A Farewell from Marcie

Grady Arnold


Steven Bone, Mary Ann, and Marcie were in my room at school in second grade in 1951.  Steven lived in the next block.  One Christmas I got a Lionel train with four cars and a caboose.  Steven got a really big train set.  When we were that age, these Christmas toys were really for our fathers.  Sgt. Bone had gone a little nuts buying all those different train parts and track.

I remember Marcie principally because of a single day.  I never knew exactly where she lived on Bergstrom Air Force Base.  She haunts a very, very special place in my heart.  In class at Del Valle, she would come up to the pencil sharpener behind me when the teacher told us we needed to get ready to do some writing.  The teacher would tell us to be sure our pencils were sharp and would wait while we sharpened them.  When I went to the sharpener and got in line, Marcie would always be behind me.  I'm not sure that I really noticed her, at first, any more than Mary Ann or any of the other girls in our class.  But I do remember Marcie would stare at me and watch me sharpen my pencil and walk back to my desk.  I could feel her 6 year old eyes following me until I sat at my desk again.  She never said a word while in one of these states--just watched me--standing there until Teacher would tell her, "Marcie, please sharpen and take your seat." That happened several different times.  All the girls in my class were cute.  Marcie had Dutch cut jet black hair.  Her skin was very light--like my own. Her eyes were black and shined like the evening star.  Yes, I remember Marcie at Bergstrom AFB.

One day, while my Dad was off somewhere on TDY (temporary duty), somewhere SECRET, Mom announced, "Neil, Marcie’s mother is going to bring her over to play with you for a while today." From my birth, Mom always called me Neil to distinguish me from my dad who was also named Grady.    This was very unusual, a classmate other than Steven coming to our house and a girl at that. I never found out how the two mothers had communicated.  We did not have a phone. The time arrived and they appeared at the kitchen door.  Her mother said, "Thank you," to Mom and I wondered, "For what?"

In those days, boys my age on the base played with their imaginary army with tiny soldiers, airplanes, ships and the like.   We met out in the big drainage ditches and decided who would be Americans and who would play the Germans. Then we used our fathers' military belts, helmets, and canteens to go at each other’s armies - using imaginary automatic weapons to fight WWII all over again. 

When Marcie arrived, she came into the living-room and sat on the floor with me. We played pushing the toy soldiers around on the floor for a while as we also talked a little about school and teacher’s pet rabbit.  Then she stopped moving the soldiers around, and her mood changed to very serious, saying, "Grady, I'm going away soon."  I stopped my play war scenario on the floor and just stared back at her for a long moment--the same way we had watched each other in class.  I knew this was a very personal message from a very nice little friend.  I just didn't know how to react to her declaration at the time.  Her big pretty eyes were now very sad.  Her brow showed her concern.  She was leaving a set of friends.  We had all become comfortable with each other in our class.

A man in the service could have an officer sign a transfer order at any time. The order affected the whole family’s life from that point forward. 

Deep feelings rolled violently around inside me.  We had instantly become very comfortable playing together.  We had experienced magic moments lost in our imaginary world of the toys we controlled.  I did not want my new playmate to leave.  I sat there a long moment and finally said, "I didn't know," in a quiet voice.  We both realized that we were becoming very close friends.  She was the first female in my life my age, outside of the family, to reach out to me with close communication and friendship.  A few moments later, we were back at the toys and the deep emotions of that serious moment had passed.

Marcie ate lunch with us, and we spent the afternoon together playing in the house.  When her Mother came for her, she did not want to leave.  She frowned and pouted.  She already knew it was our first and last little private time together.  We had used it to play and drift away into our own little fantasy worlds. When her mother dragged her reluctantly out the kitchen door, she whispered to Mom, "Thank you." Mom answered, "Sure."  The last I remember of Marcie was those big sparkling eyes staring back at me while her mom dragged her off holding her wrist.  So, I walked with them out to their car and watched her mother open the car door and deposit her into the car seat.  She waved at me and I saw the big sad eyes again, for the last time, as I waved back.

The whole scene had stirred deep, intense feelings inside of me.  I remember how, at that age and earlier, my emotions rolled around from one violent mood to the next in a matter of a few seconds.  A new friend was leaving to never be seen again.  I remember Marcie. We had shared first grade class time and four hours playing together one weekend day.  Who could know where we could have gone with our new friendship had we stayed together longer.  Maybe we could have gone all the way through school together--maybe even beyond.  I never knew how many of our little class she visited to deliver her farewell message.  All the rest of my life I have remembered the pretty little girl who came one day to say goodbye.   Each new memory of Marcie still stirs the deep old feelings I had for her that day playing on the floor while she delivered her farewell message.


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