An Unexpected Friendship by Kris Barr Paquette
Growing up an only child in the small town of Reading, Michigan left me with a lot of free afternoons to seek out my own fun. We lived in the country near a lake. There weren’t a lot of kids within walking distance of my house, but if I ran down this giant hill towards the lake, I had many fabulous older neighbors, who were always kind to me and welcomed a visit from the only little girl in the neighborhood. Many days I went for bike rides with them, shared cucumbers from their garden or cookies from their cookie jar. Some evenings I was even lucky enough to go on paddle boat rides, swim off their docks, pet their beloved dog, or even enjoy a quiet boat ride around the lake. They might tease me about my loose teeth. Or some evenings, we just sat and enjoyed the breeze under the weeping willow tree. These quiet, unexpected friendships have been among the most meaningful of my life. Although many of these friends of mine have passed on, I still feel their presence with me.
Recently I was lucky enough to win a copy of Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy. As soon as it arrived, I just knew this would be a book I would connect with. The story is told by Alice, whose father recently left the family forcing them to move back to the small town of Rainbow, Georgia. Alice’s mom and dad grew up in Rainbow, and her dad always complained about the small town. The family moves into Alice’s grandmother’s house to assist her as her memory is failing. Alice desperately wants her father to come get her; despite selling every piece of her previous old life before moving, she is convinced this move is temporary. That’s when she makes an unexpected friendship with neighbor, Miss Millie Miller. Before you know it, Alice is enjoying daily walks with Miss Millie and her dog, and listening to Miss Millie’s life story spill out filled with some heart wrenching stories of loss and grief as the battle to end segregation waged on. Alice soon learns her own truths, that even though segregation has ended, racism lives on. “Those there boys are the McHale brothers, “ she told me. “Their daddy, and some others in their family, still don’t think black people belong here in this neighborhood- and they like to make sure we know it. We come a far piece, but I guess you can see we have a far piece to go.’ (101). Soon young Alice learns that there are in fact mean people in the world, but you hold onto the kind ones. Deep in these stories there are lessons for us all to learn. “Ah, Alice-girl, truth be told, you are never too old to be hurt just a little. But if you’re lucky, one day you be smart enough to quit putting yourself in the situations that hurt ya” (124). Throughout the book, Miss Millie shares her wisdom with Alice and the reader, as well as some small tokens to remember her by.
I can’t help but wish that all of our children were as lucky as young Alice to have an older mentor looking out for their well-being. Many of the kids at my school, have parents that care but who have to work in the evenings. Life and its many responsibilities can be difficult to juggle at times. Family members of the Miss Millie’s of the world that step in and lend a hand are to be treasured. Pick up a copy of Walking with Miss Millie, a book that will tug on your heart strings and memories just like Mitch Album’s Tuesdays with Morrie did. After all, some friendships are unexpected, and sometimes you cherish those the most.
Kris Barr Paquette has been a reading teacher for 18 years at Marshall Greene Middle School in Birch Run, Michigan. She currently is the Title I Reading Specialist servicing fifth through eighth grades. She’s a Harry Potter fan, a true Gryffindor- if you must know, and an avid reader. When you don’t find her at school, she’ll most likely be reading on her front porch. You can connect with her on Twitter: @Readingteachkbp