Janet Andrews' mother, Maurine, died this week. Janet was one of my closest friends in grade school. She and I and Larry Devey used to do a lot of things together. Larry was two years younger than I. Janet was one year older, so she pretty much determined what we would do.
We spent a lot of time over in Larry's grandpa's place, playing in the barn, and down in the creek beyond the barn where Larry found an arrowhead in a clay embankment once - but I don't remember if Janet was with us at the time, which is interesting because Jan (she goes by Jan now) is an anthropologist, and she would have probably been really curious about the arrowhead. I don't know what ever happened to it. I'll have to remember to ask Larry some time. I guess I could call him. It wouldn't take but a minute. But we never see each other. I don't even know how many kids he has.Janet never married. The past few years she has been living with her mother, I think. I saw her one day out mowing the lawn, and I talked to her once about a film she was working on. She was going to have a showing at the Salt Lake Art Center, but for some reason I wasn't able to go to it. I wish now I had. She was telling me this morning at her mother's viewing about another film she is working on, about the conflict between Utah Indian tribes and the state, and the status of Indian burial grounds, how they have settled on a place up near Emigration Canyon because they weren't given permission to bury on Antelope Island, which has been their first choice.
Janet's place was on the southeast corner of 100 South and 200 East (though we never used street numbers in those days), just across from Larry's. When I went down to play, I could usually find one or the other of them home. Janet's place had huge poplars along two sides with trunks the size of a car and limbs that rose and melded together high overhead and leaves that rustled constantly. And her house was always shaded, even in the hottest part of the summer.
Janet had the largest collection of comic books (we called them funny books) of any kid in town. Her mom bought them for her, I think, or her dad, and even when she wasn't home she would let me read her funny books. All I had to do was ask Maurine, and she would get them for me, and then I would go out and sit on the cement headgate by the edge of the lawn and read for hours.
There were Little Lulus, and Supermans, and all the Disney comics - Mickey Mouse and Goofy and Donald Duck. All the Donald Ducks had Uncle Scrooge stories in the back, with Huey and Dewey and Louie going off with Uncle Scrooge on some adventure and ending up with Uncle Scrooge sitting up to his neck in newly acquired gold in his money bin - piles and piles of it. But in between Uncle Scrooge's crotchety-ness and his obsession with money, he and the nephews had some fantastic adventures, usually sailing off on some old tramp steamer or something of the like. Black Bart, the big bad guy (I never could figure out what sort of animal he was), and a bunch of his henchmen always ended up being in charge of the ship and on the way to some secret island. Huey and Dewey and Louie and Uncle Scrooge would end up tricking them despite the odds, and the bad guys would end up tied up in knots in the middle of the deck and everybody lived happily ever after.And then I would take the funny books back in to Maurine, into the shaded kitchen where thin slits of light would filter in through the venetian blinds, and Maurine was always nice and would sometimes fix us treats. Emery, Janet's dad, always smiled and hired Larry and me to pick cherries in the summer up Fort Canyon, where he had his farm, and we would take our lunch. It was nice when lunchtime came and we were able to go down to the creek to the bowery, where they stacked the berries from the berry pickers, and we would ride up the canyon in the mornings in Emery's Jeep in the cold morning air before sunrise and then ride back down the canyon in the hot air of the afternoon.
This afternoon, after Maurine's funeral, I drove over and parked across the street from Janet's house and rolled down my window for a minute and listened to the leaves in the poplars. I watched the leaves, which were falling in droves, falling into winter, falling on the lawn in layers, falling like comic book pages into the stream, falling and fading and washing downstream, melting in the memory of Uncle Scrooge and colored pages and words written in balloons over all their heads as they struggled with the bad guys on the way to that mysterious island where everybody looked for hidden treasure, and the bad guys always lost and the good guys always won, and everything worked out OK in the end and nobody died.
Dennis Smith is an artist and writer living in Highland, Utah County. "Meanderings: A Place to Grow," a compilation of his Deseret News columns, is is available in local book-stores.