Laughing with Tom
Tom and I catching up and laughing over some fun memory

Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with my old friend Tom. If you ever have the chance to catch up with a friend you’ve known for 45+ years, do it.

Tom’s youngest son Jay (Jordan in the formal) and I met back in junior high school. His family moved into my neighborhood when they relocated from the Washington DC area. We (almost) instantly became friends and started hanging out whenever possible. Jay was highly intelligent, much more so than I, even more so in the arts. He was a poet, lover of theatrical music (Yes, Rush), and brought me to love Monty Python. I’m fairly certain that he memorized all of the funniest lines from the show, remembering that this was long before you could actually record and play back a TV show. His audible memorization was from a single viewing, not repeated watch, rewind, re-watch episodes.

His mom, Sarah (or was it Sara?) was a child psychologist and author of several books if memory serves me right. I was never really sure, at the time, what his father Tom did for a living. I remember that Jay was born in Quito, Ecuador when his father worked for the US State Department. There were four older sisters including the youngest of them, Jane. If I remember correctly, Jane was a freshman or perhaps a sophomore at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA when they moved in. The older sisters were Louisa, a definite 1960s free spirit, Eloise (I never knew her well) and Arabella who was a Presbyterian minister (married to Rob, a non-Presbyterian minister).

My parents became friends with Tom and Sarah through church and, of course, their boys Jay and I. We each practically lived at each other’s house. We lived almost a mile apart, but it was a very short bike ride or walk if needed. Both Jay and I were in excellent physical shape so thought nothing of the quick journey.

Reliving some painful memories, the family has had more of their share of pain over the years. Sarah was the first person I knew that suffered from and died from pancreatic cancer. She died when Jay was a sophomore in high school, at just 15 years old. Her sickness is not a big memory of mine, I just remember that it was exceptionally quick from learning about the sickness to attending her funeral at our church.

I introduced Jay to my first girlfriend, Lori. While Jay dated quite a bit, he was almost immediately infatuated with Lori, falling quickly and into 16-year old love. We often hung out as the three musketeers as they were truly my two best friends. I was happy for them and not at all jealous.

It was just a year later that Jay would also pass. I was home from school for several weeks due to a severe case of mononucleosis (AKA mono). Jay and I talked often, but he wanted to come and see me before he was to drive to Bethesda and visit his old friends for the weekend. He stopped by and we chatted for a bit before he took off for Maryland. Little did I know that I was the last person he would see when he was alive. Route 15 goes from the Harrisburg, PA area south through Gettysburg and into Emmitsburg, Maryland. At the time, the road was 4-lanes in Pennsylvania, narrowing to a 2-lane road in Maryland.

The story was that Jay fell asleep and crossed the median into northbound traffic. He hit a northbound car that had a young family. The mother and young child died in the crash. Jay lived for a few days until it was determined that he was brain dead with only the machines keeping him alive. He died shortly afterwards.

Tom and my father went to the police station / tow yard together to get the personal belongings from what was left of the car. Tom told me recently that he greatly appreciated my father for that.

I loved the fact that I was able to share a meal and share some good laughs with Tom again. At nearly 99, he is a joy to be with and am happy to say has been part of my circle of friends for over 45 years.

Last evening, I attended my 35th high school reunion. While I have attended a couple of these in the past, it was 15 years since I’ve seen most of these people in person. Facebook has certainly help close the distance gap through shared photos, stories of our children, news of our divorces, and our jobs. This closed gap made it much easier to recognize those that I hadn’t seen in person in many years. Faces were familiar, stories of kids came easily, and family photos were mostly shown on smartphones. People forgot the normal high school crap, the cliques and the rivalries over members of the opposite sex. Last night, we were all just friends.

As you might expect, some have aged better than others, and some have lived very hard lives. There were divorces, spousal deaths, and restraining orders; there were those with 30-year-old children and those with children of their own under 10 years old and those with grandchildren. There were a few faces that without a name tag, I would have never recognized. There were others that looked like slightly aged versions of my memories from high school. A couple of the girls have grown into elegant women. A couple of men were handsome as well. From what I was able to pick up, I have moved more than anyone else, and several that still live within a mile of their childhood home. I had the usual problem of trying to explain what I do for a living. “I work with computers” seemed to satisfy most, although anyone that knows me professionally, understands that this is a clear understatement of what I actually get paid to do. It didn’t matter – just that I now lived in New England, a seemingly long way from home.

