The True Myth of Friendship: Part Two Cont’d.

Continued from Part Two…

Part Two: Billy the Kid, Bill the Buddy, continued…

The 1960s and 1970s. I clearly remember arriving at my fifth grade class on a chilly Friday, November 22, 1963 and seeing my teacher Mrs. Rhoades standing at the front of the classroom, weeping. I soon learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

Our class was sent home that morning. Our school was closed for several days the next week. The death of our president, his stately funeral procession and the swearing in ceremony of Lyndon Baines Johnson became the national focus. During this time we as children looked to our parents for meaning and for security. We looked to our friends for a sense of community. Billy and I were close friends throughout the distrssing times we lived through.

At home with my family, I watched as the TV networks replayed Abraham Zepruder’s 8mm film of Kennedy’s assassination. I also saw Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. The black and white images of our TV set seemed to add to the grief we were feeling. I began to sense that there was evil in the world. With curious apprehension I wondered what would happen next. I would sit with my father and watch the news every night.

The international tension of the Cold War was brought home daily via the nightly news. The ongoing events of this stand-off war between the U.S. and the USSR were presented by newscasters Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Their reports detailed the U.S.’s escalating involvement in the War. The U.S. sought to contain the encroaching U.S.S.R. Communists moving into Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This escalation began in the early 1960s. U.S. combat troops would be deployed in 1965.

At this time Billy and I were in seventh grade. And though I had no thought at this time that I could later be drafted, I did see that my father took a special interest in the newscasts. As we sat on the couch together his right leg would shake up and down nervously, the motion reminding me of my mom’s sewing machine stitching my pants.

When Billy and I entered high school, we veered off into different directions. Billy, a technology kind of guy, was involved early on with an automotive internship work program. This program allowed him to leave school early and go to a local auto shop and learn about cars. Although Billy, now called Bill, was somewhat lethargic about school studies and strongly opposed to sports, when Bill did focus on something he would put all of his thought, energy and money into that project. He would become a stream of consciousness, in any direction, that nobody could interrupt. One day his mother once told me, as Bill flew out the door on another self-directed mission, that Billy “was like the wind”. I knew what she meant.

High school for me, on the other hand, was about music and sports. I auditioned for the concert band during the summer before our freshman year and I won a seat in the first trumpet section. I also joined the cross country team and began running that same summer. I liked the new friendships these activities brought with them.

Though Bill and I were separated during school hours our social lives were entwined with our church’s teen’s group. It was in this group that we thrived emotionally. We could flirt with the opposite sex and spend endless hours in Bill’s car, just driving around so that we could just hold hands with someone sitting next to us. On the weekends, if were weren’t in church or in Bill’s car we would be at John’s Pizzeria drinking Cokes and gobbling large amounts of salty, greasy pizza.

The tables at John’s Pizzeria each had a flip chart jukebox. On the music menu were songs by groups like the Monkees, the Beatles, the Turtles, the Buckinghams, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Association and the Platters. Of course, everyone had their favorites. Bill would play Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business and the Monkees, Last Train to Clarksville.” I would play the Turtles “Happy Together”, the Association’s “Cherish” and the Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin.”

Our church’s teen’s group met at John’s Pizzeria after every Sunday evening service. It was a time and place like no other – a teenage haven. While the rest of the world was splintering into factions and the words of the Beatle’s “Revolution” blared from our table speakers, we met and talked about the things that mattered to us: who we liked, about our church, our parents, and our part-time jobs and about our school. Bill and I felt safe inside this circle of church friends.

Outside our close-knit world, momentous events marked our high school days: Martin Luther King was assassinated, April 4, 1968; Robert Kennedy was shot and killed on June 5, 1968; the first humans landed on Earth’s moon, July 20, 1969; Woodstock took place on Max Yasgur’s farm, August 18, 1969. And, the secularist album “Jesus Christ Superstar” would soon be released.

In 1969 I was informed by mail that I had to register for the draft. I was seventeen. Apparently, the Vietnam War needed more blood to fill its ranks. Bill, because of his school/work program, was not asked to register. After filling out the Selective Service card, I handed it to my mother. She worked at the counter of our local Post Office. As I walked away from her, I began to feel the draw of the world pulling me into its many conflicts. This unsettling feeling hid itself behind a mask of false bravado that I wore only briefly. I soon realized, though the television news didn’t show it, what being drafted could mean for anyone drafted– body bags, missing arms and legs, scars and tremendous loss. A fear grew inside me. A fear I had never known before. A fear of someone waiting to kill me; I could be chosen to step in front of a bullet.

