There are not many things I love more than having a free evening and a blank sheet of paper in front of me. I love it even more when I fill that sheet up with words.
What is exciting to me is that I never know where it is going to take me. It is always an adventure as to where I will end up. Each and every time I plan on writing about something specific I never do. I am never able to plan it out like that. I just let the story or subject just flow out of my memory. I like the thrill of looking at a picture or listening to some music that bring back some memories and I just love to let it flow from there and see where it takes me. It is probably why my writings are so disjointed sometimes. Like I have always said… I love to write, I’ve never said I was good at it.
Tonight was no different from any other night. I sat down without a plan and I started staring at the blank page in front of me. I was wondering where it will take me tonight. Just then a picture that is in a small frame sitting on my office desk caught my attention. In that frame is a small faded picture of me and Bryan Blakley. That picture was taken just before we picked up our dates for the Homecoming Dance in 1976. We were desperately trying to look cool in our leisure suits and long hair. We failed.
For some reason I started to think about Bryan. I had known him for over 45 years. I do not really remember a time when he wasn’t part of my life. From about the age of 6 to 17, I cannot think of one thing that I was a part of that he wasn’t involved with in some way. He and I played together and fought together. We did just about everything together…whether that was skipping school…going on a double date or just hanging out.
One of my favorite remembrances of him was a time that we walked home from the fair about the time we were 16. We had just spent the last night of the fair walking around checking out the girls and just having a good time. Nothing of real significance happened that evening at the fair. As a matter of fact, I don’t really remember anything specific even happening. Just the two of us acting stupid, (and again) trying to be cool. We failed again.
The fair had closed for the night about 11:30 and Bryan and I decided to walk home that night. The Ottawa County Fairgrounds is located about six miles outside of Oak Harbor, Ohio. At 16, the premise of walking six miles to home on a hot summer night seemed to be perfectly logical. I remember that it was pitch black that night. It seemed you couldn’t see past your next step. We took our time. There was no need to hurry. Didn’t seem like there was that much to go back to.
Maybe it was just the mood we were in or maybe it was because it was so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. But I remember that Bryan and I talked about everything on that long walk home. We talked about our childhood, our families. We talked about music, what we liked and disliked. We talked about girls. We talked about our future. He told me what his plans were for his life. Bryan wanted to leave the tiny confines of Oak Harbor, Ohio. He wanted to see the world and the sooner the better. For me, I wasn’t exactly panicked about my plans. I don’t think up to that point in my life I had ever given a second thought about what I was going to do with my life. Hey – I was sixteen years old. To me, the future was for someone else to worry about.
We had walked almost all the way to town when suddenly Bryan and I stopped talking. It seemed as if there was nothing left to say. I suddenly had the over whelming feeling that somehow that night I walked out of my childhood and into the next phase of my life. I wanted to stay there, in that night… more than anything I wanted before. But I knew I couldn’t. I was sixteen. I slept under a roof my father owned, in a bed my father bought. Nothing was mine, except my fears. And my growing knowledge that not every road was going to lead home anymore. Things were about to change. Walking through that neighborhood I grew up in, I realized that there was a time I knew every family on the block. Their kids, names of their dogs, but most of those families were gone now. Scattered. The ones who stayed were not the same. The world was moving on. My world… their world… a place where only the lights remained the same.
So… we went home.
As I reflect on that night, some 35 years later, I think about a lot of things, like hometowns, like family – the shortcomings, the flaws and the arguments. Still, in a world of inconsistency and doubt… maybe home is what you make it. Like I have said before, most small towns were all about the same. Sure, some may have been a little bigger than Oak Harbor, and some may be have been a little greener… but there was only one real difference. Only one of them… was yours.
We didn’t really accomplish anything that night. At least that is what I thought at the time. Our remaining high school years that lay ahead would find us moving in different directions. There would be other nights where we would hang out and try to be cool. We always failed. But the sad truth is there wasn’t ever another night just like that one. That night and the long walk home will always be set apart in my memory and in my heart.
Over the next 30 years when our paths crossed and we would always talk and we knew that there would always be a special friendship between us, but it would never be the same as it was growing up on that alley between Walnut and Washington Streets.
A few years ago, I received a phone call. I just couldn’t believe the news on the other end. Bryan had passed away. I was already reeling from the loss of my closest friend (Bob Emrich) in May of that year and now my childhood friend was gone as well. I was shocked and in some ways I am still not over the loss of my two closest friends. For whatever reason, God sometimes allows people to be taken very quickly from us. Many times, so fast that we never get the chance to say the things we needed to say.
I will cherish that time. The last conversation with him was no different from any conversation I would have had with him over 35 years ago when we walked home from the fairgrounds. Our lives indeed took different paths but we will always share the common bond we found in what we call family.
Growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were. You wonder what’s to come. But that night, I think Bryan and I knew it was time to let go of what had been, and look ahead to what would be. Other days. New days. Days to come… when only the lights remained the same.