Sometimes in life you have to deal with certain feelings like “I should have …” “I could have …” and “I wish I …”
I am in that season right now, but I know I’m not alone.
Things started innocently a couple of weeks ago. While perusing the obituaries in the local newspaper, I discovered that Leon had died. He was one of the older guys in my neighborhood. The big thing with him and a couple other older dudes was they would let me play basketball with them. They would teach me the ropes, which usually hurt.
While I usually was on the losing team, I learned a lot about competition and protecting myself, and dishing out a little pain myself. I appreciated that. Sometimes, just listening to him and other guys provided inspiration for other things. I hadn’t seen him in about 25 years, but I appreciated what he and those guys did for me.
The next day, I was headed to the funeral for James, another friend. James and I became friends in high school where we played football together. He was an instant shock to my senses when I saw him the first time because he had a mouth full of gold teeth. We ribbed him constantly about it but he was good-natured.
After high school, he would go off to the military and move away. He returned decades later, the gold teeth gone, picking up a life that had gone through some changes and not all of them great.
It was good to talk with him because he was not shy about talking about the ups and downs in his life. He fought his problems and would surprise me, sometimes calling about tiny and large things. I rarely, though, initiated a call to him. There was no way I was going to miss his funeral.
“I should have …”
During his funeral, it was announced that another long-time friend had died. “Wait, what. Robbie is dead?” That immediately changed things in my mind, because all I could see was my friend Robbie, whom I played baseball with from Little League all the way through high school.
A few days later, I was in the car headed to Robbie’s funeral. I could still see him snagging line drives and hot grounders at third base. I could see him laughing and telling jokes in junior high and high school.
Life had been tough for Robbie after he was shot and spent many years in a wheelchair. But he soldiered on in spite of physical limitations. I saw him twice in all those years.
“I wish I …”
About five minutes away from the funeral home, my phone rings. “Did you hear that Oliver died last night?” asked the caller. Naw, this can’t be happening.
I knew Oliver was ill, but not close to death. I was stunned. Oliver was a genuinely good guy who had fought health issues for a while. The last time I saw him he was getting around with a cane. He was a lot different from the well-built running back I played football with back in the day.
"I should have ..."
A couple days after I got that news, there was another text message. “I hope you know that Aunt Vic died.”
Aunt Vic was one of those steadying voices. She spoke her mind. I remember how she stood strong with love and assurance with my dad’s traumatic hours before and after he had a leg amputated. I went to visit her a couple years ago when she was recovering from a medical procedure. But not since.
In all of this, there is a lesson learned. Spend time talking to as many old friends as you can. It’s tough, but it can be done. That way you won’t have to say, “I wish I …”
You will be reading this column on Friday night or Saturday morning. I will have gone to a wedding on Friday evening. I will see my daughter, granddaughter, niece and son-in-law. I know they will make me smile. I will need it.
I will be attending Aunt Vic’s funeral on Monday. “Yeah, I wish …”
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman, at email@example.com.