We graduated from high school in 1978 which was somewhere between the drug-fueled Vietnam war protest songs and the demise of disco and “the emergence of pop, dance music and New Wave.” The 80’s on 80 channel on SiriusXM is still probably one of my favorite channels since I really didn’t have time to sit and listen to music in the late 70s. Back then, I had a 10-speed bike and a car that I borrowed from my parents. We listened to albums in our parents’ basements doing things that would have shocked our parents. But we all came out on the other side with a healthy respect for our parent’s work ethics and the need to raise some great kids.

As you might expect, we had a sad corner – where high school photos of those who had died were displayed. I knew about most, but a few photos of others that died were shocking. In a class of almost 450 students, I suppose the number of deaths was in line with statistics. In the center was the one that impacted me the most personally – my best friend Jay who died during our junior year. His family was my second family, his house my second home. I shudder to think how far Jay could have gone if he were alive today, and how much my life may have changed if he had remained a large influence in my life. The months following his fatal crash were the saddest months of my life. But I moved on and quickly grew up, remaining quite close with his family.

Probably the strangest thing last night was talking with several folks that I have known for more than fifty years. Our parents attended the same church so a group of us attended kindergarten in that church before it was mandated by the state. After all, I’m just too young to have known anyone for fifty years, right?

We are finally on vacation in Maine. Last summer, we spent a week only about 12 miles from where we did last year. Those 12 miles are by boat – about 45 miles by car. We are on the opposite side of the bay, significantly closer to Acadia National Park. The town of Castine is a sleepy little town. The house we are renting was built in 1803 and occupied by the British from 1814 to 1815. The owner’s great, great Grandfather built the house, so it has been in the family for over 200 years, although currently on the market for sale. I took a look in the basement and the original support beams are clearly visible – logs that were hand trimmed and notched to provide the support. Several of the logs still have some bark attached. When you look at the structure, you know it was a slow process, and carefully pieced together by hand.

This year’s vacation is with friends from Richmond, VA. We’re so glad to be able to reconnect with this family after 3+ years of not being with them multiple times per week, all year round. Heather is my daughter’s second mother and my “church wife.” She remains my non-family emergency contact since there is no one else I’d rather have contacted in an emergency. Dave and I became much closer in the final few years we were in Richmond – one of the most level headed guys in the group of friends. He can laugh with the best of them, loves music even more than me, and provides a very safe haven for his family and close friends.

Sue and I are both hoping to relax, reboot, and reconnect with friends in this week. We have both been strung tight, and are in need of a solid week of downtime before hitting the fall hard once again.

Our family relocated to New England almost three years ago. I moved here first, spending almost three months solo while Sue sold the house, the kids finished school, and I dove into a new job while looking for a place to live. We knew that moving the kids at this point was risky, but that better schools and an overall better environment was worth the trade-off. The other major driver was that my company was going under fast and, as the primary breadwinner in the house, needed to secure a job with a company that actually had a future. Taking a couple of young adults that had spent their entire formative life in one area and dropping them in a new town 500 miles to the north was going to be tough on them.

The move has been very good overall. We’ve adjusted to the extreme weather changes, the school system, and the fact that three years later, we are still the “new” family in town. At least we thought we had until this week.

Our daughter is having her Junior Prom this weekend. She is incredibly resilient when it comes to finding friends and developing bonds with those friends. She has been the primary support for a few of those new friends since she didn’t have any of the history that comes along with the majority of these kids growing up in the same small town (3 elementary schools, 1 middle school and 1 high school). Most have gone to school together for 11 years now, she joined them 9 years into that journey. As with many American towns, there is a portion of high school kids that drink and a portion that smoke weed. There are also a portion of kids that do neither – mostly because they have decided not to (not because there isn’t ample opportunity). Our kids are both in the “do neither” camp.

