The sky sandwiched around noon Saturday loomed gray. The clouds seemed to taunt the volunteers with buckets and sponges and soapy suds working outside the Chick-fil-A restaurant in front of the Rock Hill Galleria.
But the clouds did not dare release even a drop, because nobody rains on Riley.
Riley Friddle, a fighter if ever there were one, died eight years ago Saturday after spending all four years of her life battling brain cancer. She survived long enough to go to preschool for two days. Riley – who loved the Clemson Tigers and Bon Jovi and Tim McGraw – did what all great kids do at age 4 on the first day of school.
She got in trouble for throwing Play-Dough.
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Within 48 hours, she was gone.
But the legacy of Riley and her family – whose life and journey became public in The Herald all those years ago – is continuing to raise money for cancer research. Her family puts on a “Riley’s Reindeer” Christmas fundraiser every year. They have raised tens of thousands of dollars for Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte and other charities.
And on the anniversary of her death each year, the Friddles, their friends from church and others touched by a girl who lived every day like it was her last, put on a car wash to raise money.
On Saturday, the nearby drive-thr line at Chick-fil-A reflected the spirit of a little girl who will never be forgotten.
From the open passenger window of a car emerged a tiny hand clutching money. The hand belonged to 11-year-old Sydney Wilcox. The bills went into the only dry bucket, the one collecting the cash.
“The more you give, the more you get,” Sydney said.
Car after car, trucks and SUVs and even a bus, people rolled down windows and gave money. Some got car washes and gave a donation. Many didn’t want a car wash. They just wanted to help.
Kyson Prentice, 11, put down his drink and his waffle fries, looked out the rolled-down passenger window of his grandfather’s car, and put all the money he had into the bucket. He looked at the people washing cars and the picture of Riley on a banner.
“It’s really hard to lose somebody you love,” Kyson said.
Kyson said his grandfather didn’t tell him to give that money. He wanted to do it.
“You give in your life because somebody needs you to do it,” he said.
In a car behind them, a woman cried as she rolled down her window and put some money in the bucket. On the back of her car was a sticker that told the world she had lost someone to cancer.
No words were needed to explain why she gave those crumpled bills.
Riley’s parents, Andrea and Todd Friddle, now have two healthy sons, named Briggs and Parker, ages 6 and 4.
They saw that woman. They saw the Afghanistan Marine Corps veteran driving a pickup. The judge and so many more who couldn’t be counted.
“We appreciate every one of them,” Todd Friddle said.
All money from the car wash – well over $1,000, even with the gloomy sky – goes to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a childhood cancer research organization that provides grants to the country’s leading pediatric cancer centers.
Through it all, Parker and Briggs washed cars – but looked like they really washed themselves. They were soaked to the skin.
Friends from Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ and other volunteers just washed and smiled and collected and thanked those who came hungry and left filled with a lot more than chicken and fries.
The rain held off as Riley’s face smiled down on the car wash from the banner.
Briggs was born a year after his sister died, but he knows her. He pointed at her picture.
“She had cancer,” Briggs said. “I hope nobody else ever does.”
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065