This week I lost another childhood friend. These days it happens ever-more-frequently, but no-less-painfully.

Her legal name was Carol Johnson Defuria, but to almost all of us she was Pudgie.

When I say we were childhood friends, I mean it literally. We met at the oh-so-tender age of seven, in the speed skating club, and for me, it was puppy love at first sight. But that hardly made me unique. A few years ago I was talking to another childhood friend, Pete MacIntyre, and I mentioned that Pudgie had been my first crush. “Oh hell,” he said, “She was everyone’s first crush.”

My skating “career” lasted only a couple of seasons and because Pudgie and I lived in different parts of town and went to different schools, we rarely ran into each other. But when we did, she was always the same — sweet, fun-loving, and friendlier than anyone I knew.

College and the Navy came and went and when I came back to town, Pudgie was married and had a family. Since we were now adults with adult lives, I thought, it was time for me to call her by her adult name, which I started doing. But while I thought it was the right thing to do, it didn’t feel right. One day I ran into her mom, Alice, and told her calling Pudgie Carol felt weird to me.

“Well, it is weird,” said Alice. “Everyone still calls her Pudgie.”

So Pudgie it was, and Pudgie it stayed.

For a bunch of years, while she was working and raising a family and I was buried in the books, I’d only run into her in town now and again. But about fifteen years ago, our paths crossed more often on our weekend nights on the town.

The scene was always the same: She’d be with some or all of her posse, who I referred to as The Unholy Trinity. Barb Ryan Kentile was almost always her wingwoman; Wanda Bruno was often with them, and Jeannie Drutz Nesbitt less frequently, when she could get here from P’burgh.

They were all fun to be with, but Pudgie was the Commander in Chief. She was tiny — five foot nothing in heels and maybe a hundred pounds dripping wet — but with her love of life and laughter, she was a giant. Her eyes always sparkled, she had a smile that could melt a stone heart, and she lit up every room she was in. Plus she could crank out the decibels: In the Vets Club before Winter Carnival Parade, when the joint was packed to the rafters and the noise level just a little less than an F-16 on takeoff, there was one voice and one laugh I heard above the others, and it goes without saying whose they were.

No matter where I ran into her — the Vets, the Moose, or the Downhill Grill — it was always the same. She and her crew were pedal-to-the-metal, having the time of their lives, and making sure everyone else did too. Pudgie on the town was a force of nature. Fun was the order of the night, and if you didn’t get swept up with that, you needed to go home and re-evaluate your life choices.

Two more of Pudgie’s beauties; she was undyingly loyal, and she was never shy about saying I love you.

For all the time I knew her and all the times we talked, I can’t remember a single thing we said. Which I think is perfectly fine with lifelong friends. It doesn’t matter what you talk about, or if you even talk at all. It only matters that, after all those years, you’re both still there.

And now Pudgie’s gone.

Traditionally, when someone passes away, our standard farewell is Rest In Peace. But that’s not what I’d want for Pudgie.

She was sick for a long time, and no matter how much she faked it, she suffered. And so she had to rest — no doubt more than she ever wanted to.

So, here’s what I hope:

Wherever Pudgie is now, she’s with her new posse, whoever they are, in her favorite jam-packed hot spot, whatever that is. They’re wearing silly hats and lots of beads, and the music’s blaring. Pudgie has a drink in her hand and that 1,000-watt smile plastered on her mug. And then, with her at the helm,

they’re all gonna hoot and holler till the cosmic cows come home.


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