Friday, February 16, 2018

Belated Farewell to a Childhood Friend

It’s been a blessing to have grown up in the Rolando area of San Diego, yet to have traveled the world and seen other places. Along the way, I’ve managed to stay in touch with a kid from my kindergarten class who remains to this day, probably, my best friend in the world. As a couple of sixty-somethings now, we get a kick out of surprising people who ask how long we’ve known each other!

From time to time we get together with another Henry Clay alumnus, a relative newcomer whose family moved to the area in 1965, when he was in 4th grade. We don’t dwell too much on the past--though inevitably it comes up—and the other day we got to wondering about one of our old classmates.

He’d lived on Filipo, just a block or so from Henry Clay, and was in the same classroom with me from kindergarten to 6th grade, back when 6th was a part of elementary school. The other two friends referenced above knew him, but were sometimes in a different classroom from us. Almost inevitably, the kid and I became pretty good friends, though our interests weren’t all that similar. He moved to the San Carlos area of San Diego toward the end of our time at Clay, back in 1967, as the Summer of Love was getting underway. His older sister had a ’63 Chevy Impala convertible, and drove him to school during that last month or so while she finished up the school year at Crawford.

We spent the afternoon of our “graduation” from Clay--the day before the iconic Monterey Pop Festival got underway and two weeks after the release of "Sergeant Pepper"--swimming at the Golfcrest Country Club, having a fancy lunch, and cruising around with his sister in the convertible. We really thought we were something! His folks invited me to stay over that night, and we sat up playing board games and feeling very grown up. Then, as such things go with childhood friendships, we rarely saw each other again.

My best friend also moved to San Carlos somewhat later, during 8th grade. Thus did the two of them renew acquaintance throughout high school at Patrick Henry, and once in a blue moon the three of us would end up in the same place at the same time. However—as such things go—he was never as close to me as during the time we all grew up together. He hung out with completely different circles of people, and didn't care much for the things we thought were fun.

The other night, we were thinking of the kid on Filipo and wondered what ever had become of him. We’d each run across him by chance a time or two over the years, but not recently, so we did what any group of 21st century geezers would do: we Googled him.

As all too often has happened over the past decade or so, up came an obituary. We hoped it wouldn’t be him, but the birthdate and his sister’s name matched. He’d passed away in 2007 at the age of 51.

We’d all been out of touch with him for too long to get really worked up about it, but it was sad just the same. He was interred all of 7 miles from the college where I teach, so I took a drive over to the memorial park, right across from the entrance to Sycuan Casino. It’s not a big place, and with directions from the office I found his marker easily.

It sits under a willow tree, with a wind chime sounding occasionally in a peaceful breeze. His mother had outlived him, but was now interred with his father in a plot next to his. I stood for a few minutes, recalling the things we used to joke about and the way the world was when most of life lay ahead of us. I pulled weeds from around both headstones, and asked my old friend if he had any advice from the Great Beyond.

There was no reply, but it was such a tranquil place that I can only imagine he rests in peace. I told him that I feel blessed for the times we grew up in, and promised him that I’d try to be more appreciative of being alive… perhaps that was his advice. I made no promise to return and visit him, and he’d probably just want me to get on with life anyway.

Thus was another of life’s little mysteries resolved, and another small circle closed.