It’s now been one full year since we lost Wendy Rieger.
To most, she was this charming, funny lady who anchored Channel 4 news at various times with a sharp mind and a bold laugh. But for me, she was Wendy from the neighborhood, as we grew up within a few blocks of each other in Norfolk. Luckily for me, from the sixth grade on, we stayed in touch.
I could tell you a dozen stories about her in her extreme youth, but the one I’m thinking about this morning involves a picture taken in the mid to late 1960s.
We were both attending Little Creek Elementary in Norfolk, and as was the tradition back then, they took a class picture every year. Kids of limited height got to sit in chairs in the front, the more moderately tall students stood in the middle, and those of us who were given the gift of height were on the back row. I’m 6-4, and while Wendy never grew THAT much, she was as tall or taller than me in the sixth grade. So in class pictures, we always seemed to end up standing next to each other.
There wasn’t anything particularly special about the picture. It just got thrown in a drawer with everything else from “the old days” when I left home after college, and somehow kept getting packed before each move to the next town, house, or new address on my life’s journey.
One day I rediscovered the picture in the back of a box shortly after our move here to Ashburn 23 years ago. Wendy had become rather famous having worked for CNN and various other media places in the DC market, and she was becoming an even bigger favorite of people in her work at Channel 4.
I mentioned to her that her thriving popularity was probably making that picture more valuable by the moment, as media love to look back at a person’s life long ago. Her response is what I remember this morning.
If you knew Wendy, she was as down to earth as probably anyone I’ve ever known. The Wendy living in the apartments on the corner of Little Creek Road and Azalea Garden Road was no different than the one who seemed to be on television in the evenings on Channel 4 every night.
She was confident, strong, and didn’t seem to let much bother her. One of the reasons I believe people loved her was she had no problem laughing at herself, saying things like comparing her dating life to a massive storm about to hit the East Coast.
But when I mentioned that picture, she said she hated it. She told me growing up she had taken a ballpoint pen (we all used that clear plastic one Bic made) and stabbed her face with it about a thousand times. She didn’t like how she looked, how she felt, or how life in general was back then growing up on the mean streets of North Camellia Acres.
Before you start thinking Wendy was feeling sorry for herself, don’t. Wendy had this wonderful gift in that if you were her friend, she had no problems showing her vulnerable side. She never pretended to be something she wasn’t, so if that picture bothered her, you knew about it.
“Are you past all that now?” I asked, and she quickly replied “yes.” But in her own unique way, she let me know she better not see that picture made public anywhere or – and I quote – she would “hunt me down like a dog and administer a severe beating.”
I believe my response was “duly noted.”
Several times over the years, including at our 40th high school reunion, the story of that picture would come up, and I would always say I’d never post it out of fear of receiving a severe beating. Every time, Wendy would say with a sugary smile on her face, “good. Because I’m not kidding.”
I think of that and many other stories this morning. If you’re lucky, a small number of people come into your life, stay there for a long time, and bless you with memories that fill you with warmth and make you smile.
For me, Wendy is one of those. And I’m smiling now because I know how annoyed she’d be seeing the pic posted.
For that, all I can say is one day we’ll meet again, old friend, and then we can talk about it.
All the while hoping you've forgotten about the administration of a severe beating 😊