On December 1, 1969, I nervously watched the televised draft lottery with my father. This draft lottery would determine who would be sent to Vietnam. Birthdates were given numbers from 1 to 366. These numbers, put into plastic capsules, were mixed in a large glass jar. A hand would reach in and select a capsule and then someone would read the number to the watching audience. The first number/birth date pulled would be the first persons to serve in the military; the next number would be the second wave of inductees and so on. The drawing would go on until 195 numbers were fished from the bowl. My father and I waited and waited, talking about anything except Vietnam. When the seemingly unending process finally concluded, my number would not be one of the 195 chosen to serve. I breathed a great sigh of relief. My father relaxed back into the couch, his knee finally still.

In 1971 Bill and I would graduate from high school. Bill was planning to go off to a technical school to learn about electronics technology. I would go off to Moody Bible Institute for a teaching and music career. But before we took off for more schooling, Bill and I would travel out west to Yellowstone National Park and the Rocky Mountains. In doing so, we would leave behind the volatile ‘60s and our umbilical youth. In it’s place: a “Lean-On-Me” friendship. This friendship would become the fuel for an exhausting road trip.

(If you wonder why a girl like me hung out with Bill, doing all that we did together, I can only tell you that the story is unfolding out before you. Before Sally there was…)

Part Two: Billy the Kid, Bill the Buddy, to be continued…

The True Myth of Friendship: Part Two

Continued from Part One…

Part Two: Billy the Kid, Bill the Buddy

1960. The move from the city brought our family thirty miles west of Chicago to a small suburban village. Our new subdivision housed Germans, Italians, Czechs, Mexicans and one family from the backwoods of Kentucky. The families on our street lived only on the northern half of the block. The southern half was paved but no homes had been built yet. Our ranch home was across the street from a German family and an Italian family. Billy’s house, across the street also, stood two houses north of the German family. It was during the first morning in our new location when I met Billy. But first, I caught sight of his dog Blackie.

On that bright summer morning I went out to our front yard to scope out the neighborhood. Our front yard, unfinished, lay before me as an uneven mass of sun baked dirt impressed with bulldozer tracks. As I was scouting the neighborhood I noticed that across the street someone opened a door of their cape cod. Immediately, a black dog bolted out between the woman’s legs, running as if it was escaping perdition. I watched the dog race down the driveway heading towards the open prairie at the end of our street.

Billy’s mom, standing on the stoop, called into the house yelling loudly, “Billy go out and catch your dog.” It took almost a minute for Billy to come stumbling out of their house. By now the dog was at the end of the block. Billy ran to the sidewalk and called down the street for Blackie. The dog, for whatever reason, was deaf to sound of him. I then saw Billy go down the street after the dog, just barely running. It appeared that physical exertion was something he did as a last straw measure.

I joined in the chase soon after when I saw Billy four houses down, bent over, huffing and puffing. This would be no problem. I had sprinter legs. I could out run any boy. I wanted Billy to know this so I chased after Blackie.

Once the dog was in tall grass, Blackie seemed to regain his perspective and turned back, having had his fill of doggie wanderlust. I walked up to Blackie, petted his beautiful black coat and slipped my hand under his dog collar. Billy then shuffled up and said, “Thanks.” I introduced myself. So did Billy. As we walked back to our houses, we talked about our new lives out in the middle of what we thought was nowhere. Billy’s family had moved to the neighborhood a year before.

Slightly plump, Billy instantly reminded me of Sluggo Smith from the Nancy comic strip. Billy would regularly wear blue jeans and a dirty white tee shirt that would never cover his belly button. Over time he stopped trying to pull his tee shirt down. And, over time I learned about his family.

Billy’s parents were German. His father was a security guard for an armored truck company. I would see him would come home and get out of his Cadillac wearing his Brink’s uniform, a gun at his side. When I was at Billy’s house, as I often was, I would see Billy’s dad come in the door and kiss his wife as she stood there waiting for him. She would then hand him a cold beer – a Schiltz. Taking the beer he would then go upstairs and change out of the uniform. After ten minutes or so Billy’s dad would come down stairs and go directly to his easy chair in their living room. This scenario was played out at 3:35 in the afternoon, five days a week. Billy’s mother, Millie, a housewife with two kids and an untamed dog, made sure that things went smoothly when Billy’s dad was home. But, between Billy and Dicky (Dicky was Billy’s brother) and Blackie dog, this was an impossible task. Billy’s mom had an easy going personality but the rest of the household each commanded a stream of consciousness narrative that would play out over and over again, turning the household mood into inevitable chaos.

I would soon learn that Billy’s father had an ugly disposition after a few beers. You certainly didn’t want to be around him any more than you had too. Avoiding him wasn’t hard, though. Most days after work, Billy’s dad was affixed in his easy chair, drinking his Schiltz, smoking his Camels and staring blankly at the TV. For supper, his wife would bring him food on a TV tray. The two of them would eat together in the living room. Then, after eating, Billy’s dad would often fall asleep in his chair. At ten o’clock the news came on. Then, after a few minutes of watching the news, he would finally go up to bed.

