One of the things I hate about growing older is that with each Christmas, I find friends have died. Yesterday came the news of the death of the “boy next door.” Only a few years older than I, Mike was the clean-cut, Boy Scout and then ROTC cadet that any girl would have liked to have as her boy-friend, even me.
One of the things that we did do around this time of the year was to gather up all the discarded Christmas trees and make forts out of them. For those in the North, this was the Texas answer to snow forts and we threw mud balls instead of snowballs. The premise was the same. I always wanted to be in Mike’s team because he had strategies to “get” the other kids unawares. It is not surprising that the military became his passion. He did ROTC in high school and at A&M taking his place among “The Corps” and finally the Army.
I worried about him while he was in Viet Nam and checked with his mother regularly when I would come home from college. His mother became one of those “parent alternatives” that all teens need. She was one of 5 girls of an old Texas macho father who gave boy’s nicknames to his daughters. I never heard Mike’s mom called “Edna”; she was always “Jack” and that suited me just fine. Both she and Oscar, Mike’s dad were funny people. Oscar was an incessant reader and seemed to know EVERYTHING even when he didn’t. Jack knew the funniest jokes—a little on the ribald side—something I never heard at home.
I became the best half-back on the block since I grew earlier than the two younger boys. It was Mike who always included me in the games until he went to high school and didn’t have time for ‘little kids.’
Our lives began to touch again long after some of our parents had died. Mike had married a girl from my high school class and they ended up Episcopalians as did I. When I lived in Washington, DC, I would sometimes see his wife at church events and Mike was a Lector at my installation as rector of my parish there. We weren’t close, and yet we were. We were both proud of each other with that kind of “hometown-kid-made-good” type of respect.
Last year I saw him again. He happened to be in town for the Cotton Bowl when another parent of that neighborhood died and I was doing the funeral. After the funeral we went with the family to lift a glass in memory of her. We talked of the old times and the fun. We remembered together silly events that make up childhood and made the grieving for the family rich with wholeness and holiness.
I am saddened by this loss. I hurt for his wife and children. I give thanks for the friendship with a boy who I knew as a child and watched as a man. I ache at the thought of not seeing him again, but my memories are warm and dear. He became the man that I though he was all those years ago—courageous, kind, faithful, innovative, generous, inclusive and above all, patriotic in the good sense. I give thanks for friends like these who have called me to my better self and mourn their passing.
May he rest in peace and rise in the Glory of God.