The year was 1985. The year that I turned 56…on August 16th, the day that Elvis Presley died. As the news came to me about my friends, I kept wondering…am I next? I was not obsessed or paranoid, but the thought came to me several times during that fateful year.
We lived in Jupiter. I won’t repeat the joke that it was a far-out place. This was during my fourth through seventh grades of school.
Across the gravel road, there was a little modern log cabin house. The Debruhl family lived there, with two sons in the household. Son Jimmy was a year or so younger than me, and son E.B. was a year or so older. E.B. was my best friend.
E.B. and Jimmy were over at our house a lot. They were playing with me and my siblings when I fell while climbing in the tobacco barn outback of our two-story home. We played in the fields and woods down behind the barn.
We had acorn fights under the oak trees in our yard. We played marbles and played all the games the kids in the country did at that time, including catching lightning bugs (some called them fireflies) and putting them in a glass jar that we would put on our bedroom dresser to watch as we went to sleep. We rode the school bus together.
E.B.’s grandfather lived in a large Victorian frame house on the next knoll down from our house. Years after we moved away from the little community of Jupiter, E.B. inherited the fine home from his grandfather, and put a lot of labor into restoring the home.
After all of this effort, a fire started in the house. There was no fire department nearby, and E.B. was fighting the fire with limited resources.
It was in vain. E.B. died due to the vigorous exertion of fighting the fire.
I moved to Waynesville, entered the eighth grade and started the school newspaper, along with four of my friends. Tommy “Jeep” Noris was one of the friends.
Tommy and I formed a basketball team together. We had no uniforms, so we bought undershirts and got my sweet Mom to dye them red. We practiced and played practice games against industrial teams and the Catholic school team. The Armory basketball court was our home court.
Jeep broke his neck while diving down at Lake Junaluska. He was mostly paralyzed from the neck down, with limited use of his arms. This did not deter him from living a full life.
Jeep lived longer than most people with his condition. He was my best friend in junior high school (eighth and ninth grades). Jeep died the same year that my best friend in middle school, E.B., died. He also died at age 56.
My best friend and senior high school was Jimmy Gentry. Jimmy had a great bass singing voice. He was a mainstay of the barbershop octet we sang in.
We sang at all of the civic clubs in the county… Lions clubs, Rotary clubs, and many other places. I spent the night at Jimmy’s home several times. His father had a stomach ailment and had to drink goat milk for treatment.
The first night at Jim’s house I was served goat milk without being informed. I almost spit it out. You see, goats milk has a distinctly different taste from cows milk.
Jim took a shine to my kid sister Jane, and he discussed with me the possibility of dating her. Jane was three years younger than us, and I told Jim that he was too old to date her.
Little did I know that a few years later Jane would marry another of my classmates, Aaron Hyatt. Same age spread, but Jane was much older and mature when she married Aaron.
Jim went on to join the armed services and rose to the level of colonel. (I am not sure if he joined the Marines, Air Force, or Army. We had lost touch.)
Jim had served two or three stents in Vietnam. Thank you, Jim, for this.
Jim kept himself in good shape by playing tennis and jogging, and it was a great shock to everyone when he died of a massive heart attack while starting to take his wife to dinner.
Jim died at age 56. I was age 56.
My best friends in middle school, junior high and senior high all died in the same year, 1985. I could not help considering that maybe I was next.
It was a fearful thought, but I dodged the bullet. Here I am at age 89, 33 years later, still alive and in good health, compared to most my age.
I know not the reason that I have been spared meeting the Grim Reaper. Maybe God has other fields for me to plow, other rows to hoe, as the days of harvest seem to overtake me, as my friends wait on the other side of the mountain.