Whenever Billy and I wanted to play Pong and Billy’s dad was in his easy chair, us kids would walk quietly sneak up stairs to Billy’s room and close the door behind us. Billy and I kept our distance, safe in Billy’s world – his room.

Blackie dog didn’t know better. The dog often grabbed uneaten food from the TV tray while Billy’s dad slept. Aroused from sleep by the slobbering dog, the old man would let a string curses resound throughout the neighborhood. Hair would stand up and children would cower.

Billy’s room. Bill was the first techie I knew of. His room was decorated with ‘60s electronics: Eight track players, wall size woofers and tweeters, lava lamps, a commodore computer, an Atari game player, a color TV set and black lights.

Billy loved electronics: Radio Shack bags were all over his room as were subscription copies of Popular Mechanics and circuit diagrams. Under his bed were trays of resistors, rectifiers, Zener diodes, LEDs, capacitors, PC boards and a solder gun with solder. It was a mini low voltage electronics lab.

Billy would spend hours devising small electronic doodads: AM radios, beepers, BCD counting displays and countless other devices. He once devised an entrance alarm for their home’s doors. He wanted to know when his mother or father came home. I knew why.

It made sense, later, when Billy graduated from high school that he attended DeVry Institute of Technology. He would receive a Bachelors degree in Electronics Technology. One of his positions later in life: a QC manager in a prominent electronics firm. Billy was a hands-on techie with logical know-how. But, there was no science versus romantic conflict in him. He was also an ebullient romantic at heart. He nourished his romantic side with a constant stream of music.

Billy owned a large stack of LPs. And, as LPs were being replaced with eight track tapes Billy began another collection, but this time for his car. Billy bought music almost daily. A small sampling of his music would include the following: “Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman Turner (BTO), “Saturday Night Fever” by the by Bee Gees, the whole Woodstock album, “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Emerson Lake and Palmer, The Carpenters album, “Last Train to Clarksville” by the Monkees, The White Album by the Beatles and Rolling Stones’ albums. Billy especially liked the Fifth Dimension song “Bill”. He played this one almost every day. I had to listen.

When Billy played his music, the earth moved. The reverb would fill every inch of his house. Billy’s mother would yell and Billy’s father would yell but Billy would just shut the door to his room and crank the volume even more. For Billy, music was the ‘potential’ he needed in order for his ‘circuits’ to function well.

As I mentioned, Billy was a hands-on kind of guy. He worked on his car and sometimes on his parent’s car. He changed the oil, the filters, the tires, the air freshener – he wanted to work on it all and he did. One summer he took the engine out of his car. For Billy taking the engine out wasn’t a big problem. Putting it back in and making it work was a whole other situation. It didn’t go well. The car was finally towed to a mechanic who was able to restore the engine to its working order. Billy learned a lot about cars from working on them and I watched or helped as I could. If Billy was a book the title would be Zen and The Art Of Do-It-Yourself Mechanics.

Billy and I were best friends. I played with the other kids on the block but I spent most of my time with Billy. Because we were close I invited Billy to our church.

I wanted Billy to know about Jesus. I soon found out that Billy’s dad wanted nothing to do with the church. I could tell that this mom was interested in the Lord but she stayed home with Billy’s father. Billy attended the weekly boys club. During one summer we both attended the Vacation Bible School. We had fun together making crafts with popsicle sticks, listening to Bible stories and drinking gallons of Kool-Aid.

It was during this VBS week that the pastor held a chapel service for all of the kids. He asked if anyone wanted to follow Jesus. Billy and I both raised our hands. After a prayer we both went up front to talk with somebody about our decision. We were then given new Bibles. And, on a Sunday night not long after this Billy and I were both baptized. We gave our testimonies and were then immersed in the Baptist tradition. Billy unabashedly gave his testimony while standing in the baptismal tank.

Speaking with a newly found smile, I could tell that Billy was thrilled to be a part of something, something bigger than him, something that he could bump up against and know that it would not yell back at him. He felt accepted and loved. His words that day became words of thanksgiving for being accepted by Jesus and by his church family. I will never forget the day my best friend Billy decided to follow Jesus.

Above the choir loft, next to the baptismal tank, a wooden sign hung with a single line of text: “The Lord is in His Holy temple. Let all the earth keep silent. Habakkuk 2:20”.  During the 1960s and 1970s, the earth was not about to keep silent, especially not for Billy and me.


Part Two: Billy the Kid, Bill the Buddy, …continued here.

