I found this beautiful picture of her on Google. There is a memorial article too, in case you haven’t seen it, at this link. It describes her professional life and accomplishments. Naturally, they were considerable. And naturally, she was well loved and deeply respected everywhere she went.
I knew Brenda in high school – met her in Mr. Birkholz’s Biology class during our Freshman year. She sat behind me there, so we ended up doing lab work together sometimes and we talked a lot. We never hung out much, mostly because, let’s face it: I was a dope-smoking punk and she was…well, pretty much the opposite of that – only so much more.
You know how you sometimes tell yourself that the reason you were such a weasel in high school was mostly because you just couldn’t help it, being that age and all? I try to tell myself that sometimes – that I couldn’t help it, I was just a scared and defensive kid, trying to get through those years of helpless hormonal insanity.
But if that’s so true about teenagers, then why is it Brenda was never that way?
I had the honor of being scolded by Brenda every now and then: She hated when I showed off and must have liked me enough to care – since she certainly wasn’t the type that went around policing other kids’ bad behavior (which there was plenty of to police, had she wanted to). She didn’t do that at all – but for some reason she didn’t seem to mind taking the time to try and reason, every so often, with me.
One scene I have replayed in my head more times over the past 32 years than I want to count is from a day that I was in biology class and giving some poor girl holy hell about a misunderstanding she’d blurted out regarding the meaning of the term “69.”
How high-school-conversation can you get?
Anyway, not only did I feel it necessary to correct this sweet girl with a long and painful description of what a “69” really was and the origin of it’s meaning – but also, if I remember right, I even drew some pictures on the table to make sure her comprehension was complete.
Brenda waited for this girl to pack up her books and leave the room after class before she turned to me and said, “What did you think you were doing there? Couldn’t you see how you were embarrassing her? Why didn’t you shut up? Why didn’t you stop?”
It wasn’t just that Brenda couldn’t comprehend my willingness to hurt someone that way just for the fun of showing her how right I was, it was that she really thought I was better than that, and expected more of me. She was challenging me to be the better person that, for some reason, she seemed to think I was hiding under all that.
And we were what? Thirteen or fourteen years old at the time?
Some people you meet in this life just seem to know you. You don’t even have to hang around with them that much – they just have your number right from day one somehow, and Brenda was one of those people for me. It wasn’t that she wanted to be right or to make me wrong –she was just offering a very practical love to me: she was challenging me to be a better person. For some reason, she seemed to believe I was better than the way I acted most of the time, and I'm so grateful she did.
I loved her, that's for sure. And I can honestly say that the impression she's made on my life has been a deep and lasting one.
Talk about one of a kind. I am very grateful to have known her.
With many thoughts and prayers to her loved ones and those who spent their lives with her,
Claudia Nowicki Cunningham
P.S. Anyone else have a Brenda story to tell? It would be so nice if we could share them.