A death that came far too soon

Published 2:07 pm Thursday, September 1, 2011

Teachers have pets, and parents have favorites. Having never been a teacher or a parent, that’s strictly my guess.

Morgan Kimble was my favorite. I couldn’t help it. She was the perfect little girl. Even her teeth were pretty.

She was smart besides beautiful. And funny and generous. She never came empty-handed to the Tool Shed Reading Club started in my backyard here before there was a town library. She brought a toy to share, or a favorite book, or one day an elaborate bead-making kit that she purposely left behind so the other kids could use it.

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Morgan didn’t live in Henderson but often stayed across the street with her father. Her parents were divorced. And, when she visited, Morgan became part — you might say the heart — of the Tool Shed Reading Club.

I have a photograph of Morgan when she arrived one day in jeans and a white T-shirt. On the shirt, she’d used a marker to write: I Love the TSRC. Only she’d drawn a red heart to replace the word “Love.” She had designed the shirt herself.

On Halloween one year she came dressed in a shiny red Oriental dress. She wore black sandals and her hair pulled back in what passed for a Chinese look. She sat in the front porch swing and I shot up an entire roll of film before she was off to trick-or-treat. On Christmas she made me a scrapbook full of her family photos.

I lost track of Morgan, of all the kids who were in and out of my tool shed, home and life for a couple of amazing years. We didn’t so much disband the club as let it die a natural death. Families moved. Kids grew older. After the death of my husband, I sold the little yellow house with its tool shed to a family that seemed to love it, too. The town got a library.

On a recent visit to Henderson, I heard. Morgan Kimble had died in a one-car crash on the last day of April. She was 14.

The driver was a teenager, too, 18, and had been in and out of jail in the past year for charges that included robbery and drugs. He was charged with vehicular homicide in Morgan’s death. His blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was over twice the legal limit.

I was stunned. For one thing, it was hard to believe Morgan was 14. I still thought of her as the little girl who read “Because of Winn-Dixie” aloud to the other children in her soft and lilting Cajun accent. The girl so full of life had died on a state highway in a car that flipped several times, in an accident that somehow spared three others.

Her mother told the newspaper that Morgan loved children and wanted to be an oncology nurse at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. But Morgan’s dreams were dashed, spilled onto a dark Louisiana highway on an early spring night.

There’s no greater cliche than to say life isn’t fair. There’s no greater truth, either. A cliche, after all, is born in truth. And truth will out every time.

(To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.)