Friday, September 23, 2011

Amidst the Rubble

I said I'd blog some more about my childhood friend, Dan Pendergrass, so here goes. For anyone who doesn't follow this blog, Dan died recently. He chose to leave the world, will have no memorial service, and less than a dozen of us have posted goodbye messages on his Facebook Wall. I can't bear the thought of my old friend disappearing from memory, so I'll record what I can of him here as I find the time.

Dan and I grew up in the tiny town of White Rock, New Mexico, which is technically part of Los Alamos, the town famous for producing the atomic bomb. I lived in the main part of White Rock, while Dan lived with his family in Pajarito Acres, an area of town with enormous lots where many people keep horses. His parents were forever in the process of building their house - I never did see it completed. Whenever I was over to play, we'd be stepping over stacks of wood and sheetrock. The house was built in the style of a Spanish villa and even as a kid, I could appreciate what a beautiful building it would eventually become.

Many people wondered why I had a male best friend. It was a Big Deal back then, and Dan and I made almost yearly visits to the school counselor to discuss the harassment we got. People assumed there was something romantic between us, but at age eight, we were more interested in catching lizards and examining bugs. His house was in walking distance of our elementary school, and when I'd go home with him we'd take the back trails and search out wildlife. He had a thing for snakes and spiders. I've always thought snakes were cool, and to this day, I avoid killing spiders (they kill much nastier looking bugs, imo).

Over the years that we knew each other, Dan had a variety of pets. One was a hamster named Jeffrey Rascal who was generally acknowledged to be the cutest hamster anyone had ever seen. For some reason that I either forget or never knew, Dan's parents told him to get rid of Jeffrey, so the white and cream rodent came to live with me, where I took care of him until he died of old age a year or so later. (I suspect this is where my preference for giving my pets human names originated.) Later Dan got some snakes, which he also had to give away. I wasn't able to take either. The first was a Ball Python and the second a Burmese. He and I spent hours sitting on the floor of his room talking biology and zoology like the two little nerds we were, while his pet snake slithered around the room.

I bonded with Dan because like him, I was a misfit. I guess I hid it a little better - which isn't to say I hid it well. I was the kind of kid who'd memorize all the Greek gods and goddesses and their Latin names. I subscribed to Zoobooks for so long that I started to get repeats of issues. By the time I was eleven, I had shelves of magazines like Natural History and was a member of the National Wildlife Federation and would read up on the activities of Greenpeace. I was an environmentalist back when we still celebrated Arbor Day.

When I think of my old friend, I think of sunny, New Mexico afternoons spent walking over the lava rock and around the sagebrush and Indian Paintbrushes (he's the one who taught me how to drink their nectar). I think of the deep blue sky and the canyon edge, where we could overlook the Rio Grande far below. And I think of dozens of stories that I will strive to tell here on this blog. I can't make Dan live again, but I can do my best to preserve what was, back in the day.


  1. Sounds like you were both good friends to each other. It's sad to hear of a loss like that.

  2. Thanks, Melanie. There's just something about the friends we had when we were in our formative years, isn't there?