"Elly Jansen was a shy, quiet girl. She was Dutch, and her mother often dressed her in gingham dresses and put large, white bows in her hair. Though our temperaments were worlds apart, we shared much in common. And by the end of the first quarter of seventh grade, we were close and loyal friends.
"Elly and I would bike-ride together, we were home economics partners, we spent many weekends together, and I cared for her as deeply and honestly as one person could care for another.
"I was still a rowdy, clowning, impulsive kid, whose behavior, more often than not, got me into trouble. She was my stable, studious complement, and together, we made perfect harmony.
"Elly was beautiful. I was overweight, freckled, and mouse-haired; I considered myself cloddish and ugly next to her. Her delicate features and long, walnut-colored hair made her look like a porcelain doll. Elly was extraordinary.
"Both of us were from strong religious families; hers Catholic, mine Anglican. With an unquestioning faith, we believed in God, and as children, we thought we would live forever.
"I remember Elly's headaches. She would come with Luccia [another friend] and me to the movies, and she would close her eyes when the pain was too strong. She rarely complained, although we could see she was in agony. It dulled her eyes and made her shrink from the light and the sounds around us. We never knew how ill she really was.
"It was Christmas. We were all home for the holidays. Elly walked up to her mother in the kitchen, and collapsed on the floor. She was taken to the hospital, where they tried to remove a large tumor from her head, but she died on the operating table.
"Returning to school from Christmas break was hard for us all. Elly had been a favorite. Looking at her empty seat was gut-wrenching, agonizing, the ache went to the center of my heart and stayed there.
"Mr. Lowney tried to explain to us that this was life, that we were to be grateful for having had her as our friend for even a short time. He told us that she was in heaven and would be with us always, and then he broke down and cried. Lucy was the first to run up to him. I was next. One by one the entire class of seventh grade students came to the front of the room. We threw our arms around each other and formed a solid wall around him, comforting him, comforting ourselves. It was a day of intense emotion and it made a family out of our one small class.
"When Elly died, I lost my faith in God. I was a teenager with a mind of my own, and despite all of the religious outpourings and biblical rationale, it was gone. I left my position in the church choir. I stopped going to services altogether, and although I professed to have abandoned my faith, I wrote long heart-felt letters to her and burned them, hoping she'd read the phantom thoughts and forgive me for not knowing how seriously ill she was; for not being there when she died. You do strange things when you're grieving.
"Years later, I sat signing books in a shop in North Vancouver. It was my sixth FBOFW collection and I was on tour. An attractive, dark-haired woman came up to the table and put her hand on mine. "Do you remember me?" she asked. I put down my pen, stood up, and threw my arms around Luccia's neck. "You see? You see? I do know her," she said to her two very pretty teenaged daughters. She looked no different to me, though we hadn't seen each other in over twenty years. We laughed and clasped hands and said the usual things about home and family but when the introductions were over, we both wanted to ask the same thing. "Lynn," she whispered aside, "do you remember Elly?" The flood of emotions on that day came back to both of us as we stood there years later, as mothers of children Elly's age. Indeed, some things stay with you forever."
Now cut to the part where she talks about getting FOOB syndicated.
"It was Jim Andrews' (of Andrews and McMeel) idea to continue using the real family as the characters. Rod and I felt that using our names would eventually be tiresome, and perhaps embarrassing---especially for the kids. [Ya think?]
"We decided to change all the names and in the confusion of ideas, simply chose to use everyone's second name. We called the family the "Pattersons". Aaron's second name is Michael, Kate's is Elizabeth and Rod's is John. The only character that did not receive a family name is Elly. I always wanted to remember Elly Jansen in a special, personal way, so I gave her name to the heroine in my strip. This, in a way, is how I've kept her alive. It's also been a way of separating myself from the character who is, so very obviously, me."