Shelly is another of my “forever friends” whom I have known all my life. Shelly was a year behind me in our small hometown school in Bainbridge, so she wasn’t in my classes. However, we did spend hours every day together each summer in marching band.
For the kids in our small hometown, summer marching band was literally a way out. The season started in April when we would first get to see the music for Memorial Day. If you played in concert band, you were required to march in the Memorial Day parade held each year at the end of May.
When I joined concert band in junior high our teacher, Mr. Smith, told me I would not be excused from this requirement simply because of my disability. He helped me find someone who was willing to push my manual wheelchair in the parades so I could march with everyone else. I marched every year.
Band didn’t end when the school year ended. Rather, that was when things got serious and Mr. Smith would give us the annual “you’re either in it or you’re out – go out and recruit people” speech. We practiced each night on the track and football field, occasionally marching on the village streets. Weekends meant trips to area parades, fairs and festivals. Most years included at least one big overnight road trip. In 1987 we marched in Philadelphia in the parade celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Constitution. The next year we went to Canada, performing our field show at baseball games throughout Ontario.
Shelly played the clarinet, which meant she was far ahead of those of us back in the percussion section when we marched on the road. While we didn’t line up together, we were often on the same bus riding to and from parades. Often, bus trips involved discussions of what we would do when we left Bainbridge for good. When I announced I was thinking about applying to be an exchange student, Shelly came up to me to tell me she thought I would make a great ambassador. I remember the conversation, because I thought, “Only Shelly would use the word ambassador to describe an exchange student!”
An ambassador is defined as “an official envoy.” I don’t know that I have ever been official about anything, but I do know both Shelly and I have been ambassadors of what is possible for young women who are given opportunities in a supportive small town school.
Shelly and I were both considered “smart kids” in our school. As such, we were groomed for academic success. We both left Bainbridge for college. I went to St. Rose and Shelly was accepted into a combined program at LeMoyne College and the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine. I decided to settle in the Albany area, but Shelly eventually returned to Bainbridge after completing her residency.
When I think of Shelly now, I think of commitment to community. Her dental practice is based in the town which shaped us. Shelly volunteers on the Alumni Association of our high school. At Halloween, she distributes toothbrushes in a candy exchange. During the month of February, which is Children’s Dental Health Month here in the US, Shelly provides dental care to disadvantaged children.
Shelly lives in an old farmhouse just outside of town, a house which used to be owned by my parents’ friends. I spent many hours playing hide and seek around the house when my parents were visiting. Shelly is maintaining it with the same care and attention to detail which she demonstrates in her professional life. I enjoy seeing the photos of her progress on social media when she shares them. I smile thinking that someone new loves the house now.
No matter how much time goes between visits, Shelly and I are able to just start a conversation as if we saw each other only yesterday. I know she will be honest and thoughtful. Shelly makes me laugh with her wit and observations of the world around her.
Thank you Shelly, for helping me fulfill my dream this year. You helped make it possible for me to spread my message of living without limits. I appreciate your continued friendship and your support.