Thursday, May 26, 2011

47 Years later

In late Summer of 1963, just before the start of the school year, pre-season practice began for the football team of our high school. Previous teams had done well, and this was our senior year and our chance to shine. The common backfield formation of the time was called the 'straight T', which saw the quarterback (who receives the ball from the center), up against the center of the line. 2 to 3 yards behind him was the fullback with the left and right halfbacks on either side of the fullback. To those with a knowledge of football, that probably sounds like 'leather helmet' stuff and that actually is pretty close. We were among the first teams to have face guards on our helmets, although often those were simply a single curved bar at about mouth level. Careful maintenance of facial contours was not a high priority in football at a time when, "It's a long way from your heart son", was the coach's standard response to injuries.

Of the backfield for our team, the quarterback was a largely untested junior who replaced a highly skilled and awarded senior who graduated the previous year. The left halfback was a senior, more experienced, very quick, and agile. The right halfback, also a senior, was the team's star player, captain of the team, and frequently referred to as, "the fastest white man in the Ohio Valley." Between them stood your most humble and obedient servant who acquired the position more as a matter of attrition than ability. But we practiced hard and carried high hopes for the future. The thinking was that, if the rest of us could do anything that would get our right halfback into the open, we had a chance to win. The first game of the season, and the first quarter of play saw our team captain fall with a devastating knee injury that would all but end his play for that year. The left halfback stepped up and made his best effort to fill the void, but found himself being hammered regularly by opponents who easily overwhelmed our less than stellar front line. The fullback was not much of a contributing factor save for the odd block or 'three yards and a cloud of dust' play. The season quickly became a disaster with a couple of high points and many lows.

The three seniors of the backfield became close friends through all of the social events of the year as well as numerous times spent simply wasting each other's time and laughing while doing it. The culmination of that relationship was a four week trip together into Mexico that included two weeks at a small University and a week in a rented apartment in glamorous Acapulco. In the interest of decorum, the details of that trip will be omitted while leaving the reader free to imagine the escapades of three 18 year olds loose in a nation with no age limit for drinking, gambling, or other vice-laden activities. Before that trip, one or more parents, while still questioning the wisdom of unleashing their offspring upon an unsuspecting and (previously) friendly nation, took pictures of the usual suspects standing in front of the six month old 1964 Pontiac GTO that would carry them on their journey.

That trip would generate a lifetime of memories for all three, who went on to college before losing track of each other. Life has a way of supplanting those early friendships, no matter how close, with things like careers, family, mortgages, and such. So, some how, some way, 47 years slid by in the wink of an eye, leaving a trail of jobs, marriages, children, relocations, divorces, and (as much as it pains me to admit) grandchildren.

The thing called 'Facebook' may be considered as a teenager's toy where the texting generation posts inane comments about meaningless happenings in their young lives. But sometimes it can be a miracle that enables a generation who grew up with rotary telephones, black and white television, and Mom being at home to reconnect to friends long lost to the four winds. After 47 years the 'backfield' was once again together. Certainly no longer able to even get into a football stance, let alone charge an opponent. Paunchy, balding, white haired, a bit frail, and seriously medicated, three geezers rekindled the spirit of their relationship with a couple days of 'laugh and scratch', revisiting old haunts, and even a visit to a local nudie bar. It's hard to really get into the spirit of a nudie bar when the girls are younger than your children and only a few years older than your grandchildren. Instead of admiring their lovely young bodies with lusty thoughts of sexual desire, we found ourselves trying to stay awake, wondering if the girls were warm enough, and if the wooden stage hurt their knees. A far cry from the trip to Acapulco where...I'll just leave it at that.

Those 18 year old hoodlums had somehow been transformed (seemingly overnight) into grandfathers with numerous medical ailments and failing memory cells. Young bodies that had once enthusiastically smashed headlong into an opponent now bore the scars of assorted surgeries and the pain of arthritic joints. No one can ever see themselves age. The face in the mirror (at least from our perspective) is the same as it was 30, 40, 50 years ago, and mentally we're all still waiting for summer vacation at the end of the school year. But when seen through the prisim of old friends, suddenly the changes become evident. Physically we can never be the same. Those hard young bodies are long gone, victims of the process of establishing our identities in life. But the spirit of friendship and the remaining memories of times and people now gone, remain as the rock to which we cling while life attempts to sweep us away to join the dust of ages. And after a couple days with two other old farts, I can tell you, we're clinging pretty good.

In an ironic turn of events, the unsung hero of that near-miss international incident from 1964 has survived much better than its occupants. After 15 years of abuse, road salt, and neglect followed by 30 years sitting in a barn where the mice turned it into Club Med for rodents, the 1964 GTO has been restored into a head-turning, award winning, hearthrob. If they could just do that for people, sigh.

1 comment:

  1. If only we could have the same advantage as that 1964 GTO and be somehow "restored into that head-turning, award winning heartthrob" we used to be. Doesn't seem fair, an inanimate object capable of restoration, almost at will, bettering the highest form of life on earth. We get one chance and one chance only Randy and the older we get the faster life seems to accelerate out of our grasp.

    Incredible story Randy and I'm honored to call you all my lifelong friends with all those signs of aging into the beautiful men you are today.