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Author: Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

Childhood is a time of learning as we explore our world, starting with our home, moving into our neighborhoods, and then slowly venturing outward. During this tender time of life we make friends, some that last a lifetime, and some that leave footprints on our hearts forever. I experienced both these things in one friend, John Osmond.

My childhood was somewhat different from most. My father was a policeman and subject to transfers and relocations on a regular basis. At the time I met John we were living in a small northern Newfoundland community called Twillingate, in an area called Robin’s Cove.

Recollections of the small cove where I lived hold the memory of a wonderful friend. Mr.& Mrs. Osmond, who owned the convenience store in the cove, had a young nephew who visited every summer. That is how John Osmond entered my life in Robin’s Cove.

He was a pleasant little boy, exactly my age, and we shared many carefree, idyllic summer days. We also shared the same child's curiosity and wonder as we explored our world together.

We strolled through the summer and, even though icebergs could be seen in the distance, the days were so hot we would remove our shirts to cool off as we explored, experienced, enjoyed, conspired, and became aware of our world in Robin’s Cove, and all the amazing things it held. John was fun and so very captivating with his blond hair, shy smile, and sparkling eyes. His quiet demeanor endeared him to everyone.

There were no computer games, or high tech toys with which to play, and we didn't need them. We made our own fun using our untamed imaginations. Because John looked so innocent and appealing, nobody ever dreamed he was behind some of our wildest escapades, such as squishing squid on the beach and getting covered in squid ink. I would be lectured about those things because of my record of being somewhat ‘unruly’ at times. John just enjoyed it all. Our discoveries and explorations were endless.

We always had the inevitable jar in which to catch a bumblebee or butterfly. John was far more patient than I as he sought his prey, and whatever he captured would be set free after undergoing our thorough study. John's patience with learning how to turn a wide leaf into a whistle was mind boggling. I did it all the time and he persevered until he also could make the leaf whistle and was so proud of his accomplishment.

Laundry day in the cove was dreadful. Most of the children, including John and me, hated the loud gas engine washing machines. I was actually scared of the things! So the awful noises gave us an excuse to wander further afar looking for more curious things to add to our already overworked, mischievous brains.

Playing ‘Hide and Seek’, making dams across a trickling brook, picking berries, beach-combing, playing ‘Hopscotch’, collecting unusual shells, skipping rocks over the water, and swinging on our big gate, were just some of our activities. At the time some of the Newfoundland currency from our colonial days was still in circulation, and we seemed to always have the Newfoundland nickel, which was remarkably like the Canadian dime. We would take our nickels to the store and buy a soft drink. Then we would sit on a huge rock sipping our drinks, and watch the rhythm of the waves, occasionally hearing the familiar ‘pik-a-puk’ of the gas engines of the fishing boats. Looking back I feel it was such an innocent and carefree time, and probably some of the best days of my life.

I always dreaded it when John left to go back to his home, but vacations always come to an end, and he would leave to return to school in his hometown.

In December 1954 my father was transferred to another town. I wondered what John would think when he came back the next summer and we would not be there, but I am sure he continued to love his Robin's Cove vacations. I left for our father’s new posting, but I never forgot my summer friend.

In June 1960 my father was transferred to Grand Falls, NL. When September came, I entered a new school, and realized that the same John Osmond I knew years before was also attending the same school. My parents said it would be the same John because this is where his family lived.

He was still quiet and shy, but I sought him out and showed him a photo of us sitting in the tall grass, surrounded by wild flowers, having a picnic on a hot day, both of us topless and smiling. We would talk about our escapades of those summer days and laugh. Of course the boys saw the photo and teased John mercilessly, causing his cheeks to turn scarlet, so I made sure they never ever saw that photo again. John and I continued with our chats, both of us enjoying our memories and renewed friendship.

After highschool graduation we all went our separate ways, heading out for further education, and new experiences. John went to Memorial University with plans to study medicine, and I went into Nurse's training.

Then a bomb was dropped into my life. My parents came to visit me at the Nursing School in late 1967, and told me that John was very ill. He was not at Memorial in 1967, as he was far too sick. I was devastated and sad, and did not know how to deal with my heartache. Showing emotion as a student nurse was frowned upon in those days, so I tucked my sorrow away in my heart and continued with my studies and work. I felt incredibly sad and alone.

In March 1968, my parents told me that John had died just a month previously. I could not understand it, even though I had studied some psychology at that point, my friendship overcame my ability to deal with the depth of my grief. Being so overwhelmed was painful. My parents advised me to talk to my friends feeling that would help me deal with my grief.

So I shared my story of John with my closest friends and we all asked ourselves how this could happen? How could this young man who was so active in basketball, curling, bowling, swimming and hockey, a good student, and who looked so healthy, leave us so abruptly, dying of kidney failure at the age of twenty? I grew up a lot in the weeks after that news, and made sure my 'Memory Box' of John was kept safe. He would never be forgotten.

Indeed I have never forgotten him. I have cherished memories of him as a small boy, as a fellow student and as a friend, remembering all the innocent times we had shared.

Now I see breaking news reports of high school shootings, seemingly from all corners of the world, and my heart breaks for those young people bringing flowers and holding candles with the tears flowing freely down their faces. I know the heartache they are trying to come to terms with, and I cry with them. Maybe it is the way I can finally cry over my loss, a time now when I am permitted to cry and grieve at the loss of my young friend.

Now I note the fact that schools access Grief Counselors and Psychologists for the students and staff who are so broken in spirit as they search for an answer to their loss. It encourages the students to express their feelings over such tragedies. I know it must be of some relief to them rather than to be alone and trying to seek answers where there are none.

Any loss of special people in my life, since that day I learned about John in 1968, always takes me back to the surrealistic feeling I experienced when I learned he had died.

I am older now, with more life experiences behind me, and have had a long nursing career in which I helped others deal with loss, and have suffered more losses myself. But now tears are permitted, and in fact encouraged.

It is truly wonderful that now there is an awareness of how such losses affect young people, and I sincerely hope they find it helpful to express their feelings, and come to terms with their loss. So strides have been made in that area which is gratifying.

As for me, I refer often to the words of a prayer I once read. It reads like this:

‘Teach me to be thankful for life, and for time’s olden memories that are good and sweet, and may the evening’s twilight find me gentle still’.

John was, gentle, good and sweet, and, I feel so very fortunate to had him in my life, even for a short time. I wish he were in my life even today.

But it was not to be.

Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

 


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