wrong. She was far more interested in how my daughters were doing in sports and how my son, Josh, liked junior high school.

If not for having information from other people, I would have never known how sick she really was – and that makes me angry.

During the summer of 2003, our class held our every five-year class reunion at my house in Woodland. Gladys called me one day to see if there was anything she could bring. In talking with me, for the first time in her life, she talked about herself.

She told me she didn’t think her husband would be able to come, but she wanted to be there badly to see everyone, and she told me she did not think she would ever attend another one.

She asked me then not to share that with any of our classmates, and I held that promise until after she left that day. I wanted everyone to see her for who she was at the moment, but I also wanted them to know the other Gladys that was dealing with not knowing from day to day what life had in store for her.

She leaves behind a supportive husband who gave every moment he could to be by her side, and she leaves an almost identical carbon copy of herself in a little girl, Callie, and a son, Zach.

They say time heals, and I know that’s true. But for the life of me, it’s in times likes these that time just seems to stand still.

For me, today, time will stand still on a fall-like morning on the playground of Woodland Olney School. For it was there, so many years ago, that I first met Gladys and a friendship was born.

Death may take her from us, but her memory will live on forever and therefore too will the &uot;Woodland Six.&uot;