Last night I learned that an old high school friend had died. I know. Seems too young for that. I didn’t want to let too much time go past without writing about him. He was really a nice guy. He used to sit in front of me in Mr. Newhouse’s history class. We might have been in the same math class for underachievers in Math, but I was so mortified that I was going next to Chemistry II and Biology II from dummy Math that I was trying to be invisible. We were seated alphabetically by last name. We are from a small town and an even smaller high school graduating class. There were 92 of us. I knew who he was, but never really talked. We had gone to different elementary schools and were filtered into different sections of the horrendous 6th grade year….I think we were in different 6th grade rooms…you know I was so wrapped up in myself and figuring out how someone who is 11 and 12 is supposed to be in the world that I really lost anything outside of 6 feet on either side of myself. So we never really talked until that history class.  Thanks Mr. Newhouse.

Dave smelled like cigarette smoke. Sometimes his pack fell out of his jacket on the back of his chair and I would snatch it up and quickly underhand pass it to him. Those were the days when the teachers ran to the teacher’s lounge between classes to get a few puffs and then in my Biology teacher’s case, pop a Hall’s lozenge before the next class started. The smoke would billow out of the lounge behind the last running English teacher who sprinted back to College Prep.

Those were the days when the students would congregate outside to smoke at lunch or between classes. This was by the outside doors at the end of the hall near the Accounting and Home-Ec rooms. I was not a smoker myself, but had a few childhood friends that were in that group, plus my best friend’s locker was 5 lockers away from the door and got to see who was out there smoking by being at her locker. The smoke followed them in at the bell and I probably stared. I was so naive and they were the kids that I was a little bit scared of or liked. Some I had gone all the way through school with so I knew what some of them looked like with cat-eye glasses and short hair. Some of them had bad reputations, some of them were trying to get a reputation and some were just trying to find some people to be friends with….just like everyone else. Dave was in there with his really nice girl friend.

Every week Mr. Newhouse would have this current news game that was on a film strip. We were teamed up. That was my THING and I LOVED it. It was finally something I could OWN and Dave always wanted to be on my team. No one ever wanted to be on any team I was on and I never was good at team sports until there was this. As the weeks went on we would talk some and laugh about things in class. Dave told me that I was smart and funny. He seemed surprised. Me too. I was surprised that someone would say that, especially a guy in our high school. That was such a nice thing to hear. I noticed that he would have these drawings on his notebooks, paper margins and book covers. Really good drawings and I told him that they were, in those days “very cool”.

We didn’t hang out in the same group unless we were in History class and I didn’t really see Dave until many years later in the Pig grocery store. We would say hello and ask how each other was doing. I asked how his sweet wife was and once I mentioned that I had his daughter in a class that I was a substituting in. She was also really nice and I noticed her right away because she reminded me of her mom. I asked him if he ever saw anyone from our class and he said that he saw a few, but mostly I was the only one that talked to him. Why wouldn’t they? He was a little shy at times. Such a nice person. Never made fun of me. Never talked down to me, was kind and funny. What’s not to like?

I ran into him a few years back at an Omro street dance and we talked for hours out in back of the fire barn. We talked about what we were doing and he told me how he got to paint lettering on boats out in the marina. He told me about how the rocking of the boat made it a challenge and a joy. We talked about how classmates were getting on and what life was like for us. He talked about his Halloween display and how he goes all out to decorate and invited my husband and I to stop over and take a look. We did end up going over to see his yard the week of Halloween. As most people know, I don’t enjoy Halloween, but I enjoy someone who has used their creativity and imagination to make a different world. His yard was full of surprises and had real beauty in the lighting and the care of each spot. It was delightful.

A few years later I was at my desk at Job 1 and there was an older man painting some trim up on a ladder in my department. He must have looked at me and noticed an older woman sorting books and checking emails. That is when I heard, “Hi, Jane!” I looked up to see my old friend Dave as the older man on the ladder. We got to talk a bit and catch up while each of us did our jobs. It was nice to see him again. His detail work was spot on.

This last year I got to talk to him at length after what was our 40th Class Reunion. He didn’t attend ever and I did go to this one. I got him up to date on who had attended and what everyone was up to. We argued good naturedly about who was married to whom and decided in the end that he was right. We laughed about that. We talked about how he was worried about his health and I was worried about mine. We shared cholesterol numbers and the effect of statins, how they made us so sore we couldn’t move and  kicked them out of our drug regime. We talked about our brothers who were once friends in school. We talked about his dad dieing younger. We talked about how fast the time flies. We talked about how great grandchildren are. We talked about looking forward to meeting up at Job 1 or at a random street dance again sometime. We said how nice it was to talk again and wished each other well.

I’ll think of you hand painting lettering on those rocking boats in the marina, calling me smart and funny and telling me how great your grandchildren are. See you when my chores are through.



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