So with the prom comes the inevitable after prom parties. There will certainly be both booze and weed at a bunch of those, and likely a few serious automobile accidents. To help “protect” our daughter, we told her a month ago that she could hold her after prom party at our house. We would clear out the beer from the fridge and the booze from the basement bar. The kids have access to the in-ground hot tub, the TV, food, and a place to crash. Keys would be collected and they could have a great time. All in all, about 25 kids were expected to show – that is until late this week.

It seems that being the “new” family in town meant that parents didn’t know us, so were stepping in and rescinding their kids’ previous acceptance and redirecting them to different parties where they knew the kids. At least one of those parties will have booze – the kids have been told to “smuggle” it in – but that is apparently not a concern to some of these parents. You see, the parents have known each other for 11 or more years, so can overlook the transgressions of the kids because of this history. So even though the party here will be safe and the kids will have fun, the parents have determined that their kids won’t really be at risk elsewhere because of the history with the host parents – good, bad, or indifferent. At some level, it would make sense if we had the same history, but at another level, it sucks for my kid being in the house that simply doesn’t have the history here. The real rub is that the former “friend” of our daughter is really nothing but a bully, manipulating the situation so she is in control. The parents of others are completely blind to the bullying that is going on.

So we’re dealing with our child facing the reality of having a very disappointed prom evening – and leaving a bad set of memories for her only high school prom. The one thing that she has going for her is that in less than two years, she will be in college, at a campus where the playing field is level once again. While our daughter is the ultimate survivor, I wish I could wave a magic wand and make this high school crap just go away.

On a final note, my wife said yesterday that this was the first time she regretted moving north. While there would have been other issues had we stayed in Virginia, this simply wouldn’t have been one of them. We were established with a large group of friends – parents of our children’s childhood friends. Here, we’re still the new family in town, even after three years.

I turned 50 last week. That day was like almost any other. My wife was still in Canada for work, my youngest still needed to go to school, and I still needed to show up and work my 8 – 10 hours at my cubical before taking our daughter to her violin lesson at UConn. Not having my wife here pretty much stunk, but it would have still been work for her, school for our daughter, and work for me, then the drive to UConn for the hour lesson. I wouldn’t even get to talk to my wife until after 9 that night.

When I first got home, I noticed that I had a box from Virginia friends on the counter. It was probably the highlight of my day, at least at that point. Seeing the return address from our friends Heather & Dave made me know that it was special. We’ve been friends with them for 11+ years now and Sue and Heather were pretty much joined at the hip for most of the last 8 years we were in Richmond. I have always thought of Heather as a little sister – sometimes a pain in the butt but most of the time just there to make me smile and laugh. After opening, I found out that this box was not just from Heather but from other friends as well. All the more to smile about.

Contents (click here for pictures):
50 Hershey Kisses
8 fancy blowers
A pack of birthday napkins and a pack of birthday cups
An easy to identify birthday boy pin
An office decoration party kit
A kiss and a promise package of candy (private story)
50 Hershey Hugs
50 life savers
50 pennies (for my thoughts?)
a 50 Post It Note heart
One Ode to Steve poem from Heather
and birthday cards from a few other great friends

Thank you ladies. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the effort to help me celebrate my 50th birthday remotely!

Some of our best friends from Virginia visited recently. We spent two days relaxing, talking, and just getting back in touch. Then, last Saturday, both of our families headed to Pennsylvania. The three families are all great friends, and that really came through as soon as we got a chance to relax. I have a great deal of respect for Bill, for multiple reasons I won’t go into here. We always have a great time together – totally laid back with lots of laughs.

Debbie is just amazing. She came up with games, variations that we have played previously but always with twists that were only Debbie created. Take a ton of adults, most drinking, and the games are always a great deal of fun. For example, the first game started with two teams (partners were always on opposite teams), and each person had to pass the string with clothes articles attached through their clothes. It was interesting, and a great ice breaker for those of us from out of town.

The trip was relaxing, fun, full of friends, and very hard to end. Monday when the Ps headed back to VA and we headed back to CT, and the T’s headed to an appointment in Phila., it was the hardest goodbye we have said in a long time.

Over each of the past six or seven years, each momentous occasion has been celebrated with a carefully selected collection of music. Each CD is picked by the celebration crew (whomever that is at the time), and presented to some or all of the participants. There are only a few people that mix the music, and it is always difficult to find the right order to keep the mood right. The CDs are cherished by all recipients, memories of the event, person, place, or time in their lives. Oh yes… listened to over and over again.

