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OPINION: When Memories Die

January 14, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

I tried to remember the details but, for the life of me, I can't recall when, where or, for that matter, how it was that I first met Larry. A span of 10 years separated us in age and, while I was new to Noel in 2006, Larry had lived in the area since he was five years of age. However, Larry accepted me as a friend and that friendship, which I value so very much, grew over the next 14 years.

Again, the details seem to escape me and I can't remember when exactly the stories began to flow from Larry's memory, but flow they did. It is impossible to tell you how many tales Larry was kind enough to share with me over the last few years, but let me try to refresh your memory.

He smiled as he went into great detail while he showed me the remains of his childhood go-kart. It seemed as though Larry couldn't get the words out fast enough as he talked about how he built the machine and how very fast was the mechanical reminder of his childhood.

I can still remember how excited Larry was as he talked about his pony, Ginger.

"It was every kid's dream to have a pony and I had one. That was great."

Larry's love for Ginger was obvious as he talked about the injury to her leg and how he spread that grease and nursed her back to her old self. Larry was right, every kid I knew did wish they had a pony.

"Did I ever tell you the story about the man who applied for a job when I worked at the manufactured home place near Anderson?" As I shook my head from side to side, he reminisced about the day the man said he wanted a job working "for Cliff."

Larry paused for just a moment as he got the details straight in his mind. Then he talked about the tornado that destroyed his family's house. He sat at a café table and while nibbling on a sandwich, he told me the story about the apparition known as the "Gray Lady" who on dark nights appeared near the big rock on Elk River.

It was obvious that Larry missed his younger brother Jim and he never missed an opportunity to tell me about the great times the two brothers had when they were young. I remember how much detail he recalled as he told me about the old outhouse that the two brothers converted into their private clubhouse. I wished that I could have been there with them.

I was lucky enough to be invited into Larry's home. The basement was full of childhood memorabilia. I especially remember the old electric train, a special Christmas present that he played with when he was just a boy. I don't think Larry discarded nary a thing and the basement was like a museum.

Larry introduced me to his beloved wife, Nancy, then told me a story. It was the fable about the annoying rock that jutted into the road. It seemed that the rock annoyed both Larry and Nancy. Nothing seemed too impossible for my friend and after the dynamite exploded; the couple watched as a large chunk of the stone flew over their heads eventually splashing into the river.

I am so very grateful that Larry shared his fond memories of his mother and father with me. I'm sure I had a look of amazement on my face as he talked about the day his father took the Ford tractor to Southwest City. It was on that day that the elephant bested the tractor in a tug-of-war.

My friend Larry calmly narrated the events of an afternoon many years ago when his mother and the then young boy drove to a rural farmhouse. There Larry's mother surprised the boy as she placed a large bowl of butter in the car's back seat. Larry laughed as he told me that the butter had been churned in an old Maytag washing machine.

Many of Larry's tales were never put to paper. I regretfully never got around to telling you about the time Doctor Fountain braced himself prior to tugging on the young boy's -- Larry's -- broken arm. You didn't get to read about the time some kids placed the tire around the Noel school's flagpole. Larry said he never did figure out how those classmates got that tire around that metal pole many years ago.

There just didn't seem to be anything or anyone that Larry didn't know about. All I had to do was prompt him and the words and memories flowed out. Whether it was a yarn about the great train explosion or the time McDonald County seceded from the state, Larry knew the story and was always ready to tell it to me.

My friend didn't often pay me a compliment but I do recall just one. I don't know why Larry seemed to like the story of the boy, then man, who raked the fallen leaves from his neighbor's yard each fall. He sometimes referred to the story when we talked but I never asked why that tale, in particular, seemed to strike a chord with him. I now regret that I never bothered to ask the question.

Not long ago, Larry found that the recollections of his childhood remained fresh in his mind but the memories of recent events, yesterday, the day before, and the day before that became clouded. To Larry, that was a terrible thing and I can only believe that thoughts of a life without memories would be for him unbearable.

What a cruel turn when the thing loved so dearly is lost, one's memory. Larry was more to me than just a reference source, a relater of stories, he was my friend. As a matter of fact, Larry was one of my best friends and I don't have so many that I can, without sadness, lose one. I will so terribly miss my very good friend and spinner of yarns. I know I will never forget my good friend, Larry.

Larry Burkholder, recently and all too soon, died on an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon in January and, as Larry would say, "and that's the story."

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.

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