GREENBRIER — Things were pretty perfect in Aundrea Hardin’s life in late January. She was a senior at Greenbrier High School, an all-conference basketball and softball player and heading down the home stretch to the end of high school and the beginning of adulthood.
Adding to the excitement, Hardin was on the homecoming court for the second straight year, and this time, she was eligible to be queen.
The night before homecoming, Jan. 24, members of the court gathered with their mothers to hang posters and banners in the gym for the festivities.
Hardin’s mother, Tammy Lasley, was proudly decorating the place where her daughter would change from gown to jersey the next night.
But Tammy Lasley wouldn’t see her daughter crowned homecoming queen. She went to sleep that night and never woke up, passing sometime in the early morning on Jan. 25. She was 49 years old.
"She was fine the whole night," Hardin said.
Hardin had a friend staying over, so she hadn’t seen her mom much that night.
But luckily, Hardin had gone downstairs to get a glass of water where her mother was washing the dishes.
"All of a sudden, I felt this need to tell my mom something," Hardin said. "I walked over to her, gave her the biggest hug — bigger than usual — and thanked her for everything she did, and buying all my dresses for homecoming. And I said, ‘I love you.’"
At the time, it didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary. The two were as close as mother and daughter could be. But after the tragedy, Hardin realized the magnitude of their moment in the kitchen that evening.
"I’m so glad I wasn’t mad at her," Hardin said. "We bickered just like all mothers and daughters, but it was out of love. I’m so happy those were my final words to her. "I don’t think God could have planned it out any better."
Toby McCammon, the Greenbrier girls basketball coach, said the entire next day felt like a blur. They were deciding whether to go on with homecoming and were leaving it up to Hardin and her family. Hardin insisted things go on as planned.
"How she made it through all that, I have no idea," McCammon said. "She has tremendous strength and courage. I felt like in her mind, it’s what her mom would have wanted."
That’s the exact reason Hardin pushed on through the day, as difficult as it was.
"I could hear my mom in the back of my head saying, ‘I bought all these dresses, and you’re not going to wear them?’" Hardin chuckled.
But that was Tammy Lasley.
"My mom has always been the type, if you fall, you get back up, you don’t cry," Hardin said.
That doesn’t mean Hardin hasn’t shed her fair share of tears for her mother. She tries to keep it together around her family and friends, but said it’s when she’s alone that she experiences moments of weakness.
"At night it’s bad sometimes," she said. "I’ve never been able to fall asleep very well. And sometimes my mind wanders, and it’ll come back and hit me.
"Sometimes it happens when I’m driving home on the same path we use to take together. But I have to be strong for Charline and my family."
Charline Lasley and Hardin are half sisters and have been close their entire lives. They always played the same sports, softball and basketball, but Charline Lasley said there’s no doubt the passing of their mom left them closer than ever.
"Aundrea would stay with me at night or I’d go sleep with her," she said. "She took care of me and kind of took the place of our mother."
But replacing Tammy Lasley seems like it would be an impossible feat. A pharmacist, she was well known in Greenbrier.
"She was an integral part of this community," McCammon said. "She knew everybody, and everybody knew her."
Hardin said her mother loved her job because she was passionate about helping people.
"She carried her own pharmacy with her," Hardin said. "I always told her she was like a walking drug store. If someone was sick, she would know what they needed and just pull out some congestion medicine or something. She took care of everyone."
But she had a greater passion than her work. She loved her children, and more than anything, she loved to watch them play the sports she loved.
"That was honestly her favorite thing to do out of everything," Hardin said. "She would get off work early or switch shifts just so she could take me and Charline to pitching lessons."
Tammy Lasley was a standout point guard in high school and averaged 30-35 points a game at Enola High School, Hardin said. There was no softball team when she was in school, so she started playing slow-pitch when she was older.
Hardin said there was never any question her mother was going to raise her kids as athletes. Tammy Lasley’s son and Hardin’s brother, Tyler Hardin, played baseball at UCA.
"We’re totally a sports family," Hardin said.
Hardin misses the memories involving sports the most.
Always an avid school supporter, Hardin would go to Friday night football games even when she had a softball tournament for her club team in Dallas or Houston on Saturday.
"Me and mom would leave after the game and drive six or seven hours to play ball the next day," Hardin said.
Tammy Lasley always insisted Hardin should sleep, but most of the time the two would end up talking for hours through the night.
Hardin’s fondest memories of her mother came out of those long car rides.
"I told her all my plans and dreams, and she gave me advice on how I could achieve those goals," Hardin said.
Hardin can still hear her mother’s voice though, especially during the softball season.
"I could hear her telling me what to do in the back of my head," Hardin said. "She always said, ‘Brush your hair, brush your hips,’ which meant to keep my arm close to my body."
Charline, likewise, has also grown to appreciate the things her mom used to shout from the crowd.
"I miss her yelling in the stands," Charline Lasley said. "And I didn’t use to like her getting on me, but now I miss it."
Charline is entering her junior year and is following right in her sister’s footsteps, moving from second base to pitcher on the Greenbrier softball team next season.
Hardin’s softball career ended last weeked as she led the team to runner-up in the state tournament. She considered playing collegiately but decided a career as a pharmacist was something she preferred to pursue.
"I want to be just like mom," she said.
It’s been four months since Tammy Lasley died so unexpectedly. Sometimes it feels real, but most of the time it doesn’t, Hardin said.
Hardin tries her best to accept what has happened and stays strong by keeping her faith.
"I wish she was here," Hardin said. "I can’t bring her back. I wish I could. God had a plan for her, and I would never go against Him.
"But I do wish I had her back. She was my best friend. She was everything."
(Corinne Meyerson is a freelance journalist based in northwest Arkansas)