Fifty years of friendship

Farm Forum

A common complaint nowadays is that nothing seems to last. This is especially true for smart phones, those handheld supercomputer thingamabobs that have a knack for making a guy feel dumb. As soon as I figure out how to operate a new cell phone, it will send me a message saying that it’s time to upgrade to an even newer model.

But there is one thing in my life that I have kept for a solid half-century. And no, I don’t mean my favorite pair of underwear, which I’ve had for a mere 30 years.

One fateful June morning five decades ago, my mother instructed me to ride my bike the two miles of gravel road from our place to the farmstead of our neighbors Al and Lorraine. Mom didn’t divulge the purpose of my mission, but hinted that it involved a big surprise. Perhaps Al and Lorraine were secretly housing that pony I had always wanted!

As I pedaled down Al and Lorraine’s driveway, I scanned the area near their barn for traces of an equine surprise. Before I could stop my bike, a scrawny redheaded boy came strolling out of their house. Al and Lorraine were childless, so this was even more astonishing than a pony.

The boy was named Steve and was about my age. His family, who were related to Al and Lorraine, had decided that a summer on the farm would be just the thing for the rambunctious redhead.

I was wary of this newcomer to our neighborhood. But my wariness evaporated within seconds when Steve exclaimed to me, “Let’s go play in the trees!”

We began our adventures by pretending that we were outlaw Wild West gunslingers who were evading a pursuing posse. When we wearied of that, we became rugged frontiersmen who were living off the land by eating tree bark and squirrels. (By the way, tree bark tastes awful and squirrels are totally uncatchable.)

The deep bond we formed that afternoon has endured ever since.

Steve began to spend every summer at Al and Lorraine’s farm. It was a wonderful place to be a kid. We could do whatever we wanted as long as we didn’t violate Al and Lorraine’s cardinal rule for kid behavior, which was “Just don’t kill yourself.”

For instance, we might find a pile of rotting lumber and decide to use it to build a two-kid glider. At lunchtime we would excitedly explain our plans to Lorraine, adding that we hoped to launch our completed aircraft from the roof of the barn later that afternoon.

“OK,” she would reply with a twinkle in her eye, “Just don’t kill yourselves.”

Steve and I helped each other navigate the rocky shoals of our teens. One of the biggest questions we wrestled with at that time was, “What do girls want?” We found great wisdom in such songs as “Clap for the Wolfman,” which led us to conclude that girls wanted the same things we did, namely, cars. So Steve and I saved up and each purchased a car.

I bought a 1968 Chevy Impala SS that smoked like an oil well fire. Steve had obtained a job at an automotive repair shop, so I decided to overhaul the Impala’s engine, shamelessly taking advantage of Steve’s skills and his boss’s tools.

Thanks to Steve’s knowledge (and his patience with my mechanical ineptitude), the overhaul was a success and the Impala gave up its smoking habit. After we took the retooled car on a short shakedown cruise, we motored back to our farmyard. We reclined on the Impala’s spacious hood and yakked until long after dark.

The annual Perseid meteor shower was at its peak. Stray chunks of comet that had wandered through space for millions of miles and millions of years vaporized into brilliant slashes of light as they plowed into Earth’s upper atmosphere. Each streak lasted for just the briefest moment.

It was Steve’s birthday and he mused at the night sky and to no one in particular, “Yep, no longer a teenybopper!” By then, I had already known him for more than a decade.

Despite our best efforts to stop it, time marched on. Steve and I grew from boys into men and eventually met the ladies who would become our wives (it turns out that cars have precious little to do with impressing girls.) We were best men at each other’s weddings and godparents for each other’s sons.

Neither Steve nor I are scrawny anymore and we have more gray hair than we might like. But over the past 50 years, we have enjoyed something that has withstood the test of time. And all without purchasing any upgrades.

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