June 23, 2017

Friendships

When we left the city to move back to the mountains last year, I donated most of my dress clothes to charity, choosing to keep one grey suit for weddings and one black suit for funerals, along with two white shirts, a couple of ties and a pair of wing tips.

The suits stayed in the back of a closet for most of a year until two weeks ago when we packed the black one, a white shirt, tie and shoes for a trip to St. Louis and the funeral for Amy’s aunt. On Friday, the black suit came out again, for a visitation to Wood Funeral Home in Floyd for the death of Francis Shockey, father of my best friend in high school.

I hadn’t seen Gary Shockey in too many years, an unforgivable lapse on my part since he and his family live less than a hour away in Roanoke. Judy, his wife and another close friend from high school, visited the studio lat year and I gave their daughter a photo from the gallery. Gary, a truck driver, was on the road at the time. He was on the road at the last high school reunion I attended and when I visited Judy and the kids during a trip to Roanoke back when I still lived and worked in Washington.

Didn’t know if I’d recognize Gary. I did. We’ve all aged, some of us more than others, but I would have recognized him on the street: the same twinkle in his eye, the same sideways smile, the same walk that was part gait, part lope.

We hugged each other for a few seconds and then settled into conversation about the years, catching up on what’s been happening with each other’s lives. Gary was best man at the wedding with my first wife. I was an usher for his and Judy’s wedding. I said how sorry I was for the loss of his father, whose health had failed in recent years.

“He’s at peace now, at a far better place,” Gary said, looking at his father’s casket. “That’s what’s important.”

Over the afternoon, others that neither of us had seen for years came by to pay respects. I left late in the afternoon, promising to do a better job of keeping in touch. As I drove home, I kept asking myself why – in a year of being back in the area – I had not picked up the phone and called my best friend from high school.

There’s no easy answer to such a question. We change over the years and other priorities take over our lives: work, family, ever-increasing pressures of everyday life. We tell ourselves that we’ve got to call this person from our past, revisit this moment from our youth or rekindle feelings long since lost.

Yet we don’t. We get caught up in the daily grind and something we should have done falls further and further down the list of things.

Friendships from our youth too often lie dormant for too many years – revisited only in times of crisis like a death in the family.

It shouldn’t be that way.

But it is.

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