My Summer Project… Finally
Well the summer is, sadly, almost over. So, that’s just about the right timing for me to get started on my summer project–at least one of them. I never quite got around to building that tree house, as my daughter reminded me. Kids have to learn to deal with disappointment or they won’t be able to cope in this world. I’m doing my part to prepare my kids well.
As you may remember, I started off the summer with the grandiose plan of reconnecting with my two best friends in life, and sharing the results here. I made the first of those connections with my childhood best friend. I won’t disclose his actual name here, but lets just call him Rex. Rex and I were born on the same day, in the same city, in the same hospital, and we lived on the same street. Hard to believe, but true. I have even heard that our mothers shared a hospital room, but I will check that.
That street was Calloway Circle, of the 1960s Jacksonville, Florida. It was a time of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King. Even as little kids, we knew it was a special time. Something was always happening in the big cities up north. Walter Cronkite told us so. To Rex and me, the rest of the world was huge and exciting, but our little corner was neatly tucked between the boundaries of Bunche Drive and 45th Street. We knew every family on both sides of the street and we played every day (without supervision) until well after the street lights came on. Then, one by one the mothers of the street would call out the names of our playmates, and it was time to go inside. Rex and I never heard the first call.
We played everything. Old Red Devil, Hopscotch, Hide N Seek (only we called it Hide N Go Seek), and we went so high on the swing that we would almost wrap around the top. We played football and tackleloco—touch in the street and tackle in the grass, we ran track and we wrestled. The Raines Vikings, Florida A&M Rattlers and, ultimately, the Dallas Cowboys were kings– even though they could never seem to beat the Green Bay Packers. We didn’t know we weren’t rich. But we sure felt like we were.
We didn’t know danger, except for an occasional fist fight. We walked both ways to school, stopping for blow pops, now or laters, and those huge sour dill pickles. The store owners at Banner Food Store used to give us old cigar boxes to keep our pencils in. I remember knowing Rex ever since I could first remember anything. As little boys, we were inseparable. I was an only child (at the time) and he had a house full of brothers and one sister. There was always something going on at that house, and I seemed to always be there, and when I wasn’t, Rex was at my house. His mother was the first person to make me fried squash. I don’t like anybody else’s. We were like family. I even remember calling his Aunt Sissy my Aunt Sissy.
There was a big hedge that ran the length of our yard from front to back to keep out the neighbors. But Rex and I wore a hole in it, just big enough for a couple of 5 year old boys to scoot back and forth, and to sneak across Mr. Hane’s backyard, which stood between our houses. And we did so, back and forth, all day long, until we were called in for dinner and bed.
My mother and I lived with my grandparents on Calloway Circle. My dad was fighting in the Vietnam War. Rex’s dad was too old for military service. It seemed like every time someone graduated from Raines High School, they were drafted to fight in the war. I know that’s not exactly how it was, but to a five or six year old, that’s how it seemed.
It was on this street that I first had the idea my true identity was spirit, not a body. One day, the whole neighborhood had come out to play hide n seek. I was six. I remember that I was very happy to see the big gathering of kids. I was happy we all got along (and we really did) because, I thought at six, one day we will all be in heaven and arguments won’t matter anyway. I was overwhelmed with joy. It would take several years and several experiences to put that day’s feelings into perspective.
But in those wonderful days, Jacksonville, Florida was the center of the our universe, and Calloway Circle was the center of Jacksonville, Florida. And then, one day in May of 1968, my grandmother died. I was 7. I remember it like it was yesterday. My mother and I were devastated. It was a blow from which we would not soon recover. I’m not sure if we even have done so fully today. Shortly afterwards, we would move away to start a new life. We would move away from my childhood, away from Calloway Circle, and away from my best friend, Rex. It has been almost 43 years.
A few days ago, I found Rex. I had googled him and found him living in Jacksonville–still on Calloway Circle. I found him 3 doors down from his mother’s house (who is still living) and directly across the street from where I grew up. I called him up and we talked for hours.
He is still the same. Humble, polite and steeped in southern gentility. Wow, I lost that somewhere. Our paths have been quite different. Rex has lived on that same street for all of his life. He can still name every family on the street, who moved and who died—including dates. I don’t think I know half of my neighbors. Rex still checks on elderly neighbors and doesn’t feel he needs a burglar alarm. He says the old neighborhood has held up pretty well. Its still safe and property values have remained pretty stable. He still mows his own lawn (and his mother’s 3 doors down), washes his own truck and spit shines his shoes. He is not real fond of cell phones and has held the same job for 25 or so years. Its like Macomb of To Kill A Mockingbird. I can’t even imagine.
Rex’s mother is now in her 90s. He says she is doing as well as can be expected. He asked about mine. He has never married and lost a child to SIDS in the early 80s. I told him I was sorry. He wanted to know about my children. He had heard that I have lived in California and now in Chicago. Atlanta is as far as he’s been and he was very interested to know if California was all its cracked up to be. I told him, yes.
As I listened to Rex, I felt happy and I felt sad. I felt happy because I was listening to my childhood right there. And it seemed to be as perfectly preserved as one could reasonably hope, except for the closure of Banner Food Store and Singletary’s Barbecue. But I also felt a little sad, because I had not kept in touch and I had let big city dreams and ambitions get in the way of remembering people who were very important to me. Sometimes, I guess we all do. And then, I forgave.
What appears to have happened in a linear manner—the passage of time—actually occurred all at once, in a holographic manner. Its just that our experience doesn’t remember it, yet. And that means time doesn’t matter. You can forgive what appears to have happened this moment or years ago. It has the same effect. And so, I forgave my absence from the lives of Rex and the people on Calloway Circle and welcomed only the pleasure of remembering.
Next year, Rex and I will turn 50, on the same day. We made a promise to each other to have a drink together in person before that day and to call each other on our birthday. I intend to keep that promise. Thank you Rex for being the same as you always were. Thank you for being my friend.
I have also located my best friend from college. He is a little harder to catch up to, but I will share those experiences here as well. Also the new website, http://www.vwspeaker.com is almost done. I found a brilliant designer who is doing a wonderful job of sprucing. Hope to have it online late next week.