I grew up in many different places. My first few years were spent in California but, as my father spent 20 years serving in the Marine Corps, we moved from city to city. I have many recollections of these places; memories of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Missouri and most of those memories involve people who I knew, especially my best friends.
It seemed as though I always had a special someone who I considered to be my best friend. There was Bob in Albuquerque, Chet in St. Louis and then there was Tim in Yuma. All of my best friends had qualities that brought us together, but I suppose the strangest and most unlikely relationship I had was with Tim. It was that one year spent in Yuma, Ariz., when Tim and I became best friends.
Yuma was a place where the summer temperatures consistently rose well above the 100-degree mark. I often compared the feeling of walking outside my house to that of opening the door of a hot oven. It was a dry desert land where not much grew and most people settled into their air-conditioned homes until the more comfortable winter season made its appearance.
That hot dry place was a lure for many elderly folks who came to live in hopes that the climate would provide them with some relief from their respiratory maladies. I, on the other hand, found the climate not to my liking and developed bronchitis while my family lived in the desert town. I think that those issues were the reason I first came to spend the summer with my grandparents, Floyd and Phoebe, who lived in Noel. It was thought that a change of venues might provide some relief from my late-night gasps for air.
Some of us kids from school used to get together after the last school bell of the day sounded and play football on the school's playground. I remember that Tim rarely missed a game but he only watched from the sidelines. You see, Tim was afflicted with some ailment of which the name now escapes me.
His illness required him to wear heavy metal leg braces but Tim still managed to get around without the help of others. From the sidelines, the lover of the gridiron game yelled, "catch it, throw it to him, he's open and tackle him." The avid spectator loved the game that he could not play.
There were, however, those times when Tim and I, and quite alone, did play football. Those one-on-one games were played on the grass in Tim's backyard. Tim would carry the ball and rather than tackle him, I would gingerly grab and hold him. He often asked me to play fair and bring him to the ground but I never honored his request. I now realize that he knew I wouldn't hurt him. Sometimes, I could see his mother's face as she watched from the kitchen window but she never said a word to either of us. I guess she knew that I wouldn't cause any harm to her fragile son.
Early in the school year, my fifth-grade school year, my father announced that he was being transferred. He said the family would be moving to Albuquerque, N.M., and the six of us, he, my mother, my grandma Barr, my brother Bill, my sister Beverly and I would be leaving in a few weeks. I remember thinking that the transfer may have been, at least in part, a result of my bronchitis.
The next few weeks passed quickly as the day of transplanting the family to a new and unfamiliar town grew ever closer. The moving company men were to collect the furniture and household goods on Friday and the family would then begin the long drive across Arizona and New Mexico on the way to our new home. For me, that meant a new school for my sixth grade and yes, new friends; but, before I left, there was something I had to do: say goodbye to my best friend, Tim.
Tim hadn't been at school for the past few days so I told my mom that I had to see Tim before we left Yuma. It is always tough saying goodbye and as I walked toward the front door of Tim's house, I knew that this was the last time I would ever talk to him. I hadn't rehearsed any words so whatever was said between us would be dictated by the moment. As I pushed the doorbell button, I heard that familiar chime coming from within the house, a distinct chime that I had heard over and over again for almost a year.
"Hello, young man, can I help you? I didn't recognize the elderly lady who answered the door. Usually, Tim or his sister would answer the door and for a moment I considered the possibility that I had gone to the wrong house but as I peered into the house, I recognized that blue living room sofa. "Hi, is Tim home?"
"Are you a friend of Tim's," the woman asked and, with no expression whatsoever, I said, "Yes mam. Tim and I are friends and I just wanted to say goodbye because I'm moving away tomorrow."
"Well, I have some sad news to tell you. Tim died this morning." There were no words that could come into the mind of a 10-year-old boy which would seem appropriate at that moment.
After a moment of silence, and sensing my inability to talk, the woman once again spoke. "I'm so very sorry to tell you the bad news. Were you and Tim good friends?"
"Yes mam, we were best friends and sometimes we played football together."
"What's your name, young man?" "Stan," I replied as my voice cracked.
"I'm Tim's grandmother. I'll tell his mother and father that you stopped by."
"Thank you mam," I said as I turned to leave.
I don't know exactly why, but I knew even then that I would never forget the sound of that door shutting.
You know how awful you feel when that sick and sad feeling comes over you. Well, as my family drove out of town on our way to Albuquerque, I was filled with that feeling. I was pretty sure I would never return to Yuma and I knew that I would never again talk to my friend, Tim.
I decided to write this account of my friendship with Tim because I believe he is the only onetime best friend of my childhood who is no longer living. I guess I was having a childhood flashback moment the other night and that sobering realization came over me. I wanted to indulge myself and savor that moment of recollections but decided that it is better that some dust-covered memories are allowed to remain dormant; hence, I dared not linger in that moment of reminiscences too long.
I fervently believe that once a friend, a loved one, is gone we tend to forget their flaws. It seems that the best of them is left behind and to my way of thinking, that's the way it should be. What did we have in common? I'm not sure, but Tim, the kid who once dreamed of scoring the winning touchdown, and I were best friends; and indeed, we both loved football.
Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.