I live a solid six-hour drive from the town I grew up in Indiana, and I rarely go back for a visit. My family has moved to other places, so there is really no reason to go. But when we do drive through town on our way to some other place, I always make sure we drive down my old street, 17th Street.
My house faced a kind of half-street driveway that didn't go all the way through to the other streets, and we shared this driveway with the Quigleys next door. Kitty was my first friend, and I spent a lot of days and nights at her house. Once a week or so, I check the website of my hometown paper, morbidly skimming the obituaries to see what people I knew as a kid have died. I'm not sure why I do that, but last night I read the Mrs. Quigley, Kitty's mother, died of lung cancer.
You would think I would not be so disturbed by the death of someone I haven't seen in over 15 years. But I was shocked. I hesitate to say that I didn't know she was sick because it sounds like an old vaudeville joke, but really--I didn't know she was sick. My mother had spoken to her just a few weeks ago but forgot to mention it to me. I suppose if I called my mother more often, she would have told me.
When I was a kid, my father was a sandwich king--he would serve up creations made with toasted wheat bread, corn relish, thick slices of roast beef, sharp cheddar cheese, mayo. And our soup was a hearty kind of stew that would take an entire day to make. But next door, Mrs. Quigley would give us sandwiches made with white bread, French's American mustard, bologna, and rubbery American cheese individually wrapped in plastic. I loved them. And they were always served with a bowl of Campbell's Chicken and Stars. Kitty and I would try to get as many stars on the spoon as we could, and when all the stars were gone, we would pick up the bowls and slurp down the broth.
So, here's to chicken and stars and to bologna sandwiches and Mrs. Quigley's kitchen table on a summer day at noon.