Friday, December 8, 2017

A True Friend

The summer I turned three, my family moved off the family farm (now Greenfield Restaurant and Bar for those familiar with Lancaster Co., PA) to become town dwellers in New Holland, PA. We lived on Locust Street in the first house (click on the link) in a duplex. Except for the fact that the duplexes weren’t connected together, our block comprised of what could be described as row houses on both sides of the street.

We were the only Mennonite family to live on the street, so we met quite a few interesting families in the neighborhood, including a Hawaiian family whom my father befriended. The man had just been released from jail for involuntary manslaughter due to an automobile accident, and my dad took him under his wing to help the transition back to life on the outside.

One of the other diverse families lived eight doors down the block from us. They were Catholic. They had a son Paul who was my age. If you grew up in the 50’s, I probably don’t need to define for you how most non-Catholic evangelicals, including Mennonites, viewed Catholics.

Paul and I became inseparable friends. He was an only child and his parents doted him with all the wordily goods children our age wanted. Our family consisted of four and grew to seven before we moved. Needless to say, there weren’t many extras at our house, so I spent all my time at Paul’s house. I remember my brother desperately wanting a baseball glove like all the other neighborhood boys. Since we couldn’t afford such a luxury, my mom sewed together a glove out of old material. My brother was so proud of the glove he ran right out to play, slapping his fist to form a pocket to catch a ball in. The other boys laughed him right off the field.

Paul had a sand box in his back yard, and we moved endless amounts of dirt with his front loader and dump truck. We played cowboys and Indians. He wore the chaps and strapped his pistol around his waist and he gave me the bows and arrows. He had a tent, so we spent a number of summer nights sleeping outside. I do remember the first night was a bit frightening. We heard a noise and got scared and ran home.

I can still visualize and smell his house. It was a mixture of cigarette smoke and beer—two smells totally foreign to me. Upstairs there were statues scattered around. In their basement was a workshop where his dad spent his free time working on various projects. And they had a TV! Of course, Mennonites didn’t have TV, so I would go over to his house to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings.

Other that a few Western shows, where we learned how to authentically play cowboys and Indians, we didn’t spend much time watching TV. We were too busy playing. The wide expanse of land on the other side of our house gave plenty of space for exploring. In the summer, the empty field was usually filled with corn. In and out of that we would run, inventing games as we went.

On the top of the hill behind my house was a church and a large graveyard. We remember Memorial Day ceremonies, where a troop of soldiers would come and after playing some patriotic songs, would shoot their guns into the air. Once we sneaked into the church basement through an open window. We played hide-and-seek in the Sunday school rooms.

In spite of the differences between Mennonites and Catholics, my parents never forbade our activities and friendship. Perhaps they warned me about the dangers of TV, or other things, but I don’t remember.

Our first separation came when school began. I went to the local elementary school for first grade, and he went to a private Catholic school. We could handle that, because we still had afternoons and summers together.

Our biggest separation came before I entered the third grade. Our family, having grown out of the little row-house, bought a house and moved to Goodville, some five miles to the east of New Holland. It was the summer that I turned eight. This was a bigger challenge. I was devastated. I can still vividly remember a dream I had that we had returned to New Holland, and when I woke up I was distraught. I wanted my dream to be real. I missed my friend Paul more than anything else.

One day, about a month after our move and just before school began, there was a knock at our side door. It was my friend Paul! He had ridden his bicycle, without his parents’ permission, all the way to Goodville to visit me! Five miles on a 20” wheel bicycle was quite a feat for an eight-year old. This was how much our friendship meant to him!

My mother, half in shock, called his mother to tell her where her son was. Paul’s mother was also in shock. They came in their car to retrieve him and the bicycle. I don’t know what punishment he received for his little excursion, but I can imagine it wasn’t pleasant.

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from a vintage ode to friendship
by Janice May Udry
I don’t remember having any contact with Paul after that incident. I returned to New Holland for high school, but he continued attending a Catholic school.

I’ve had many friends since Paul. But I don’t remember ever being as devoted to any other male friend as with Paul. This despite huge differences in upbringing and faith traditions. The innocence of childhood with the lack of socialized prejudices—what a refreshing reminder for an adult.

Have you had a best friend?

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