Wednesday, May 28, 2014
TOASTING AN OLD FRIEND
Endless Summer, Reading, KS
I’m toasting an old high school friend tonight that I just learned on Facebook had passed away this past Memorial week. The phone rings and it’s another high school friend that is calling to see if I had heard the sad news. It was good to talk to another kindred spirit at the time and reminisce about those youthful days of summer prior to entering the adult world of work and sobering responsibility. We fondly talked about the summer nights riding the ridges on the outskirts of town and dragging the gut on Main Street in our small central Kansas town.
Remembering the good times of our late teens always brings a smile, perhaps mainly because that’s a time in America where life is about as uncomplicated as it gets. And our prospects for an eternal earthly life seemed at the time about as plausible as the ability to acquire underage beer. We didn’t have the muddy waters of the Chattahoochee but we did spend many hours fishing on the Cottonwood and Neosho rivers.
We’d gather in the evening at a drive-in after leaving our minimum wage jobs to discuss anything and everything. Then we’d pool our loose change to buy a few gallons of gas for one of our cars at less than half a dollar a gallon. We’d fire up a filtered Marlboro cigarette and find someone’s older brother or cousin to get us a cold six pack. The summer evening air wafted through the naturally air conditioned windows as Wolf Man Jack would spin 45 RPM records and howl at the moon with us. The local radio station didn’t play rock ‘n roll music but during the night we could tune in to the powerful stations down south at the Texas border and up north to the WLS radio station in the far away big city of Chicago. We’d loudly and passionately sing about Chunky Peanut Butter and La Bamba as our chopped and customized cars cruised under the flashing street lights.
I recently read that when you remember a past event, you are actually remembering the last time you remembered it, not the event itself. Perhaps that explains why the details of those summer nights, now so distant in the fading past, are becoming more translucent. But I still remember how we felt. We were immortal and we were as carefree as we would ever be in life. We shared a wonderful camaraderie and we were truly a band of brothers. We only briefly paused to ponder the future long enough to know that now was the time of complete freedom, this time was very limited and we could never return. So we read liberating books like On the Road by Jack Kerouac, smoked cigarettes and drove fast like James Dean, sang Elvis rock ‘n roll songs with the windows open, downed a few cool Coors on a sultry night and enjoyed each other’s company like family. And the wide world of the military, the Vietnam war, full time careers, marriage, children, home mortgages, retirement savings accounts, business travel, annual reviews, life-long education and training, job loss, divorce, accidents, serious health issues and yes, death, were all waiting beyond the long, hot, seemingly endless summer of the end of our innocence.