I can still smell the pine from the freshly cut tree in the corner of my first-grade school room. Paper snowflakes danced on the windows, Christmas bells, holly, snowmen and gingerbread houses filled our room with Christmas magic and excitement.

On one side of my desk, next to the windows the radiator sputtered and rumbled. I liked the warmth from it in spite of the erratic sounds. School was filled with wonderful moments of times shared in stories read, playing jacks, jump-rope or swinging on the tricky bars. Recess was filled to the brim with "come play with me" or "jump with us, Shauna," until the day I noticed Barbara standing alone.In the classroom Barbara sat near me. Much like the radiator she made noises. She had a dreadful cough that sounded like she was gasping for air and then choking. Barbara was small for her age and very fragile looking. Her legs were thin, "chicken legs," as Gordon Monson teasingly called her. Barbara was a very sick child, but her desire was to go to school. Her coughing and hacking bothered many. Some of the children thought she might have some horrible disease that might be contagious, and so they chose not to play with her. I figured that must be the reason she didn't have friends.

Barbara couldn't participate during recess because it was just too strenuous for her. Just breathing was a challenge. Barbara never complained through all of the coughing, embarrassment and whisperings. I couldn't believe how some of the children were so unkind. I decided that Barbara needed to have a good friend. My Mother always taught that "everyone needs a friend who really cares." I couldn't imagine coughing all day long, it was difficult just watching her. I became quite protective of Barbara, and together we developed a warm and tender relationship.

The class readied the room for the festivities of the coming Christmas party. Candy canes, colorful ornaments, popcorn, cranberries and icicles dangled and danced on our Christmas tree branches.

Mrs. Hunt, our teacher, announced that everyone would draw a name for the party. She set limits and guidelines. "You must earn the money to pay for it, keep it a secret and it must not cost over $1." I was excited and hoped I would select someone I really liked. I pulled a red slip of paper from the fish bowl and jumped with excitement as I silently read . . . Barbara Edison. This was going to be such fun, I hardly could wait to surprise her.

The following Saturday, Mother took me to Woolworth's to pick out my selection for the Christmas gift. It was harder than I thought it would be. Barbara couldn't use a jump rope or hoppy taw, and candy she couldn't eat. She already had tons of crayons, coloring books, puzzles and paper dolls because she spent so much time inside and alone. It was hard to find her something really special and different.

After much searching, I saw it! Folded nicely in a gold foil box was a beautiful handkerchief. It had small little flowers embroidered on one corner, and was edged in lace. It looked so delicate . . . just like Barbara. "Barbara will look so dainty when she coughs," I convincingly told my mother. The nickels and dimes were counted out, as I smiled, and happily expressed, "I think she will like it!"

At home, I wrapped it in holiday paper with red and green curly ribbons on top. I figured I would explain to Barbara that the hanky would become a symbol of her beauty. Every time she coughed she would put the hanky to her lips, and become mysteriously beautiful. I envisioned how it would mask the horrible hacking sounds. I could hardly wait for the day of the party.

Punch and cookies were set out by the room numbers, Christmas carols were sung, relay races, eraser tag and "thumbs up, seven up" were played with enthusiasm. Everyone eagerly awaited the gift exchange. Paper and ribbons fell to the floor as coloring books, jump-ropes, candy, toys, jacks, marbles and balls found their way to desks throughout the room. I was delighted when Barbara's name was drawn. I proudly presented my gift. I hoped she would be excited. It took her only a moment to unwrap it, and the beautiful lace hanky in the golden box came in to view. Almost instantly she coughed, and then, just as I had imagined - daintily she held it to her lips. "It was meant to be!" I mentally rehearsed. "Thank you, Shauna!" Coughing and smiling she returned to her seat. I could tell she loved it, for she used the hanky every day. When she needed to cough, quickly the little handkerchief went into use. Like magic the hanky came back fresh, clean and ironed daily. Barbara and the handkerchief became inseparable.

One morning, Mrs. Hunt sadly announced to our class that Barbara had died during the night. My little friend was gone. I didn't understand and I sat in a frozen ponder. The classroom was so quiet and I felt cold. Barbara's desk was empty, and there were no coughing sounds. Broken-hearted I cried, and ran home. It was difficult to face the reality that my dear, dear Barbara had died.

Our class purchased a small gift of remembrance, a charm bracelet. I was asked to present it to the family. I was afraid. I had never been around anyone who had died, and I worried all day. Her parents asked that I place the bracelet on Barbara's wrist. I held her hand momentarily, it was so thin. There was no more coughing, as silently she lay. My heart seemed to melt. Then I noticed . . . in her hand was a perfectly clean, freshly pressed handkerchief; the one I had given her.

It wasn't much, just $1, but represented such a sweet friendship between Barbara and me. She will always be a part of me, much like the delicate hanky had become a part of her.


Additional Information

Shauna V. Brown

View Comments

Shauna Van Wagenen Brown and her husband Richard A. Brown are the parents of six children and live in Sandy.

Brown was born in Salt Lake City but raised in Sugar House, where she attended Highland Park Elementary, the site of the story.

She attended Utah State University and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in speech and drama with emphasis in communication broadcasting.

Her experiences include performing with the Sounds of Freedom and singing and dancing in U.S.O. shows. She enjoys writing, music and playwriting and works as a graphic artist from her home.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.