The CD entitled “Tiara Tunes for Sue” was lovingly created by her friends, and presented on her way out the door of Virginia for our new life in Connecticut:

Say – John Mayer
Game of Love – Santana
Whenever I Call You “Friend” – Kenny Loggins
All the World – Point of Grace
Eagle When She Flies – Dolly Parton
Margaritaville – Jimmy Buffett
Goodbye – Night Ranger
I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack
We Are Family – Sister Sledge
Little Wonders – Rob Thomas
You’ve Got a Friend – James Taylor
Stay Beautiful – The Last Goodnight
Circle – Edie Brickell
Friends – Jump5
My Wish – Rascal Flatts
Something’s Broken – Tim McGraw
Stop! In The Name Of Love – The Supremes
Find Out Who Your Friends Are – Tracy Lawrence

Friday, I got the chance to see many of my good friends, both the guys and the gals. Some of us were together at the middle school ceremony Friday morning, then later at the pool. We also got together on Saturday, although for less time than Friday. Four of the couples went to eat at El Chaparal, a very authentic Mexican restaurant. Later, back to our house to chat, have a few beers, and just hang. This is why coming home is good.

Happy New Year!

It is 2007, officially, as of about 12 hours ago. My daughter and I celebrated at a friend’s house with a bunch of other guys who were on their own. Several of us were in that position because our wives were out of town visiting mutual friends. We touched base with our spouses a few times – just before and just after midnight. It was a good time, with lots of darts and food, and a couple of beers to boot. As usual, my friend Jeff and I won at darts — we are very good as teammates at anything we do. He is normally better at most “sporty things” than I am, but I can pull my own and often surprise myself.

Today it is warm and raining. For the past three years, we have played tennis for a few hours early on New Year’s Day — but not this year. We play outside, so don’t have the luxury of either heat or play in inclement weather. We were sure of the weather last night, so knew we weren’t playing today. So, we drank more than if we were playing, and stayed up way too late. I’m paying for both today, so hope to get in a nap later. We are heading across the street for the annual brunch that our neighbors throw. Good food and many friends will be there – always a great way to bring in the new year.

Here’s to a wonderful, prosperous new year!

Cindy was a friend of a friend, with an introduction coming sometime after I took a long drive. I remember that because I went to our mutual friend’s house and remember thinking that this was one of the furthest trips I had taken with just friends – no parents involved. The friend and I knew each other well, but later grew apart. Cindy and I were instant friends & more – the attraction was very quick to develop since the trip was short. We started to call and write each other as this was in the day before email, IM, and Skype. We only saw each other a few times each year, but I spent many hours thinking about her. Okay, so why the discussion about Cindy? Well, it’s Trish’s fault…

There is a song by Trish Yearwood called The Song Remembers When. It is so accurate with my memories of Cindy.

There are a couple of songs by Fleetwood Mac that bring back instant memories of her and our time together. She and I sitting and holding each other on her basement couch, doing thing that adolescents do, getting closer by the hour. I am sitting here smiling as I write this, thinking nothing but pleasant thoughts about those times.

Cindy is an only child – at least from what I remember. Her dad was a mailman – and actually treated me with respect. He knew that Cindy was happy with me, and that was really all that he cared about. I don’t remember her mom much, but knew that it was a loving home. Many years later, I ran into someone from that small town who knew her Dad – and they related the warm kindness that I always felt in their home.

I don’t recall why we broke up, but have no bad memories from that time. I believe that it was a logistical issue – we lived an hour apart and really had to work hard to get to see each other. Oh yes, we were young, car-less and poor. It’s the sucky part about growing up.

We lost touch.

Times changed and the Internet was created by Al Gore and people-search engines were created. Cindy was located.

We’ve chatted via email a few times since then, always leaving me with a smile. I heard that she was divorced from an awful man, and is now married to a wonderful one. How someone could treat this woman poorly just amazes me. When asked if she remembered me, she said, “Yes, you’re the one that got away.”

I hope you’re happy now – God knows you deserve it!