Over the past weekend, I led a group on hike around Nordegg, Alberta. The route follows an abandoned rail line and crosses three trestles that are in varying states of disrepair. As the kids (and adults) nervously picked their way across rotting boards, one of the group leaders mentioned how much the trek reminded him of a scene from Rob Reiner's great film, Stand by Me. This comment brought back a flood of memories for me that form the basis for this post.
Many people have seen this wonderful film and I imagine that most people know it was based on Stephen King's novella, The Body. I'm not sure that everyone knows that this story first appeared in a collection of King's novellas called Different Seasons, a book that also spawned the blockbuster film The Shawshank Redemption and the lesser-known Apt Pupil. When I was a teenager, I was a huge Stephen King fan. I purchased Carrie at Woodward's book section in July 1982, read it in two days, and was hooked. I plowed through all of King's books I could and was thrilled when my mom brought home the paperback version of Different Seasons in the fall of 1983. She bought it at The Wee Book Inn in Edmonton's old Strathcona neighborhood and it still sits on my bookshelf.
There is a line in the movie that says "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"
My answer is yes. And no. Let me explain...
When I was twelve, I had a fair number of friends. Like Gordie, the protagonist and narrator of The Body, I had three or four very close friends. Now that I am forty, I've lost track of most of them, stayed in contact with several and lost one of those friends to an automobile accident nearly twenty years ago. My youngest son is named after my fallen friend, who died two weeks after I had asked him to be in my wedding party. His loss had a profound impact on me and completely changed the way I look at the world.
Another of my very close friends had been my best friend through most of elementary school. We shared a keen interest in birds, fishing, music and sports. We were in the same class and Cub troop. We slept over at one another's homes, went camping together, rode our bikes along the roads surrounding our elementary school. I admired him and wished I could be more like him in so many ways. He was always a bit taller than me, even though I was very tall for my age. He was definitely far better looking. When we went to the local roller rink, girls lined up to skate with him. They skated with me, too, not for my looks, but because I could skate backwards. In grade six, he moved to another school and we continued to keep in contact, but things were never the same as they were when we were in grade five. He moved to Toronto for a year when we were in junior high but returned to Sherwood Park during the summer of 1986. It's somewhat ironic that one of the last things I really remember doing with him was going to see the biggest movie of that summer. You guessed it. Stand by Me.
At twelve, my closest friend had already been my teammate for six hockey seasons. We spent the winters traveling to the same arenas, eating in the same roadside diners, and staying in the same hotels. Our weekends consisted of practices and games throughout Alberta. We even travelled to Quebec to participate in the Tournoi Hockey de Carnival and billeted together with a man who drove an AMC Pacer, spoke fluent English, and made sure we ate plenty of pastries. When we weren't on the ice, we often went to one another's homes and spent our time firing orange street hockey balls, pucks and tennis balls at one another. We watched Stampede Wrestling with his Ukrainian Baba on Saturday afternoons. We listened to AC/DC on vinyl records and eagerly anticipated the opportunity to watch Wayne Gretzky and Edmonton Oilers rewrite the NHL's record books. By the end of most of our hockey seasons, our bounty included several medals, trophies and complete sets of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards.
He was a great hockey player. Smart, skilled and shady when he had to be. We were captains and assistant captains. We won far more games than we lost. Even at twelve, though, he had a different perspective. He loved the USA and had been thrilled when the American hockey team won gold at Lake Placid. Two of his favorite pro players were Dave Christian (a result of his preference for Christian hockey sticks) and Greg Millen (yes, the colour commentator). Like his father, my best friend thought about things in unique ways. Some of my favorite memories of those years included driving to and from hockey, listening to talk radio and discussing whatever event his father was interested in.
We have stayed in contact in spite of the fact that we live in two different provinces and lead much different lives. I really look forward to our infrequent visits, as do my boys, who idolize their "Uncle Weese". It is true that I don't have any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve. Friends like them are incredibly special and I am very fortunate that I get to stay in contact with many of the guys I played hockey and rugby with as a teenager. We lived, loved, got an education, made plenty of mistakes, killed a few brain cells and somehow managed to become productive adults. Even as adults, I know them by their nicknames. Willy, Billy, Hoovman, Otto, Goo, Colman, Pee Wee, Parkie. I love the fact that we still get a chance to pick up where we left off. We don't need to talk on the phone or send Christmas cards. These guys really are the best and the fact that we still dart in and out of one another's busy lives is a testament to what great guys they are.
In my new life in Red Deer, most of my closest friends are teachers. We have worked hard, played hard and laughed lots during the past eighteen years. I am blessed that my best friend and teammate through university lives about 500 steps away. We have been "best man" at one another's wedding. We have taught, coached, backpacked, camped, played and lived together. He is perpetually upbeat, easygoing and positive. Our kids all go to school together and I have the extraordinary opportunity to work at their school. Like their Uncle Weese, my boys consider Jeremy an uncle and I'm fortunate to call him my friend.
My adult friends are an awful lot like the friends I had as a teenager. They are quality human beings who are not afraid to have a good time. My adult friends love sports, the outdoors and their families. Like my buddies from high school, they all have nicknames. Bee. G-Mac. Jimbo. Jimmy. Noonan. Pearson. Pickles. Robbie.
My childhood memories are like a lawn full of dew. It only takes a small step before I am drenched with thoughts that run a gamut of emotions. The older I get, the more positive the memories. It is completely accurate to say that my friends today are nothing like the friends I had when I was twelve.
I am convinced that this is a good thing.