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A farm girl left this earth, eight years ago this week. She was wonderful and hilarious, and she was my friend.

Seems like we spent much of yesterday working and running. A busy day at our house. July 3rd has come to be that way; I think it's the Lord's way of keeping me moving. But still thinking.

On July 3, 2005, my best friend went into labor and never woke up. Amniotic embolism, they said. Rare, they said. So rare, it's the kind of event doctors and nurses remember for their careers. Can eight years really have passed? Are the babies we had together that year really eight years old? The evidence says yes. Yes, they are.

And yet I think about her every single day.

Favorite college photo ever. That's Rachel, bottom center. Happy, happy days.

Rachel (Strode) Hamilton was a farm girl, through and through. We met at the University of Illinois, and we lived and laughed and loved together at 4-H House. We grew up together there, actually. Studying, talking, traveling, meeting, dating. For both of us, 4-H House and our college years were the actual making of us. Room 7. And 17. And 11 and 12. If those walls could talk.

Rachel grew up just down the road from where we farm today, where her parents, Curt and Mary Strode, farm with her brother, Wes. She and my husband, John, grew up together. He always said she was the sister he never had, and they had a million small jokes together. She thought of setting us up, but John beat her to it. When he called to ask me out, she stood next to me in the hallway at 4-H House, jumping up and down and {not so quietly} whispering, "Say YES! SAY YES!!!" I did, and she was right.

Rachel became a meat scientist but she was also an excellent communicator. And people loved her. She went to work for the American Meat Science Association, traveling the country to organize the meat judging contests she once participated in. She would've loved this whole ag advocating thing. She would've been all over it. Pink slime would've made her crazy. I emailed Dr. Carr, her meats professor, a question the other day about some beef un-truth that was floating around. Rachel would've had the answer, too. For sure.

She showed Simmentals and loved it, and would've been particularly pleased that my husband has talked me, the Shorthorn girl, into Simmentals for our girl. I'm quite certain, in fact, that I'd never hear the end of it. Or that she'd have been at the Fulton County Fair last summer – her home fair – to cheer Jenna on. She wouldn't have missed it. I know that.

It feels strange, sometimes to live in her community. But good. My kids go to her old school. The FFA advisor was her FFA advisor. Our 4-H club was her 4-H club. I drive the roads she drove, including the bridge where she once wrecked her car. It was actually a funny story, the way she told it. Then again, they all were. I think of it nearly every time I drive over that bridge.

Rachel was, in a word, hilarious. Self-deprecating, easy going. Easy to live with. So very fun. She could smile and light up a room, though she would snort at that statement. I looked out the window the day she died and wondered how in the world the sun could still be shining.

And in the hazy days to follow, I had a single thought: how blessed we were to have a friend so good that it hurt so badly that she was gone.

It's easy to say of someone who's gone, that she was one in a million. But Rachel really was. She had the best laugh. And if heaven is joy, then I know I will hear her laugh again.

It just has to be.

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