'We miss our friend'

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When Rae Hunt's first-grade class sings Happy Birthday during calendar time, they usually do so with loud, bold voices.

"This one was very soft and gentle," Hunt said.

Wednesday morning, the class at Ruth Fisher Elementary School in Tonopah sang for Cheyanne "Sissy" Chantry on what would have been her seventh birthday.

Sissy died in January after a battle with a brain tumor.

"We reminded ourselves of what a good friend she was," Hunt said, as she blinked away tears.

As a tribute to Sissy, Amy Blaylock, her kindergarten teacher, arranged a balloon release to take place after school. The wind blew hard as about 600 children, teachers and staff spilled onto a field behind the school.

"We wanted to do something special," Blaylock said as she brushed a tear from her cheek. "I didn't exect so many; I'm really glad they all came."

Adults distributed pink and white balloons from huge bouquets. Some children scrawled messages on balloons. Most clutched the balloons' ribbons tightly so they wouldn't lose them to the stiff wind.

Blaylock asked for a moment of silence and quiet descended on the large group. Heads bowed. Some clasped hands.

The wind settled down a bit.

A single red balloon floated up as someone called, "let the balloons go," and 600 balloons soared into the air.

Gasps and squeals of delight and awe came from the children as the balloons dotted the blue sky.

Celestia Monroe, 7, had wanted to attach a special note to her balloon, but the carefully written message on construction paper was too heavy.

As tears streamed down her face, she gave the card to Sissy's mother, Melanie Thomas, who had watched the balloons sail away with her arms wrapped around her youngest son, Chad, 9.

"I can see her now, up there with a big smile on her face," Thomas said, as tears slid down her face. "This really touched me."

As the balloons wafted skyward, Sissy's oldest brother Chase, 10, kept hold of the only other red balloon.

'She was my friend'
Some children from Hunt's first-grade class stood together and watched the balloons drift away. Celestia said she misses playing on the playground with Sissy.

"I cry whenever I think about her," Celestia said. "I really miss her. She was my friend."

Several of the Celestia's classmates gathered around her as she spoke. Two girls appeared on either side of her, each put an arm around Celestia and the girls' heads tilted and rested on her shoulders.

More children closed in, more arms wrapped around small bodies and the group of children who had suffered a terrible loss formed a knot of comfort.

"We have a really sweet little class," Hunt said, as she watched her students, her voice split with emotion. "We miss our friend, but we feel like we are so blessed to have gotten to know her for the little time that we could."

Rebecca I. Allen can be reached by e-mail at rallen@westvalleyview.com.

Rebecca I. Allen
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