Those of us who have lived in many places and made many friends over the years tend to think back instead of forward at this time of year. Whatever happened to all of those people whose paths I’ve crossed and taken a part of my history with? Since most of my traveling occurred when I was younger, I don’t exactly have a Christmas card list I can refer to every year. Mine are memories of faces, people, places and adventures I’ve collected over these many years. They come to me in dreams or in flashes of faces or adventures in the ordinary course of my day. I’ll give you a short list of them below, but it is by no means definitive.
Where is Patricia Cox, who was my first girlfriend when we were nine years old? We moved to St. Mary’s, Ohio at the beginning of summer and parked our trailer as close to the St. Mary’s Lake as we could. I could look out of my bedroom window directly into the water. The fishing and swimming were great in the lake, and I was happy playing with my friends—until I met Patty. I met her on the first day of school because we were both new to the school and sat together at lunch. We hung out, and after school I walked her home. It was ardent puppy love. The days were still warm and the leaves had only begun to fall when I told her I was moving in a couple of days. I remember Patty because she was the first of many friends to whom I would say goodbye. Sometimes, though, I simply vanished out of their lives.
I don’t even remember his name, but he taught me more about the hurt of racism than anyone ever has. This was in Eminence, Ky., when I was about 10. I had a loose group of eight to 10 friends with whom I regularly played football or soccer. He was the only kid who was black. When it came time for me to choose sides, I did so with the oft-used, “Eeenie, Meenie, Minee, Moe, catch a...” and there I used the “n-word” for the last time in my life. Because as I said the word I saw a quick glimmer of soul-piercing hurt that crossed his face. It was just a millisecond of a glimmer, but I felt that pain and all that had come before it. That glance has stayed with me all of these years. I should like to apologize and thank him because that one glance gave me more of an education on race than I have had since.
Jimmie Rayl, where have you gone? I met Jimmie Rayl when I was about 12. He was my best friend and sidekick almost immediately when we moved to Kent. He was a year younger and smaller than me, and I felt protective because his temperament sometimes caused trouble that I had to take care of. The things we did together could fill a book. We made a set of wings with which we expected to soar over Kent like birds. Instead, I got a skinned knee trying to run downhill against the wind. The next thing we built was a miniature golf course. We even contacted the Record Courier newspaper in hopes that they would cover our grand opening. Unfortunately, when Jimmie’s dad tested our course, we found out that golf balls don’t float. Then, in the depth of the next winter, we rescued a red-tailed hawk from a trap along the Cuyahoga River. We took him to the wash house where an adult neighbor helped us amputate the hawk’s dangling right leg. Peg Leg, as we named him, lived in a cage in my backyard for about 10 days before we freed him. Then we decided to play as Native Americans. We both were experienced archers, the natural evolution of which was to become Indians. We were tanned from the summer sun, and we made black wigs by dying my sister’s cloth diapers; we made loin cloths and leggings and carried long bows with deerskin-like quivers. We terrorized the little kids in the neighborhood and toured Kent in full Native American dress on Halloween to get a load of candy. I lost track of Jimmie when I started the second year of high school. I last saw him when a group of my high school friends and I stopped into a Sohio Station to fill my friend’s convertible with gas. Jimmie was the attendant.
Dave Kettles was in one of my classes at Long Beach State College when I first moved to California. I had spent a year at KSU before moving to the University of California: Long Beach to take some writing classes, where I met Kettles, and we clicked immediately. He was an actor/writer/beach bum like me, and one of the funniest people I had ever met. Together we toured Hollywood and met some of his friends. One of them, a ranked local boxer, invited us for dinner and drinks at one of my favorite restaurants. We sat in the garden of T-Lords beachfront bar and grill on Belmont Shore. After a great meal, a cigar and enough alcohol to cloud my judgment, Dave’s friend jumped to his feet and yelled, “Run!” as he headed for the wall that surrounded the garden. At first, I didn’t know what to do until Dave grabbed my arm and yelled, “Run!” in my ear. By then I was on my feet and headed for the wall. I don’t remember anyone trying to stop us, but because of that I could never go back to T-Lords again. We went to baseball games, Shakespeare productions and watched the Grunion run in the surf on a bright moonlit night. When I moved back to Ohio, he visited me and met my fiends. We saw an Indians’ game (he was an Oriels fan), skinny dipped in Brimfield Lake, made breakfast for my friends and my mother and father. We visited a few times when I traveled to California on business and even when he had left his first wife and moved in with his girlfriend. I lost track of him as I started my own business and only traveled to races.
Crittenden “Critt” Catanese was only 10 months old the last time I saw him. He was the son of our friends from Kent who stayed with us in San Francisco for a few weeks. During that time, he and I bonded and I felt the joy of parenthood before I actually had the responsibility of it. I am his godparent, but the time and the distance have made that honor moot. When we moved back to Kent (again), I never saw or heard about his life. By now he is a middle-aged man.
Sadly, I know the whereabouts of my very best friends, David Burkhart, with whom I started “The Penny Papers,” a literary paper, and who entrusted his daughters to me, and Bob Cusick who got me into automotive magazine journalism and for whom I drove when he started building the Venus Formula Vee—a single seat race car that was popular at the time. They are now both deceased, Dave at the age of 55 and Bob at the age of 67. I had hoped to spend my senior years with them, because they are so much of my history.
Since moving back to the Akron area, I have made many friendships and encountered a large number of interesting people. I would hate to lose any one of my friends today. We are spending our “golden years” playing golf, talking politics, religion, investments and anything else taboo. I hope this New Year brings you in contact with your old friends. Happy New Year!
Founder and Editor-in-Chief | Don Baker Jr. | firstname.lastname@example.org