I was six years old. The year was 1970. The date, September 8th. This I know.
Yes, it was that week when almost every year finds the days warm (as long as you’re in the sun) and the nights cold enough to see your breath. That’s how the weather works in early September on the mountains of central Pennsylvania, were I grew up. I often thought it might be what purgatory is like if your destined for hell… frozen over.
It my first day of school — ever — that I met the person who turned out to become a lifelong friend. His name, Grey Hubler. I wonder if he remembers how we met? I do, but I can’t really tell you why this stuck with me; let alone even why it was burned into my brain’s memory cells that morning of September 8, 1970… some forty-three years hence.
The bus dropped off my older sisters and me then we made our way to the auditorium, until the other buses arrived. We each carried those old metal lunch boxes. Mine was a circus theme, complete with matching soup thermos. It’s silly now, but I was deeply embarrassed by it. You see, it wasn’t a cool Partridge Family, Brady Bunch, Barbie, or Hot Wheels one… that my sisters scored. Hey, I guess maybe my mom just wanted to see if this whole “school” thing would work out for me. Nope, let’s get the boy the Murphy’s 5 & Dime special and see if he can even make it to lunch, I bet she thought.
Anyhow, that’s were we first met. In the old Morrisdale elementary school auditorium that was abandoned just two years later for the larger centralized one that served the entire district.
Ours, like most friendships, waxed and waned… but never stopped. I remember so much… so fondly.
The stories are many. I recall the two of us, as second-graders, challenging (and beating) the sixth-graders in schoolyard football. To be clear, we would only play tackle. As it turns out, this was foreshadowing of our high school varsity gridiron days. He was the quarterback and without him I never would have tasted such success as a receiver — I also played defensive back, kick returner, and gunner on the kickoff team; I only left the field when we punted— but my buddy was too valuable to the team to risk injury. We set records together that might still be standing to this day. Glory days, for sure.
Our teacher who I was speaking of before, Mrs. Howe, loved us, but she was not one to spare the rod. Ah, the good ole’ days of paddling… not. We were paddled for all the dirt from recess on our clothes (and us). We often got it for not hearing the bell to even come back to class! It was a different era back then with discipline. Can you believe every morning we were led in prayer?
I laugh when I remember when Mrs. Howe stacked the chairs and desks along the wall to clear the room for what can only be described as “Spelling Bee Baseball”. Basically, if you spelled a word correctly you would reach first-base safely and hope to be advanced by your teammates. Incorrectly spelled words were out. Three outs and the other team took its turn. This was the one, and only, time we played this… because of my buddy…. and the slippery hardwood classroom floor… and the stacked furniture. I still giggle about him sliding into (and past) third-base, right into the stacked furniture. It was instantly un-stacked. The result can only be described as a calamity.
We shared so many unforgettable experiences.
Facebook and Funerals.
We served as Altar Boys together, giggling as we stood by the forced-air heater that puffed out our vestments and then imitating our morbidly obese priest (I feel bad about that now). I remember how angry my buddy was that we were banned from carrying lighted candles when serving funerals (because it dripped wax on the carpeting).
I’ve only seen him once since we graduated high school in 1982. It was for just one night over the Labor Day holiday of our Sophomore year of college. We went off to separate colleges and fell out of touch for decades. There were times when I tried to locate him (like my wedding), but never could until Facebook came along and I joined it in 2008 or 2009. Ryan set me up on it and immediately friended me. My buddy was right behind him as I looked him up that first day. We reconnected immediately and it made me sad for the wasted days of falling apart.
Through these tough times over the past four years he would occasionally send me an encouraging word. It means a lot.
But, yesterday was my turn. Sadly, I know exactly how he’s hurting. Here’s how it went down:
Do you recall how hard we all laughed? We could barely run away!
Then I thought to myself, just like “Team Diviney” does for me.
Words… So Inadequate.
You know how it is when you can’t find the words for me? I get it… I felt the same with Grey. I hate to see him hurting. It just makes me sick to know this good man is grieving. He loved his younger brother — his ONLY brother — with passion and protection. In return, his younger brother adored Grey. Outstanding siblings from superb parents! The memory that drives this home is how Grey’s brother stood, mesmerized, looking at his stud quarterback bro’ leading the football team into battle. I remember Grey reaching out and squeezing his hand as he ran by.
There’s just nothing that I think that will help. Words will never make it right. Why in the hell is it I have no idea what to say? I suppose it’s best not to pretend I do. You’d think I’d know what works by now, but I don’t.
What I do know is remaining quiet because I’m stumbling to write a thought is not the way to go. In fact, it can be downright worse than saying something silly. It’s not necessarily the word’s meanings that help, but the knowledge that others are here for us…
Through their words.