Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Eulogy for a best friend
One of my best friends, Susan Eckert Avner, known as Ecky-- a woman I have known since I was in junior high passed away this week. She died alone in her condominium and it was days before anyone discovered her. It was only because she was not posting on her Facebook that we, her high school friends from across the country, became alarmed. The fire department broke in to her home in Kansas City, and found her dead at 66 years of age. Cause unknown.
I have written a bit about her on Facebook, and I could write a lengthy eulogy, but instead I want to describe just one afternoon we shared that I will always remember. It was a wonderful memory because it was vintage Ecky.
It was a hot day in June in 1963. Both Ecky and I were sixteen year olds in high school in Buffalo. It was a great moment for me because I'd just received my driver's license that day. My mother let me take her car to school. It was a Monday and Ecky and I, both Irish Catholics, had to go to the dread of all dreads-- religious instruction. She went to Saint Benedict's and I went to Christ-the-King. I agreed to pick her up at a corner after what we called the 'hell-on-earth" class was over. We'd planned to go out to dinner.
My mother never made a meal and she had to go to her study club that night.( She studied the Congo.) So she gave me money for dinner and enough to take a friend so, as she said, " I wouldn't be lonely". Ecky's mother abandoned the family forever when Eck was around seven and basically left Eck in charge of her younger brothers. Thus we were on your own with our new Impala 409 Convertible. What is better than two teenage girls in a convertible with no parents in sight out who are out on the town for the first time?
We decided to go to Pat's Hot Dog Stand, a local hangout for 'older boys with cars' and we planned on breezing in on two wheels with the top down, cigarettes a blaze. I decided before we made our grand entrance we should get the car washed at one of those new fancy drive-thru car washes on Niagara Falls Boulevard. Ecky, always the cautious one, said maybe we should think twice before driving in since we hadn't done it before and I'd only had my license for a day. I replied, "How hard can it be."
We pulled in and there was a line up of cars. I drove in to the spray and neglected to read the sign that said, TURN OFF MOTOR AND PUT CAR INTO NEUTRAL. I decided to blast through in drive and to rev the motor. I also missed getting into the track that pulled you along. Once we got in the middle the car stalled; I'd screwed up the clutch; flooded the car and it would not start again. People were beeping at us to move as the cars were piling up. Ecky and I started laughing and couldn't stop. We were out of control. ( You know that kind of laugh that only teenage girls can have?) We were surrounded by giant red automatic round slapping machines that were in revolt. They kept making loud gear grinding sounds and then they reversed direction and water came at us from all angles.
Ecky lowered her window to yell,"HELP," but the water flooded into the car due to the fact that it was coming in from a sideways angle. The water pressure shot her over to my side of the car. We were now in complete paroxysms of laughter. No one could get to us because the machines were stuck on our car, beating it and spinning around.
Finally, between cycles, I screamed "MISSION ABORT!" and we tore out of the car hoping to make it out without a wax coat. Well, the second we got out of the car, we heard the Puerto Ricans who worked there yelling at us in Spanish, "Go Back." Sorry boys-- too late.
Suddenly the huge brushes started buffeting us all over the place. Many people would have cried from the pain of the slaps, but Ecky was still laughing hysterically and screaming, "McClure, we are going to die with really clean skin!"
As we moved toward the exit, having abandoned the car in the suds department, we were thrashed with wax from above. I 'd paid for the extra wax and we got it. It took two weeks to get that wax out of our hair. Our eyelids were heavy with wax and it was hard to keep them open.
Eck screamed, "McClure, I see sunlight ahead!" We just had to get through the dry cycle. We continually kept flying into one another. The air was so hot and so powerful our faces were beet read and we were sandblasted. Eck yelled over the din, "My freckles are gone and my nails curled upwards."
Finally we heard an eery silence, the lights flashed and the whole car wash ground to a halt. Someone had pulled the emergency switch.
The owner came running up to us screaming that we had to pay for all of his damaged equipment and there now was a line up of twenty cars waiting to enter, blah blah. We couldn't stop laughing and Ecky had such an infectious laugh that the guys who worked there started chortling at the wax coating on top of our suds.
I wanted to argue with the angry owner, but Ecky, always far wiser, made him see how funny it was. She said, "Hey now you'll have a story to tell your wife, The day the girls from Amherst went through the car wash without the car." Finally, Ecky broke him down and even he was laughing. He got the car moving and we pulled out to everyone's cheers.
Never deterred from my original plan, no matter how awry it has gone, Ecky and I drove along to Pat's Hot Dog Stand. We put the top down and let our long white waxed hair flap in the breeze. I already had white hair, but Ecks was black and the white wax made her look like one of those wax dolls that you used to buy for a penny that had kool aid inside.
When we got to Pat's Hot Dog's, which was only a drive-in-stand, with a huge parking lot surrounded by tables on a scrappy piece of yard, we each had to lay down on a picnic table to dry out before ordering. Naturally, since we were encased in suds and wax we were the centre of attention. Neither of us acted like we were in any way unusual. Ecky just said to some boys who left their Corvettes to see the mummified wax figures, "You guys should go through the car wash on Niagara Falls Boulevard, It's a riot!"
When we dried off, we got our long dogs, curly fries and cokes. We laughed so hard the cokes came through our noses. When were got home, the best part of the caper was that no one noticed that we looked even slightly different. All anyone said to either of us was "Hi, how was your day?"
Although our lives took different paths, I moved to Canada and Ecky to Kansas City, we got together every year. Once when we were in Florida getting our nails done, the manicurist asked us if we wanted a Brazilian wax for the beach. We both burst out laughing and Ecky said, "No thanks we've had a Buffalonian.
Two years ago I picked Ecky up at the Buffalo Airport in my new car and told her I had a plan for lunch. Fifty years later we drove through the car wash and then drove to Ted's Hot Dog Stand. ( Pat's was gone now.)
Eck, I still hear your laugh and always will. May you wax eloquent in heaven.