It is said a true friend is not someone who stops you from doing something that will get you arrested; rather a true friend would be waking up on the jail bench right beside you. While that may be true, friendship is so much more. A friend is someone who helps you become who you are going to be. The path of a friend is steeped in shared history. Sit down folks. This is going to be a long one.
When I was a young child, we moved into a small house in North Little Rock (actually, it was the second time we had lived in that house, but I was too young to remember the first) and as we were moving in, a young boy came across the street to play. Johnny Wilson was his name, and we had been friends when we had lived there before—or so my mother told me. I find it best to accept these second-hand memories without question, especially in the absence of anything more interesting. Anyway, we lived in that house for a couple of years (I think—to a kid a month may as well be a year) and Johnny was my bestest friend. We rode bikes together, spent the night at each other’s house (all of 50 feet apart), and merged our families to the point where we both had two moms.
My tween years were spent in Newport News . My father being an Army officer afforded us the opportunity (or curse—depending on your view) to move a lot. Bob Jones was one of my friends there along with Joe Werner. Joe lived across the street and two doors down to the right. Joe was the trouble maker. Bob was the comic book lover. My dad always called the funny books. I never understood that. Superman and Batman were not funny. Saving the world was not meant to be a joke. Archie and Jughead—those are funny books, and incidentally I hated those. My sisters got them along with Donald Duck and other Disney “funny books.” Bob and I focused on the heroes of the DC universe with noble story lines of good triumphing over evil. And it had to be DC—Marvel comics had too many words and more complex story lines than a couple of 11-year-olds could appreciate.
Joe and I rode and modified our bicycles. He was the one who told me that only banana-seat bikes were cool. And to make them more cool, we simply had to extend the forks and put tiny wheels on the front. We spent at least one Saturday making these machines he called “choppers.” My mother called them something else entirely and made me spend the next day putting my bike back into the condition I started with. Alas, I was not to be a chopper rider. There was also the incident with the peppercorn. He told me that it was sweet and delicious and to show me, he popped one in his mouth and chewed it up with the flourish of someone eating the most tantalizing morsel of chocolate. What I didn’t see was that he tossed it past his head. So, I took the little brown nugget and put it on my tongue. It was not sweet. It was not tantalizing. I was not happy. “Oh, you have to bite down. It tastes better when you chew it,” he told me. He lied.
Joe’s parents took me on vacation with them to a beach house in South Carolina—it may have been Myrtle Beach, but I don’t really remember. I remember asking my mom if I could go and my jaw hitting the floor when she said I could. It was to be my first trip without my parents. It was a big deal and Joe and I were looking forward to trip and planning all sorts of mischief to get into. I remember we were riding on the tailgate of a pickup truck and dragging our feet in the sand. Then I felt something hit my foot (at the time it didn’t hurt though that was soon to change) and when we stopped I looked at it and found that an oyster shell had laid my foot open. Blood spurted a yard and bone fragments were sticking out of the twisted mass of meat. OK, maybe not. It was probably more like an inch-long cut that did not need stitches, but that is not as interesting.
After my father left the military and we settled in Houston, I forged a deep friendship with Warren Burke for the nine months we lived in a townhouse while our home was being built in Humble. Like Joe, Warren was a bit of a trouble maker, we sat up late nights watching “Night Flight” on the local independent channel (I think it was KDOG—which would eventually become the Fox affiliate 26). Night flight showed older shows like Doctor Who, The Wild Wild West and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It was here that I developed an appreciation for these classics that exists to this day.
Warren’s mom invited me to join the family for a trip to Pedernales Falls for a weekend camping trip. Warren and I had a ball sliding down the falls and wearing holes in our shorts. Seriously, we didn’t know it, but our shorts looked like the jean fashion Ryan O’neal started in the movie “So Fine.” Sadly that trip was cut short when Warren’s mom stumbled over a curb and broke her ankle in three places. It was also where I was introduced to Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Life has never been the same.
When our house in Humble was built, we moved there and I soon found a friend in Kevin Colston. He lived down the street from me and his parents were older and rich. Well, it seemed that way. He always had the latest and greatest stuff. Even though he was younger than me, I learned a lot from him. We spent a lot of time together from riding around the subdivision in his dad’s golf cart to going to the horror matinee on Saturday afternoon’s (Slithis rules), to hiding in the new houses under construction and throwing dirt clods at passing cars.
In high school, I was at lunch in the cafeteria one day and, as I turned around, a young girl (Trish, I think was her name) slapped me. I looked a bit shocked at this assault and then her eyes got real big and she started apologizing profusely. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought you were Jim. You look just like him.” Jim, it turns out was standing behind me, and that is how I met him. We were about the same size, same color hair and eyes and, if you believe all our friends, we looked alike. For a while anyway. Once I hit my senior year, I grew. He didn’t.
Jim and I became inseparable in high school. We both got our license around the same time, and took turns driving around on weekends. For a while, I drove a hand-me-down Ford Pinto that had starter issues and Jim and I would have to push-start it in the school parking lot to the cheers and jeers of the bus-riders. Jim and I both had two moms during that time. Kevin, Jim and I all three got jobs at the Humble 6 Cinema, where we spent the better part of our high school careers, and share some stories not appropriate for this blog.
These people all helped shape me into the person I am now. Sadly, I have not been in contact with most of these people since I moved away from the places where we lived. While I lived in those areas, the friendships were critical to me. We simply must have someone we can depend on to be there when we need them and someone we can help support in the tough times. I wish I could find Johnny, Bob, Joe and Warren. Kevin and Jim I still communicate with online and Jim still comes around more than 30 years later.
My mother had such a friend. She and Ann were childhood friends who reconnected after my parents moved back to North Little Rock. Since that time, Mom and Ann had lunch several times a week, went on trips together and supported each other during tough times. Ann passed away recently and my mother is dealing with the grief of losing someone who has become very important to her. It made me reflective.
The “friends” we have on Facebook or Myspace may or may not be real friends. I can say that I have met almost all of my Facebook friends in real life (most are people I knew in high school or college), and I know that some people have thousands of “friends” that they have never met or even communicate with even though they count them as friends. Would these people push-start your car or transform your bike into a chopper or sit up all night watching British comedy or comfort you when the worst that can happen happens to you? Just something to think about.
To all those whom I count as friends, I say thank you for helping make me the person I am today.