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See You at Kilimanjaro

Our repertoire was paltry and our lyrics not quite right—but we never tired of singing as we sailed.

by Andrea Alvord, BA’03

APOVFall 2009  |  Share This  |  E-mail  |  Print  | 
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Allison Oubre (left) and Andrea Alvord on  campus in their Navy ROTC uniforms. It was their first photo taken together.

Allison Oubre (left) and Andrea Alvord on campus in their Navy ROTC uniforms. It was their first photo taken together.

Dear Allison,

It’s been a few weeks since we last wrote, and now we really have no need for letters. You are the ever-present friend. I am here in Slidell, La., at your old church with your family and friends, doing what I feared most after hearing the news that Thursday morning: giving a eulogy instead of the speech at your wedding.

I don’t know why God chose this time to take you back, but because I believe and trust in Him, I am not asking why but rather praying that someday He might explain it to me. Maybe as our woman on the inside, you can help with that! Allison, I know you are still here even if I can’t reach out and hug you.

I have been very fortunate to spend the last two weeks with your and Colter’s families and our friends. We miss you so much! We’ve been telling lots and lots of stories about you—we have so many good memories.

Last week in San Diego, at the memorial service for you and the other four crew members killed when your Navy HH-60H Seahawk helicopter crashed into the Pacific Ocean, I told the one about our recovery after we had laser eye surgery in preparation for flight school. Although we spent most of our time sleeping in “the cave,” waking each other up to put in eye drops or eat one of Laura’s delicious meals—by taste, not sight—being blind with you is one of the most treasured moments of my life. Remember how we walked down to McDonald’s after the surgery wearing those big black sunglasses the eye doctor gave us? You led me with your one good eye, both of us walking slowly toward the counter, and as we approached, the cashier exclaimed, “It’s the Stevie Wonder twins!”

Allison, there are memories of you everywhere. We sang “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” just now, and it reminded me of our times sailing lasers on Percy Priest Lake. Although quite limited in our repertoire of songs-of-the-sea, we decided it was only appropriate that we sing Navy-related songs. We sang the one verse we knew from “Anchors Aweigh” and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” over and over but never grew tired of singing.

You taught me that sea shanty you knew from your days with the sailing Girl Scouts, and I still remember it. I actually sang it to my crew on a flight over the Red Sea last deployment. It was always a fun song to sing, although the lyrics told of the impending doom of the ship and crew, which seemed appropriate considering the level of our sailing skills. Now it’s sad to me.

“Oh, the ocean waves may roll, may roll and the stormy winds may blow / While we poor sailors go skippin’ to the top and the land lubbers lie down below, below, below / And the land lubbers lie down below.”

Oubre and Alvord ham it up in flight school. The two were fast friends from the day they met.

Oubre and Alvord ham it up in flight school. The two were fast friends from the day they met.

Allison, so many songs serve as souvenirs of our friendship. I had forgotten about our love for “I’m Proud to Be an American” and how whenever we heard it playing on the radio, we would call and, without greeting, hold the phone up to the speaker. I loved getting those calls. Of course, it’s not something I really think about unless I hear the song, but I broke down in tears in the Miami airport the other week on my long trip back home from deployment when I saw a text message I had saved from you that you’d sent me on Kelsey’s birthday last July. You sent it at 3:37 a.m. Jacksonville time and said, “It’s too late to call … but ‘Proud to Be an American’ is on … and it’s tradition. :) .”

There’s another song that didn’t mean that much to our friendship, except for a dream I had a few months ago—but it set me to tears when I heard it the other day. The dream was so funny at the time, and it’s the only dream I’ve ever had where I woke up laughing. And I mean laughing—from my belly. I’m glad that I got to tell you about it even though we didn’t have much time to talk. But you found it just as funny as I did and laughed with me as I recollected the dream. We were in a meadow like the one at the end of the movie Napoleon Dynamite. It took me a second to realize what was going on—it was your wedding rehearsal. You stood facing me, and your hair was really long and straight and parted in the middle, like a hippie, and you had a scarf tied around your forehead.

That was funny enough to me. But then it got better. Colter was singing to you. Reserved, quiet Colter was standing next to you singing the Scottish ballad “Loch Lomond.” I woke up from this dream and had this song looping through my head all day. It was such a good day, and I remember it so well—how big I smiled and laughed at that imaginary scene. But now it is sad for me, too. Al, I even had the lyrics wrong, which isn’t really that surprising—I’m not known for my knowledge of Scottish folk songs. In my dream Colter sang to you, “I’ll take the high road and you’ll take the low road, and we’ll meet in the middle at Loch Lomond.” I like these lyrics because I know the two of you will meet again, and perhaps now is a good time to start looking for this lake—I know how you are with directions! I looked up the actual lyrics and history of the song, and I think you will like these, too:

O you’ll tak’ the high road and
I’ll tak’ the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye
But me and my true love will ne’er meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.
’Twas there that we parted in yon shady glen
On the steep, steep sides o’ Ben Lomond
Where deep in purple hue,
the highland hills we view
And the moon comin’ out in the gloamin’.
The wee birdies sing
and the wild flowers spring
And in sunshine the waters are sleeping
But the broken heart, it kens nae
second spring again
Tho’ the world knows not how we are grieving.

Allison, I don’t think she told you this, but my sister, Nicky, who thought of you as her older sister, said to me a few times over the last 10 years that she envied the friendship you and I had. She said some people go their whole lives without finding a soul mate in a friend, but you and I had that. When she asked me how I was doing after hearing this news that changed my life forever, I told her I felt like I’d lost a part of myself, that you were my twin. We always used to joke that we were the same person, but I realize now that you were a much better version of me.

Every day since hearing about your crash, my stomach has been a mess of butterflies for the better portion of each morning. It’s like I’m anticipating a test later in the day. I think this feeling will pass in time, but you will still be my ever-present best friend, with me always in memories, songs and life.

We planned to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in December next year, and I know that I will need you on that climb now more than ever. You’ll be there, I know it, and I’ll give you a hug and high-five when we reach the “Roof of Africa.”

A few days ago your mom told me about the moment you first mentioned the Kilimanjaro climb. She said you had just returned from our trip to Europe, where we’d celebrated my 21st birthday in Paris on Bastille Day and gone to Pamplona for the running of the bulls.

I guess she expected you would want to rest after such an exhausting stream of adventures. You said to her casually, “Andrea called, and she said Kilimanjaro’s doable.”

And that’s true. Because anything is doable. You definitely taught me that.

I will miss you forever.

Love always,
Andrea

 

© 2014 Vanderbilt University | Photography: ANDREA ALVORD

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Chris Reed says:

Andrea,
Thank you so much for this letter. Allison was one of my Division Officers onboard HS-6 and I was blessed to have worked with her for a short time. She was an exceptional and wonderful person, simply good to the core. She was the type of person that you were always better just for having been around and gotten to know. My four daughters met Allison and my oldest who was 17 at the time was standing talking to Allison and I thought to my self how close they were in age and that it was good for her to meet someone such as Allison. Fond memories and one day we will be able to see her again. Again thanks and all my best wishes to you.


This essay is adapted from a eulogy delivered by Andrea Alvord at a June 9 memorial service for her best friend, Allison Oubre, BA’03. The two met as Vanderbilt first-years during Navy ROTC indoctrination in 1999. Both went on to become Navy lieutenants. Oubre died in May. During Reunion and Homecoming Weekend at Vanderbilt last month, Menke and Alvord presented a memorial to the Vanderbilt NROTC unit, and Oubre’s family and friends dedicated the ground in front of Benson Hall where a memorial bench will soon be placed in her honor.

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