Sixty Years On

It might have been in March, it might have been in May. It likely was during April, but after sixty years, there’s no way to know.

So I’ve not known when this spring to mark the day in 1957 when two boys – five and three years old – ventured across Kilian Boulevard on their tricycles to meet the three-year-old boy whose family had moved into the white house kiddy-corner from theirs during the winter.

That new boy in the neighborhood was, of course, me, and the boys heading my way across the intersection – and I can still envision them pedaling down the middle of Eighth Street as it crosses Kilian – were Rick and Rob.

Over the years, folks have asked me who in my life have I known longest outside my family – it’s the kind of question you get in parlor games or on long, dull drives – and I’ve never been able to really answer. I don’t truly remember who was in the lead on that tricycle trip from across the street. I think it was Rob, but I’m not certain. If it was, then I’ve known Rob longer than I’ve known anyone except my family. But he holds that spot over Rick by no more than two or three seconds.

Truth be told, they hadn’t set out from their house just to welcome me to the neighborhood; they were off to hit the candy counter at Wyvell’s Store, the little neighborhood grocery another block west and half-a-block north from our place. I remember talking with them for a few moments, and then I watched as they made their way on down Eighth Street, turning their trikes into the alley halfway down the block and then onto the dirt path leading to the next corner, a path on the margin of someone’s lawn that had been worn by years of tricycles, bicycles and feet, all looking for a slight shortcut on the way to the neighborhood store.

(I haven’t purposely looked in years, but I’d bet that if I took a brief excursion from Kilian down Eighth today, I’d see that same dirt path through the edge of that yard. When we were kids, an elderly woman lived there, and a dim memory tells me that she was grandmother to the kids who lived in the next house along the way to the store, but I’m not sure. The lot is empty these days; sometime after I left home, the house there was badly damaged in an explosion, and what was left was torn down. I’m not sure if the lot is unbuildable, but it’s been years and it’s still vacant. As to the store, I’m not sure how long it had been Wyvell’s or who had owned it before then. Sometime around 1960, an older couple bought the store and it became Tuey’s Grocery, and then, right around 1965, it was sold again and became Norb’s Superette. Norb hung in there until sometime in the 1990s, when he retired and the store’s interior was remodeled to make it a house. Its exterior, though, proclaims clearly its origins as a neighborhood store, one of many such that used to be found along the streets of St. Cloud.)

And that was how I entered Rick and Rob’s lives, as a brief delay during a trip for candy. Not too long after that, I would guess, I joined them on a trip to Wyvell’s as well as heading across the street to play at their place, in the best yard for kids in the neighborhood. (Their dad was a manufacturer of fences and playground equipment, and their yard was, in effect, a testing ground for prototypes, with swing sets, teeter-totters, small merry-go-rounds, monkey bars and other climbing stuff.)

As we got older, Rick and I paired off more often and Rob went his own way with other friends. Rick and I were closer in age – five months apart – while Rob was nearly two years older than I. But there were plenty of times over the years when the three of us did things together, and there were times when Rick wasn’t around for some reason, and Rob and I hung out.

In the first couple decades of adulthood, we saw each other rarely. We were busy setting up our lives, I guess. Rick was a member of the wedding party when I married The Other Half in 1978. I was a member of the wedding party and read a portion of Scripture when Rick got married in 1982, and Rob has told me I’d have had the same duties at his wedding in 1983 had I not been living in Missouri. But our contacts during the late 1970s and through the 1980s were limited, although we did have a couple of table-top hockey tournaments during the latter half of the 1980s. (Those tourneys were when Schultz joined us; he and Rick had kept in touch since high school.)

I entered the nomadic phase of my life in the late 1980s, not settling down until 1992, when I began to see the brothers together and separately again, but those meetings were sporadic. It wasn’t until the Texas Gal and I moved to St. Cloud that I began to organize get-togethers twice a year, with table-top hockey and baseball being the ostensible reasons.

And reconnecting with Rick and Rob, and with Schultz, whom I knew during our high school years, is one of the best things I’ve done in my life. I’d hope it’s been that good for them, too.

So what tune is going to match that? Well, nothing precisely, but one that comes close is “My Old Friends” by English singer/songwriter Duncan Browne. It’s from his self-titled 1973 album.

Inner light, inner light, shine brightly on my old friends.
May they go on, never fall, never think that I don’t wish them well.

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