First best friend

Published 4:18 pm Tuesday, August 25, 2009

He was my first best friend. We started the first grade together, went to the same church, participated in Scouts, and played ball all summer. We water skied, swam in creeks, and camped out in the back yard.

If it sounds a bit like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, well it probably was. We did all the things that two boys could do growing up in a small town in the ’60s. Our bikes were our gateway to the world. We could literally go anywhere in town as long as we were back by dark.

We cut trees to build forts, before digging an underground fort that I assume still partially exists to this day. In those forts we would share secrets, some true, some made up. Our bonds of friendship grew because there were no natural barriers.

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The footballs were kicked over the laundry lines as extra points and field goals. He had the first trampoline in town and we spent many a day trying to top each other with tricks and flips. He also had the first pole vault I ever used. It was not a talent that I ever acquired.

It was a carefree time that has never lost its luster in my memory. I learned about the birds and the bees from him, although I refused to believe it for several weeks. We had an occasional cigarette and snuck out to swim at midnight in the city pool. Neal’s Landing was the site of our first scout camping trip. His mother made 24 cupcakes for us to share with the 12 guys camping. The box never made it out of our tent, as we ate them all.

Football was a Sunday afternoon ritual, with kids gathering from around town. He was always a good athlete and often the quarterback. He was an Alabama fan when Alabama beat Auburn 10 straight years. Our friendship survived even that.

We had wars with dried cow patties. We held cherry bombs to the last second before throwing them as far as we could.

The first airplane ride either of us ever took was together, attending a camp in Utah. For three weeks we lived on a horse ranch, mostly with rich kids from California. I don’t know about him, but it was where I first kissed a girl.

We were baptized together, in the First Baptist Church, where we had attended Sunday School classes together since we were infants. As often as not, we sat on the same pew each Sunday.

We went to different schools after the seventh grade. We remained friends but ended up at different colleges. Our career paths took us in different directions and into different professions. Our circle of friends developed independently of each other.

Keith Granger became a great success as an orthopedic surgeon, husband and father. We sent each other notes at the deaths of our parents. He operated on my wife’s shoulder. He looks after my increasingly arthritic knees and aches and pains. I have his cell number in my wallet.

Friends are a part of the fabric of our life. They don’t have to remain part of your daily life to remain a piece of who you are. Friends are those people that let you grow and find yourself, even as children. I have had several great friends, but Keith was the first and one of the best.

Best friends

Sometimes your best friend is part of your family. My Aunt Cat turned 80 years old this week. My mother flew out to Portland to surprise her for the occasion. She also flew out last year because my aunt wouldn’t expect her on her 79th birthday.

My aunt and her family moved to the West Coast more than 50 years ago. My aunt and my mother refused to let distance be an obstacle to their relationship as sisters or even more importantly in their relationship as friends.

Long after their children were grown, they began taking a yearly trip together. Around the world they traveled as sisters and friends. After my father’s death, they continued with my Uncle Bill as part of the entourage.

I understand what it is like to have your sister and your brother as your best friends. Maybe that is because I have had my mother and my aunt as an example for most of my life.

Finally, friendship can be more than your childhood buddy or your family connections. This past Sunday my daughter and son-in-law, and my grandson, Henry, went to lunch with my great, great friend Sally Bates.

After they were finished, Henry insisted that Sally carry him out of the restaurant. When she left, he cried wanting her to stay with him. At the age of 18 months, Henry has a great friend. Her name is Sally.

From Keith Granger, to my Aunt Cat, to Sally Bates; friends remain an incredible blessing. Take a moment to remember your first best friend. Remember those friends who happen to be family. Remember the friendships that extend over time and generations. They are gifts, all of them.