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Beverly Beckham

A childhood friend’s funeral, a lifetime flown by

Tower Hill School’s fourth grade in 1955-1956. Leo McNamara is in the top row, fourth from the right. The author, then Beverly Curtin, is in the first row, last on the right.

Tower Hill School’s fourth grade in 1955-1956. Leo McNamara is in the top row, fourth from the right. The author, then Beverly Curtin, is in the first row, last on the right.

I can’t attend his funeral. I’ll be out of town, 3,000 miles away. It doesn’t matter, I suppose. The truth is, I hardly knew him.

And yet I knew him once. We were children together. We lived in the same Randolph neighborhood, went to the same church, waited at the same bus stop every morning and sat under the same roof, though not always in the same classroom, for four long years, because the years are long when you’re 7 and 8 and 9 and 10.

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Every day for all those years we played on the same grassy playground, behind Tower Hill School, except for fifth grade when we whiled away our recesses behind Tower Hill Annex. We were children who had to scavenge to find seven cents to buy a popsicle from the ice-cream man, but we were billionaires when it came to time.

We spent our time well, playing in the woods behind our houses, in the woods across Chestnut Street, in front of his house and in front of mine. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Leo right over.” I sat in his kitchen and he sat in mine and our mothers made us cocoa or lemonade or whatever was right for the season. We had mothers and fathers then and, it seemed to our childhood selves, countless days to be lived.

It takes so long when you’re 7 to get to 8. A year is a decade when you’re a kid. Nobody tells you that time isn’t always like this, that when you get old, the reverse is true: A decade is only a year.

It’s been decades since I saw Leo McNamara. We were in similar boats, floating down the same river right up to the end of sixth grade.

But then the river forked and the current took him one way and me another and if we saw each other again, I don’t remember.

But I remember third grade. That’s when I first noticed Leo. I told my mother he was the cutest boy in the whole wide world.

I look at our third grade picture 60 years later, and think, I was right. He was cute. He had dark curly hair, a twinkle in his eyes and the shyest, sweetest grin. My best friend, Rosemary, thought he was cute, too. There was no rivalry in this. We were 7. We didn’t know best friends weren’t supposed to like the same boy.

We followed him around at recess — stalking is what you’d call it now — whispering and giggling, waiting for him to turn to us. He had a best friend, too, Stanley Burwell. Stanley smiled at us from the start. Leo ignored us. But only for a while.

I wish life had a track selection like a DVD and you could click and go back to a place you want to be. Click and I’d be that 7-year-old girl right now, with Rosemary, in the playground, strolling arm in arm, plotting how we were going to get Leo to talk to us. He did, eventually. But when did that happen? How did the four of us wind up one day sitting in the side yard on a flat rock in the leafy shade, talking and talking? Fast forward and pause, because I want the sound track of this day, our little kid voices, the words we said, the laughter, other children in the background chanting Rattlesnake, the school bell ringing calling us all back in.

Leo S. McNamara of Wrentham “passed peacefully at home,” I read last week. He had a wife and three children and was a lawyer.

He was none of these things when I knew him, not a lawyer nor a husband nor a father. He was just a boy, as my grandson Adam is now.

I see girls smile at Adam. And I see Adam smile back. And I want to stop time, freeze these moments for long moments, then slow time down, because I know, first-hand, how fast a lifetime goes.

Beverly Beckham lives in Canton. She can be reached at beverlybeckham@me.com.
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