A letter to my best friend.
You’ve missed a lot of my life since we saw each other last. The night I drove to your Maryland house would have been the last time…if we’d made a connection. So, I guess the honor will go to our final senior college summer in Tonawanda. You know, I didn’t mind the three-hour drive from Virginia actually, but I was sorry to miss you. That was a show stopper. When your daughter answered the phone, she said you were out. She sounded so grown up. Naturally, I didn’t introduce myself. What was I going to say to a twelve-year-old? “Hi. I’m the friend your dad hasn’t seen in twenty some years.” That would have been just too weird. So I drove by and headed back to the academy. Nice house though. Great neighborhood.
I remember in Erie when we took dates to drive into the fancy parts of town. The same neighborhood with the country club your dad belonged to. Nice houses then, too. I guess that stuff meant a lot back then, but I’m not so sure now. Nancy and Janice…remember them? They liked it. You drove a great car, the envy of your high school, I’ll bet. I never really knew, because I had to move across town and go to East High, and not Strong Vincent. I missed us going to high school together. We never did stop hanging out though, did we?
What did we call it back then? Not hanging out. We were buddies. An old term, I know. We even called ourselves the Ugly Buddies. Neither one of us was particularly good looking, although you did run with the popular high school crowd. How did you manage that?
The house near East High was the first my mom and dad ever bought. Did you know that? I didn’t find out until just a few months before mom passed away back in 2011. Sort of seems strange now, four kids and two adults in a two bedroom bungalow with a converted attic. I didn’t mind, though. Your house had a converted attic, too. I sure spent enough time there. My family always lived in rentals or on the base. At the time, I just couldn’t figure out why my dad insisted moving us across town. The house wasn’t even close to being as big or nice as our rental house near the old neighborhood.
Your dad was a bank vice president then. He took me aside one day. I guess my big mouth was running away with my complaints and he got tired of my yakking. Parents did that then. No one was afraid of liability. All adults were parents. I really liked him. He explained about home ownership and credit. Do you remember that afternoon? I do. You were cutting the lawn with a push mower…no engine, of course, just muscles. We were both wiry and strong, then. Marilyn and Stanley had just taken off in his 56 Chevy, maybe for the beach. The day was a wonderful Great Lakes day.
Did you know your dad and I talked, and a whole new world opened up for me? People actually owned their own houses. Wow. He must have thought I was pretty naïve, but the Marine Corps always provided our house. In every base we ever lived, my family lived in a place almost identical to the neighbor’s house. We had strange street names, too. MOQ 2904. Ha! I remember the funny look on your face when I explained that meant, Married Officer’s Quarters. My friends just had different numbers on their houses.
Later, I understood better what a fancy house meant and that people didn’t separate themselves by rank in your world. They used houses. Or big cars. I wasn’t that dumb. I told you in California, we all lived on the side of a hill. The colonels had the highest row of houses, the lieutenants lived down at the bottom. You thought that was crazy and I suppose today, I’d have to agree.
We used to walk from the Saturday dance at the community center gym. Do you remember the sock hops? I could usually talk my dad into letting me spend the night at your place. That meant no curfew for me. What freedom. We’d dance with our dates, me with Janice and you with… Well, you had a lot of girlfriends. There was Nancy Henry, the super cute blond, of course. Sue Lancaster. Wow. And the tall girl from across the street. I don’t recall her name but she was nice. I pretty much stuck with Janice. We danced well together and could have won the every Saturday contest except it bothered me to beat you and all the others. Thank goodness Janice didn’t mind quitting early.
When you found out I transferred into Gridley Junior high from southern California, you thought I’d be a pretty cool guy. That I’d know my cars. I’m grateful you didn’t dump all over me when you found out I only knew military weapons, aircraft, and the Marine Corps organizational chart. I couldn’t tell a chopped, channeled and sectioned 32 Ford from a 1955 four-door Belair. I did learn, of course, gradually. We went to the drag strip a lot and to car shows. And I also figured out button down shirts with back loops bested fly-a-way collars every time. Thanks for that.
I had the old Chevy jalopy that Dad and I shared when I turned sixteen. He drove it to the Reserve Center every day and I got to use it on weekends until I let that creep break it. You were there that day. Jimmy Joyce was there, too. Remember? Bad day at Black Rock.
Mom had the Mercury station wagon that you hated. Sort of tan but you called it pink, the pig-mobile. I suppose in some light it could be mistaken for pink. When you called it names, Eddie, that hurt my feelings, but I don’t think you did it on purpose. I never drove it when you were around unless the Chevy wasn’t running.
Do you remember me always breaking down in the Chevy? You were the one that usually found Janice and me on the roadside. No cell phones then, so I usually had to walk to the gas station for a pay phone. You had the Ford convertible, then. Beautiful car. Of course, I’d stay with the Chevy, and you’d get Janice home on time. Then, you’d come back for me. Sometimes, I waited a long, long time. I had to laugh in later years always wondering if Janice only put up with me to get a ride in that car of yours with you. Didn’t really matter. I loved the drive-in restaurants with the convertible. The pretty girls on roller-skates, guys with their souped-up hotrods and loud radios…AM, of course.
Do you want to know something about those nights, the nights when I’d watch your Ford’s taillights taking Janice home? You always came back for me. Do you know that? You never left me stranded. You were a good guy, then, and I’ve never figured out why you didn’t want to hang out later when we’d become men. You were a banker, like your dad. You even owned a bank, a big guy in the community. And, me? A Marine until the war was over, then a sort of career drifter. Cops, FBI, manager. I liked my life…the way it turned out, I mean. And yet, I don’t know the answer to why a two-year slice of time meant far more to me than it did to you. We never lived in the same state, so I wouldn’t embarrass you in my old Chevy or the pig-mobile coming over every day. The question is tough, and yes, I know there are tougher ones out there, but one day, I’ll figure this out and let you know.