As the four of us sat together in Chili’s I tried to visualize us as we were when we first became friends, but could not. We’ve all changed too much. We get together at least once a year, sometimes more.
Jake lives the farthest away, so I see less of him. He grew up in Klondike, a small town that used to be much larger, but has hovered just over a hundred in population for as long as I can remember.
John is from the Shiloh community (smaller than Klondike) and has returned to his childhood home to spend the rest of his days after years in the Metroplex.
I lived between Shiloh and Klondike near the old West Delta School and now live outside of Commerce about fifteen miles from our old homeplace.
Charles grew up in the big metropolis of Cooper (around 2000) and moved to Winnsboro many years ago. John, Jake and I went to West Delta School and we all went to high school in Cooper.
Jake and I have been friends since first grade. Our mothers worked in the sewing factory together and were also close friends. Our fathers were drinking buddies. His brother dated my sister. Another older brother was a friend of my older brother. I attended a particular church for a period of time simply because I knew Jake went there and he made me feel like I belonged when I came back from the Panhandle. We played Little League baseball together (though on separate teams). He had a terrific curve ball. You get the picture. Our roots go deep.
John came along just a few years later fresh from living in Italy and Japan as his family traveled with his Army father. I thought living in a whole ‘nother country was pretty exotic because I had never been out of Texas. But John never boasted about his world travels. We quickly became best friends. We sometimes walked the ten or twelve mile round trip between our houses to get into mischief together or to swim in snake-infested country pools.
I had to rise most mornings before dawn to help in our dairy. John sought and took a job doing the same thing despite my warnings. We bought mopeds (a bicycle with a motor) at the same time. We talked a lot. John is irreverent and possessed of a dry wit that kept be laughing then and now. I borrowed a horse for John so that he and I could play hooky on April Fools ’ Day and ride all the way to Pecan Gap when we were about twelve. We sometimes raced home in our cars after going out on separate dates in Cooper (not recommended).
Charles and I were enemies in high school, but became close friends about a decade later. On a wild and mischievous night when I was a senior, he sent a fist to my face that sent me tumbling and blackened the whole side of my face. His nickname in high school was Moose, for good reason. Thirty-six years later, we traveled across Texas together with him driving a covered wagon and Cousin Marion and I riding horses. He was also a client of my CPA firm and my western wear store until I sold them. When he traveled with his father Dutch on another covered wagon journey to the Fort Worth Fat Stock show, he wore a hat I had worn for months. We have history, and it’s all good after we got over our high school feud.
My family moved to the Panhandle when I was a freshman, and when I came back two years later, West Delta School was closed and Jake and John had moved on with their lives at Cooper High School. They were friendly and welcoming, but things would never be quite the same.
I am the oldest of the bunch, but not by much. I graduated a year ahead of them, and we lost contact for a while after high school, although John used to fill in for me when I needed to be away from my college job as a delivery boy for City Pharmacy. After that, they went their separate ways and I went mine. Let’s just say that they had a lot more fun in those post high school years than I did and leave it at that. Ironically, Charles and I were the first to establish a new, adult friendship.
Among the four of us, only one parent remains. Chrystelle, John’s mother, is ninety-seven. In addition to our parents, Jake lost two brothers and I lost one, all at young ages. John lost his wife, a brother, his dad, and two sisters-in-law.
When John moved back here, he and Jake and I made a couple of trips to the State Fair, trying to rekindle boyhood memories of Rural Youth Day at the fair. It wasn’t the same. As we walked the fairgrounds, one vendor beckoned us to try the newest gadget, a magnetic bracelet. He told us that all the players on one super bowl team were going to wear the bracelets during the big game. They were supposed to improve balance.
He coaxed Jake and me to stand on one leg with our arms forward and one leg back with and without the bracelet. I’m not sure the bracelets made any difference, but I’m sure Jake and I looked pretty foolish. When the vendor asked John to try it, he replied with his usual dry wit, “No thanks, I don’t do much of that kind of thing anymore.” You had to be there to appreciate the humor.
About three years back, Charles was shredding along his pool bank. He turned his tractor over, pinning himself in the mud underneath it—an accident that would have killed most men. He was flown to a hospital and kept unconscious for several weeks so that his collapsed lungs could function again and his ribs heal. John took a picture of him in that hospital bed and sent it around to several people. When I saw it, I asked, “You take that with a phone or camera?”
He said, “Phone. Why?”
“You might want to hide it because if Charles ever sees that picture, you might have that phone shoved where the sun don’t shine.”
Charles said he heard angels’ wings when he was down in that mud with a tractor on top of him. He appears completely healed now, but I think the brush with death somehow changed him, made him more retrospective, more aware of the fragility of life. I now have a row of weeds and grass along the bank of my pool that I call my moose row. I no longer try to get down there with a tractor and shredder. Who knows? Maybe his accident saved my life.
So now we are what we used to consider old men. When we get together, I want to talk about what we are doing right now and what we going to do with the rest of our days to make our lives more meaningful and interesting. I fret about that more than I should, I guess. They usually want to talk over old times and laugh a lot. We have come almost full circle, so to speak. And yet, our friendships have endured. I value that.