News and Tribune

January 18, 2014

THOMAS: Hold your friends close, their parents closer

By JASON THOMAS
jason.thomas@newsandtribune.com

— Time slips by so quickly, silently — unnoticed.

One minute you’re a kid playing Whiffle ball with your best friend; the next you’re wishing you could whisk away the searing pain he’s feeling as a grown man.

What happens between then and now?

That thought hit home Thursday with the sudden death of one of my best friend’s mom, Linda Agnew. Over the years, time and distance — life, really — have separated me and my friend, Brian Agnew. Those inanimate elements — years fading away, miles that seem to stretch past the moon — can erode friendships.

But not this one. Memories, and an inherent, unbreakable connection, make everything waterproof. Linda Agnew, and her husband, Bud, play starring roles in those memories.

Growing up, the Agnew home was headquarters for our tight-knit group of friends. Linda, with her shock of blonde hair and dark blue jeans, stayed in the background. But she always surfaced at the perfect time, always with a hug, the kind in which you melt into someone. She just made you feel … accepted, like you belonged, like you were one of her own.

And that laugh. That spirited, staccato laugh, like she was reserving her breath because she knew much more joy lay ahead. Or she realized her gang would be grown and gone too soon.

For Linda, it was all about family. Her children’s friends were just an extension of family.

The Agnew home, on a small patch of land on Old Vincennes Road, was our nirvana. We’d play basketball on a postage-stamp-sized pad of concrete — dunking on an eight-and-a-half-foot goal — until winter and our makeshift lighting drove us inside. Linda would make sure we were in the church pews the next morning. Faith, like basketball, required practice.

On the side lot was the greatest Whiffle ball field in the Midwest by our estimation. The outfield wall? It was the electric fence that kept in Linda’s beloved horses. A home run meant feeding the horse a treat from one of the many crabapple trees. The horse got a lot of treats.

In foul territory along the third base line past the trees is where you could find Linda’s pen for her fluffy white Samoyeds. Linda loved those dogs and those horses — our fans. She wasn’t bothered that we constantly invaded her space, just as long as we — actually, her birth children — pitched in with chores.

Time out: Brian has to feed and water the horse. Linda understood the importance of an honest day’s work, and she and Bud instilled that in their children.

Looking back, the basketball games, the Whiffle ball home runs, the open woods across from the Agnew home where we unsuccessfully tried to have drinking parties in high school, kept us out of trouble. For the most part. They were our collective sanctuary, just like Linda had hers.

As we got older, and grass covered the base paths on our Whiffle ball field, and the basketball court seemed even smaller, life suddenly got bigger. Our sanctuary faded away.

But the memories are clear.

Time, and distance — those agonizing, lonely miles — separate us from friends. On visits home to Floyds Knobs, when driving down U.S. 150, I’d sneak a peek to my right and look for Linda’s horse barn, and that rusted basketball goal, visible from the highway. Once they came into focus, I would strain my eyes, hoping to catch a glimpse of Linda. Or Bud.

It would have been so simple to just stop in. When you have the chance, stop in with old friends, and if you’re lucky, visit with their parents. Time slips by so quickly, silently — unnoticed.

What we all would give for just one more hug.

— Jason Thomas is an assistant editor at the News and Tribune. Reach him via email at jason.thomas@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2127.