TOP OF THE TOWN – Back when I was young enough not to know better I had a friend who was stuck in a childhood that was not of his doing but his to suffer through nevertheless. We were best buds who did most things together and shared our inner thoughts. I really didn’t need my friend’s inner thoughts because the thoughts that matter were obvious. His dad, an alcoholic bum (my words, not my friends), used to establish daily chores for my friend before he left for work as a car salesman and general roustabout and if he did not achieve them this bum would beat my friend, often with his fists. There was nothing I could do with the dad, so I decided I had to help my friend with those chores so he could finish them before his dad staggered home. Some of the chores weren’t too bad (detailing used cars that the dad sold out of their house, for example), but one really got to me. My friend was tagged to dig out the partial dug-out cellar of the house. That wasn’t fun. But over time we accomplished it. Still, the beatings went on. Then came the time my dad got remarried (my mother died in 1953, a year earlier) and we had to venture across the country to the West Coast from New York State to a new refinery on Cherry Pt. and a new job for my dad just outside of Ferndale, WA. That started my dark years. The day we left I walked out the back door of our house up to the dike that was built a few years earlier to hold back the spring waters of the Allegheny that before the dike system was built would flood our region nearly every year. As I stood on top of the dike, my friend came out of his neighboring house and slowly walked up to where I was. We didn’t talk. We understood the situation. We were silent as we picked up stones and tossed them into the Allegheny from our perch high above the river. For 10 minutes we tossed stones without talking. Then my friend turned and headed back down the dike. I watched as he slowly made his way down, across his back lawn and disappeared into his house. I threw several more stones into the Allegheny and then turned and made my way down the dike and into the backdoor of our house. Less than an hour later, we backed out of the driveway with a car towing a packed trailer for the long drive to Ferndale. Five years later I bumped into my friend one last time. I was going to college back East and was visiting my sister on a weekend when my friend showed up at the door. His dad had moved with his wife to a different New York town and my friend had been discharged from the Air Force and heard I was around. We sipped a few beers and talked about what we were doing and what we planned to do. He slept on my sister’s couch and then on Sunday morning he announced he was going to Virginia to see his older sister and asked me to go along. I said no. He repeatedly begged me to go. But I stood firm. We walked out the front door of my sister’s house, crossed the front lawn and onto Highway 16. I stopped along the highway and my friend crossed it to start hitchhiking south. I stood and watched until a car stopped for him. Then he was gone. I never saw him again. Twenty years ago I found his dad, called him and got a phone number. I called him at the American Legion in Fredrick, Maryland where he usually stopped for beers. We talked for several minutes and when I gave him a brief resume of my life I remembered him saying, “You were always the smart one.” Shortly after we hung up silence set in again. In the last five years I have often thought of him. I repeatedly searched for him on the Internet, but came up blank. I suspected he was gone, but yesterday it was confirmed when I was reading the obits of my hometown New York newspaper and spotted one for his younger brother. In the obit I read where his older brother, my friend, was deceased. Even though I thought it was a real possibility, knowing for sure really hurts. He told me in our brief phone conversation that he had forgiven his dad and had reconnected with him. But I will never forget. People, especially children, should never be treated that way. I don’t know how much it affected my friend, but I would assume it’s something that tore at him. I know it did me. And it still does. Just as losing my mother when I was still young and then moving across the country and leaving behind what up to then was an idyllic life for me for the unknown caused me to enter into my dark years and forever changed the direction of my life. I survived the dramatic turnaround in my life and now I will never really know how much what my friend went through impacted him. My friend, I will always cherish and remember what we had together. Rest in peace my friend and I will see you again sometime.

Be well pal.

Be careful out there.

Have a great day.

You are loved.