The True Myth of Friendship

The True Myth of Friendship Part One: Lena

Friends come and ago. At least in my life they have. I moved away from my first friend and then later another friend moved away from me. Some friends were friends in my mind only: these three ‘friends’ had other plans for me. One friend left me when I decided to make a life change and another close friend died. Friendship has always meant more to me than any romantic relationship. Friendship meant people liked to be together and do things together, sharing their imaginations. And, friendship wasn’t loneliness.

1957. Lena is the first friend that I can recall. She lived downstairs just below my family’s apartment. Lena’s parent’s, both of them immigrant Swedes, were the landlords. The three story apartment/house was situated in the middle of a quiet block on Long Ave. in Chicago. Beside the house was a stretch of grass, a garage and a food garden. Lena’s parents tended the garden daily. I can still taste the tart garden fresh strawberry-rhubarb pies my mother made from scratch.

Lena, a couple of years older than me, was in second grade. I had just started kindergarten. We attended the same school, Lowe Elementary, not far from our home. We would walk together. Lena, as I recall, looked as if she had walked out of a Carl Larrson painting: golden-blond hair, rosy cheeks, blue eyes and a snow white complexion. It was usual at any given moment, apart from school and sleep, for me to head out the back door of our apartment onto the open porch. I would run down the noisy wooden stairs to the first landing and from there jump down to Lena’s porch floor. The impact was enough to let Lena know that I was ready to play. Through their screen door I could hear Lena tell her mom that she’d be on the back porch playing with me. Her mother would respond in Swedish. The smell of cardamom bread often followed Lena to the porch.

Being best friends meant that Lena and I spent a lot of time together playing house, playing doctor/patient or playing doctor/nurse. We also played baseball and kick ball along side the house. When we did, Lena’s mother would anxiously look out the kitchen window. Her mother was very concerned about the ball coming near her garden or a window. When we hit the ball too close to the dining room picture window, we were scolded in Swedish. In English, we were told to go find something to do, but “not here.”

Finding something to do in the neighborhood was easy. It wasn’t long before we found out that a group of us kids could unscrew the nearby fire hydrant cap. On very hot summer days we would open the hydrant and let the gushing yellow water cool our feet. The splashing and laughing would go on until fire trucks came whirring around the corner. Heavily dressed men with big open eyes and mouths would jump out of their trucks. They would chase after the rapidly scattering crowd of waders hoping to give each one of us a disciplinary talk. Escaping their clutches, Lena and I would run and hide on her back porch. Once there, we would play firemen and fire. It was a Curious George time in our lives.

Friendship with Lena was an easy give and take. Each of us could easily imagine characters we wanted to be when we grew up. We would often role play a mother and father situation. When we did, Lena would always choose to be the father. I was to be the mother. As designated mother, I was relegated to making supper and having things ready when “father” came home from work. I would stand on the back porch stirring imaginary stews on an imaginary stove (the porch bench). At some point, “father” would come home, walking through the screen door out onto the porch. “Father” would give me a hug and say “How was your day, honey?” In return, I would say, “The kids were terrible.” The days of our parent’s lives were enacted again and again until the time had come for my family to move.

Besides Lena, there were other friends, too, whose names I can’t recall. I do remember that I would often walk down Long Avenue to the busy West Chicago Avenue. I would go with a friend or by myself (I was six years old. In those days, parents were not afraid of letting their kids wander through the neighborhood. I don’t think, though, my mother would have approved of this if she knew.) On the Avenue, I would sometimes visit and sit in on the service at the Salvation Army Center for the homeless and the drunks. The Captain knew me as a regular. To him, I must have looked like a lowly street urchin from a Charles Dickens’ story.

I would also visit a deli just next door. The sights and smells (and conversations) would delight my senses. There, I could buy a huge kosher pickle for only 5 cents. After paying the owner of the deli, I would reach into the pickle barrel and pull out a pickle that had been floating at the top of the briny vinegar water. I would eat the whole pickle, puckering my lips from the sourness. This is a memory that is as sweet and sometimes as acerbic as the friendships I’ve had.

Recalling the day we left our Long Avenue apartment, I was a terribly sad when our car slowly pulled away. We waved goodbye to our many friends who were gathered on the side walk. There were moms and dads, tree house friends, kids on bikes, the ice cream truck guy and, of course, Lena. That night, I couldn’t hold back the tears as I lay in my new bedroom in the new house on a new block in a new unfinished subdivision. I thought of the gushing fire hydrant, of Lena, and of the back porch where we staged our make-believe lives. I wondered, too, as I lay in my bed: Would there be fire hydrants and friends on this new street? The next day I would meet Billy and Blackie dog.


Part Two: Billy the Kid, Bill the Buddy…continued here.