An older man walked into a pub in Burlington, Vermont on a recent Saturday afternoon. It was minutes away from a heavy rain. The guy went downstairs to the men’s room. He was there at the pub to meet an old friend and he was about two minutes late. As he climbed the stairs, he realized he had a problem…he hadn’t seen his friend in 50 years! He had no idea what he would look like. The man and his wife had already scanned the pub but he saw no one who might remotely look like his old pal.
And he was an old pal. They played together as children…lived close enough to see each other’s house. They played “cowboys & indians” in the backyard. They played “army” in a neighbor’s backyard. On hot summer nights, they slept on a large back porch, listening for the tire skids and crash as the cars came around “broken-arm” curve in front of one of the boy’s houses. One of the backyards stretched to the Susquehanna River…it was a giant playground, war zone and hiding place. The other boy had The Brick Pond in his backyard. Skating in the winter…turtle watching in the summer. It was a small town called Owego, in upstate New York. It was the 1950’s.
One of the boys brought a new vinyl album over to his friend’s house. It was the early ’60’s. He put the record on and said: “Listen to this guy…he’s saying something.”
The friend listened. He didn’t like what he heard. It wasn’t Dion. It wasn’t Fabian. It wasn’t Frankie Avalon.
“This guy can’t sing…he sounds weird. I don’t understand what he’s saying.”
The boy with the album knew what was happening. He heard the words.
The uninformed boy took another year to grasp what was being played that night. That nasal voice and those complex lyrics.
It wasn’t: “Why must I be a teenager in love?” It was “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Later, during their last year of high school, they sat on the front porch of one of the boy’s houses and talked about the future. Their paths were about to diverge forever, or nearly forever. One of them was destined for college the other for Viet Nam. Their lives grew apart and they lost touch…not to see each other for another 50 years.
The old man climbed the stairs from the restroom. On the deck was a man talking to his wife. He felt as though he had never seen this guy before. He had a cane. He looked a bit old, like so many men do when they get to their late sixties.
The stranger talking to his wife was the old friend. They embraced after 50 years. Both had been through highs and lows, good times and bad. Divorces and deaths.
They weren’t two kids with stick swords in a weedy backyard anymore. Time had carried them to the outside deck of the pub in Burlington. Time had given them a stoop in the shoulders. Time had taken away their dark hair. Time had given them illnesses and joint pains and muscle aches.
They used to fish in the Susquehanna River with a stick and a string and a cheap hook. They each had gone through a fly-fishing stage in the middle years. They won’t be sharing this, most likely.
Calendar pages fall to the floor. The man had a cane…it fell to the floor. Someone picked it up. Things are so different.
It took half a century before Jimmy Merrill and Pat Egan met again.
It started to rain heavily.