Halloween brings poignant memories

Halloween is over, meaning area retailers will be replacing their Halloween merchandise with Christmas offerings (if they haven?t done so already). Never too early to start shopping, you know.

While I have strong opinions on Christmas in November, that?s for another column. It is not time to leave Halloween yet.

Before I begin, I want to emphasize that I am Halloween-neutral. It will never be my favorite holiday (although as a kid, I looked forward to the sugar explosion on Oct. 31), but I will never loathe it either.

That being said, I have difficulty understanding the fondness some people have for Halloween. How could Halloween be better than Christmas? I will have to ask a Halloween lover to learn the answer.

Halloween, however, does evoke some poignant memories. I had a very close friend who loved Halloween.

I met her during a previous life as a sports editor. She played three sports in this little town about 20 miles south of the Minnesota border. Because the town was in the newspaper?s coverage area and only 10 miles away, I saw her play often.

Basketball was her best sport. She?s the first girl I saw who shot a jumpshot like a boy. Iowa was playing six-girl basketball at the time, so scoring averages were inflated since just three girls played offense.

My friend was not a post forward but a perimeter player who averaged 35 points a game. I thought the six-girl game limited her because she was a great ballhandler and quick. What more could she do if she wasn?t limited to two dribbles, I wondered.

Her high school played girl-boy doubleheaders so we always talked between games. Surely, her friends thought she was brown-nosing, but when you score 35 points a game, you are going to receive publicity regardless if you suck up. One of the reasons I made sure to talk to her was because I was told at work by a co-worker who lived in the same town that my friend did not have a good home life, so I wanted to be available to help if needed.

Following high school, she attended a community college. I have no doubt she could have played at a much-higher level, but exposure is minimal in a town, far removed from everything. Originally, she had committed to Minnesota State, then an NCAA-Division II school in Mankato, Minn., but de-committed when the coach who recruited her departed. During her first year at the community college, she blew out both knees and basketball was a thing of the past.

Although she couldn?t play her favorite sport any longer, she started as shortstop on the softball team.

Soon after she left for college, I, too, found greener pastures elsewhere and our worlds separated, only to re-connect about 20 years later.

It was a Saturday in the early years of this century, and I had just returned from a track meet when I received the call. The caller asked if I used to write sports for the Algona newspaper. Guilty as charged. To say the least I was (pleasantly) shocked when she identified herself. One of life?s mysteries which occasionally occupied a minute or two of my time had been solved.

She said that she had been searching for me for nearly 20 years. The call led to a reconnection, and not surprisingly, we picked up where we left off. She was living in the Twin Cities and a number of visits followed.

Her health was not good, she had contracted Lyme disease and it had progressed to some internal organs before it was diagnosed. Still, she made a positive out of a negative, becoming a national advocate for Lyme disease research and awareness. She also counseled many who had been infected with Lyme disease.

Many times, she told me that she just loved Halloween. Another of her favorites was walking through cemeteries.

On another Saturday, this one happening to be Halloween of 2008, she called me and we made arrangements to get together the following Tuesday to make some future plans. She sounded better than she had for quite a while ? probably because she was going to a Halloween party that night. She was pumped to say the least.

The next day I took my daughters shopping in Sioux City. Shortly after we arrived, my cellphone rang. I walked outside to talk but when I saw the number, I knew what it concerned. I knew that some day in the not too distant future I would be receiving it.

It was from a mutual friend. My friend, who was only 41, died in her sleep the previous night. The autopsy said it was heart failure but in reality, it was from complications due to Lyme disease. In the days that followed, over 200 people penned their condolences on the funeral home?s website.

She died after enjoying her favorite holiday. She also died on All Saints Day which I view as more than a coincidence.