This will probably sound like a made up story but I swear that every word is true.
As previously mentioned, shortly after Chet Helms died on June 25, 2005, a memorial guestbook was added to the familydog.com web site. Also as previously mentioned, said guestbook was soon cyber-bulging with tributes to Chet.
One of the early tribute-leavers was a woman named Emily H., who wrote of long ago summer evenings that she and Chester – Chet always was, and probably will forever be, Chester to his high school classmates – spent conversing on her front porch, amid the swirling june bugs and fireflies. She described herself and Chester as “geeks.”
I sent Emily H. an email in October 2005, asking if she’d be willing to talk to me about her friend, Chester, providing me with insights about his high school self.
The email promptly bounced back as “undeliverable.” The intended recipient, I was informed, was unknown.
A few weeks later I was talking to John Helms and I asked if he remembered Emily H. He said he did and that she and Chet, er, Chester, had been very close friends.
I searched for Emily H., but her name was a relatively common one and I came up empty. I was pretty sure she wasn’t the Emily H. who was a member of the Garfield High School girls’ softball team in 2006 or the Emily H. who passed away in Colorado at the age of 105 or any of the numerous other Emily H.’s who’d popped up.
Then one Saturday morning in May 2007, shortly after I logged into eBay to conduct one of my periodic surveys of Chet Helms’ items being offered for auction, I had some sort of bizarre, time warp, out-of-body experience. All of a sudden I found my on-line self staring at an eBay forum or discussion group about vintage clothing. To this day, I have absolutely no idea how I got there, but there I was.
I mean, c’mon. Vintage clothing? As typo-prone as I am, it’s a real stretch to imagine typing ‘Chet Helms’ and being delivered to vintage clothing.
I was staring in stunned disbelief when something caught my eye and jogged my memory. On my screen were snippets of an exchange concerning an “authentic, San Francisco hippie dress,” that was up for auction. But that’s not what caught my eye and jogged my memory. This is what caught my eye and jogged my memory: the email address of one of the forum participants – email@example.com. (That, of course, is not the actual email address; I have cleverly disguised it.)
I immediately checked the list of book sources I had been compiling for almost 18 months and there it was: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It had to be her. The quirky email handle was the same. Only the domain was different.
I returned to the eBay forum and attempted to send an email to email@example.com.
No go. It seems I had to register as a forum participant before I would be allowed to communicate with other participants. So I registered and fired off an email, asking if she was Emily H. from Poly High in Fort Worth, Texas.
Thirty minutes later, I got an answer.
She was, indeed, the Emily H. I had been seeking. She was currently living in a large Midwestern city, selling vintage clothing on eBay and designing and handcrafting exquisite, beaded earrings. After graduating from Poly with Chester in 1960, she had gone to Baylor to study music; spent time in Berkeley, working on a PhD; traveled extensively; gotten married; had children and been divorced. You know, lived a life.
During the next few weeks, Emily H. and I had several phone conversations, during which she provided me with a wealth of Chester material and gave me contact information for several other former Poly students with whom she and Chester had hung out, including her high school boyfriend, who was living in Mexico. (Chester and Emily H. were very close, but strictly platonic friends.)
As time passed, Emily H. and I became good friends, and we still call each other regularly, just to chat.
Just a few weeks ago, Emily H. sent me a scan of the lengthy inscription Chester wrote in her yearbook, an inscription in which he said “I will always remember you as one of the most true blue friends I have ever had,” and “I have certainly enjoyed the lessons in non-comformity and am turning into a regular cynic.”
In my opinion, Emily H. is a real peach, and not just because she laughs at all of my lame jokes.
But it certainly doesn’t hurt.