One of the things that happens when you get older is that your mind wanders a little bit. It amazes me how you can hear a phrase spoken or catch a whiff of an aroma from the kitchen, or see an old photograph, and like “beam me up Scottie”, suddenly your mind is transported to another time.
I am looking at an old photo of young boys. Two rows standing and one row kneeling. This is an 8×10 black and white and one of my most prized possessions. If the house caught fire and I had time to grab a few things, this photo would be among them. The cash in the mattress would be left to burn if I had to chose.
I am down front on one knee. Black horn-rimmed glasses like Ernie from My Three Sons. But I don’t stand out. There are several Ernies in the bunch. There are almost 20 of us boys decked out in Boy Scout uniforms. Some up to code. Some not. Most of us have bangs falling across our foreheads. We were small town versions of Paul Revere and the Raiders or the Monkeys. A couple of boys in street clothes on the back row. One with plaid pants that I’m sure were made of stretch nylon and possibly belled at the bottom.
These were my pals of 1969.
I can name nearly all of them. Wilbur. Blake, in the plaid pants. Robbie. Jeffrey. John. Carl. Roger. Willis. Mitch. Robert. Pete. Art. Steve. Another Steve. Godfrey. Tim. William, I think. Keith. And, one in the back whose name is blank for right now.
These were some of the guys that I played baseball with. We sat in Mr. Hips Modern Math Class in the last room on the back wing of Hampton Elementary. We played dodgeball in the Gym, and Coach Orr taught us gymnastics. I almost died on the rings and never could master the high bar. We played pick up ball in the backyard on Saturdays. And we rode bikes a million miles.
Godfrey was the brain in the group. In study hall, he sat behind me and read things like The Hobbit and the works of Faulkner and Steinbeck. I read the works of Shultz that had pictures of Snoopy and Lucy. I think he went on the become some kind of an exotic Engineer in a very high-class field of noteworthiness. I farm trees. If I had known, I could have seen that one coming.
The truth is that I have very little idea what happened to most of these boys. What they have done in life. Sales. Truck Drivers. Electricians. Doctors. Missionaries. Families. Achievements. There is a disconnect in the space time continuum. A black hole where all the knowledge of old pals gets sucked into oblivion. You grow up. You get married. You move away. And if you stay, you lose contact with those who left.
When I think about the guys I have known my whole life, and I look at them from nearly 50 years down the road, I realize that for most of us it was only a dozen or so years that we spent together. A few of these boys and I started Kindergarten together in the fellowship hall of the Methodist Church. We went through all 8 grades of Hampton Elementary together. We walked the halls of high school together.
And then, woosh! We turned our tassels and tossed our mortar boards, and it was over. Like releasing a hundred balloons into the air, our lives drifted up and away and out of sight.
Even so, I look at this picture and I feel like I still know them. I can hear their voices. I can see their faces in the light of campfires, or across the diamond from shortstop, or flailing in the water at Glenn Mitchell’s lake. A few of us bought electric guitars and played rock and roll in the basement. We slow danced with our girls at the prom the night the tornado came through and knocked out the power. We rode in the back of pickup trucks. We drove our parents nuts with long hair. And we stayed out all hours of the night.
It is odd to me that the bond between pals can survive all the years of being practically strangers to one another. You would think that all might be lost. That there would be nothing to talk about. No common ground. But all it takes is one text. One message. One visit, and the space time continuum rushes in to reconnect like it had never been broken.
Over the last 10 years or so I have been able to bridge the gap with a few of these boys in the photo. Growing up together holds a power that cannot be denied by most social norms. You easily fall into old rhythms. In your mind you know who you are based on who you used to be. “You remember that old Rupp Mini-Bike?” “How about that time we camped in the snow at the winter cabin?” “Or, that night your Dad showed up and started shooting at the ‘escaped convict’?”
It is one of life’s simple pleasures to allow the memories to flood my mind. As long as I don’t stay there and forget to come back, I guess it’s okay to go there anytime I want.
I have another photo in my collection. This one from 2018, I think. The group is much smaller. Me, Jeff, Wilbur, Blake, and Billy. The hair is white or gone. The shirts around our midsections are tighter than they should be. The faces more filled out. If I look at the two photos side by side, I think to myself “what in the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks happened?”
But I smile anyway. Because, if I look long enough and hard enough and through the lenses of my memories, I can still see the likeness in our eyes. Some of the boyish grins have not changed. The boys that used to be still live inside the men who are standing together, arm in arm.
I haven’t spoken to any of them in several years now. But that doesn’t matter much. I know that the next time I do it will be as if we just said “see ya later” last week. Friendships like this are a gift. Whatever else happens in this life, we are richer for having grown up together.
This old B&W photo has captured a single moment in our history when we had our whole lives ahead of us. A few of those boys have gone on from this world, already. The rest of us are getting closer to the end every day. But I’m okay with that. I’m still making memories that matter. Enjoying the ones I already own.
Even now, I’m reliving a few with my old pals. Until next time.