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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Old Friends, Brother Birds

Last week I finally got together with one of my very closest grade school friends. We had been trying for months to find a time to meet and, when a little island of time suddenly bobbed into view, we landed on it before it could get swamped by the waves of our present lives.
We had last seen one another in 1954; so we decided to meet at a “retro” diner which could well have been a location if anyone wanted to make a film of us as 14 year olds. We shared the the factual milestones of our lives, the station stops of our careers, thumbnail glimpses of our wives and children,  and what we are doing now.
We have each lived full, deeply productive and well traveled lives, his quite extraordinary in the weight of his intellectual accomplishments which he does not mention.  The seeds of what we have become were powerfully sown and nurtured in grade school. Looking at us then few would have imagined the way our lives were to blossom, but looking back now it all seems so natural.
We spoke of teachers and classmates we remembered and relived times that still glow in our memories. We remembered each other’s homes and families, sports we played and walks we took together, the innocence of boyhood.
As I think about this old friend I realize we were fed in the same nest, like brother birds during our formative years.  For me the twigs of that nest still exhale indelible scents - fresh-waxed floors on opening day,  onion grass crushed beneath our feet on the playing field, those blue mimeographed lesson plans and tests. I recall testing our wings in dodgeball games, football plays, acrobatic endeavors, each of us learning to play to his own strengths - some of us agile, some stolid.  We were fed important morsels by some nurturing birds who can never be properly recompensed. By teacher Ben Long whose face and eyes lit up when we wrote well. By coaches Don McQuade and Bill Trauth who taught us the importance of sportsmanship while working on our basic skills. By music director Paul Rotella who enjoyed, really enjoyed, working with our unruly boys glee club. And by Kemp, the face of the school kitchen smiling as he brought out lunches far better than we remember.
Looking into the same alert, curious eyes after all these years, it was easy to recall why we had been so close.  It’s a week later now and I still feel warmed by the thought that we are back in each other’s lives. For lots of reasons it may be a while before we find another island of time to share, but that’s ok because we are still brother birds.

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