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A LIFE CUT SHORT
Melanie's Story: A family celebrates the life and still mourns the loss of beloved teen killed by a repeat drunken driver
Melanie Powell, a 13-year-old girl from Marshfield, was killed by a repeat-offense drunk driver on a summer afternoon while crossing Route 139 on her way to a birthday party. She was just one of 156 people killed by drunken drivers in Massachusetts in 2003. I always thought tragedies like that happened to someone else’s family. Then it happened to mine. Mel was my granddaughter.
Friday, July 25, 2003, was a gorgeous day on the South Shore. As the temperature soared to 86, the beaches in Marshfield were packed.
At Jubilee Catering and Café on Court Street in Plymouth, Tod and Nancy Powell and Tod’s sister, Wendy Carley, were hard at work juggling the daily needs of the café with the weekend catering jobs. It was hot, really hot, and as usual the air conditioner was not working very well.
Amid the frenzy of activity, the phone rang and Nancy picked it up. It was her daughter Melanie calling from her best friend Katie Conway’s home, where she had spent the night.
They had a big day ahead of them. First a makeover, then girl talk and the beach, followed by a 13th birthday for a new friend. Melanie also had some big news for her mother.
At cheerleading practice the night before, Melanie learned she had made “flyer.” That’s the girl who is tossed in the air and caught after doing mid-air twists and turns. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Melanie had wanted to be a flyer the first day she tried out for cheering the year before, but her coach told her she wasn’t ready.
She worked at it, taking dance lessons in Scituate and practiced her routines over and over. She didn’t understand football, but she loved being part of a team and performing all the cheers every Sunday.
“She worked so hard for this,” cheerleader coach Debra Mendez-Arey said. “She was always asking for the chance to try the more difficult stunts.”
Katie’s mother, Pam Conway, remembers going to the field that Thursday night to pick up Katie and Melanie after practice. She arrived while the girls were finishing their last cheer, and quickly picked out Katie, the tall girl on the bottom of the pyramid. But she couldn’t find Melanie. Then she saw her - at the top of the pyramid with a grin that seemed to stretch for miles.
Nancy was so proud of Melanie that she couldn’t stop talking about her.
“I actually started to feel guilty by the end of the day because we had a young girl working for us who was starting college in the fall and she was so excited that day,” she said. “She wanted to talk about college, and I realized I was just lost in being happy for Melanie.”
Before she hung up, she told Melanie, “Stay with an adult and put your sunscreen on.”
“I know, Mom. You already told me.”
It was the last time Nancy ever heard her little girl’s voice.
THE COMPASS ROSE
The Compass Rose restaurant in Green Harbor was one of those small-town watering holes that serve mediocre food, tall drinks and lots of fish stories from local boaters. At about the time Tod and Nancy were planning a family dinner for Friday night to celebrate Melanie’s accomplishment, a middle-aged woman was ordering her first chardonnay and a scallop roll at the bar.
Pamela Murphy, 49, was a regular who lived about a mile down the street in one of the town’s busy beach neighborhoods. There were 90 customers in the bar that afternoon, so keeping track of everyone wasn’t easy for the lone bartender. But she knew this woman: Keno, chardonnay and a scallop roll.
On Edward Road, a side street off Careswell, Mel and her friends were getting ready at Renee King’s house for a day in the sun. After shampoos, experimenting with hair styles and picking out just the right outfit, the girls were off to nearby Burkes Beach. They would return later for Renee’s birthday party.
It was an awesome day. There were friends, boys and lots of families. They ran into a friend who said he had lost a wallet with a lot of money on the way to the beach. “My mother’s going to kill me,” he told them.
Melanie found the wallet on the street as they walked off the beach. They were late, but she insisted on going back to return it.
Nancy didn’t find out about the wallet for weeks, but when she did it made her smile.
“To think that the last thing Melanie did was for someone else means so much to me,” she said.
It wasn’t the first time Melanie insisted on coming to someone’s aid. At least this time it was a person.
At 12, she found a rooster in a snow bank on a stormy day. She picked it up and walked home.
“Mom, I know where that rooster lives,” she said. “We have to save him.”
She dried the bedraggled bird with towels and put it in a pet carrier. Melanie insisted that her dad drive her - and the rooster - to its home. Into the car, the brand new car, they went.
When they reached their destination, there was a problem.
“Mel,” Tod said, “there’s no way I can get up that driveway. It’s not plowed and we’ll get stuck.”
So Melanie hopped out, rooster in hand, trudged up the driveway through thigh-deep snow and rang the doorbell. She wasn’t quite prepared for the response.
“Hi, mister. I saved your rooster.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. That thing is still alive?“
Undaunted, Melanie realized that, even if the owner wasn’t all that thrilled, the rooster was.
When she was 11, Melanie told my wife, Bobbi, her grandmother, that the job she most wanted when she grew up was to be a guardian angel. “Nana” was a little stunned.
“We’d miss you so much.”
“But Nana, I’d always be there for everyone. I’d be able to protect everyone in our family and lots of other people, too.”
Bobbi said if Melanie promised to wait a long time, she would save her a spot on a cloud.
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