I was super excited last Saturday when I rolled onto the Southern University campus in Baton Rouge. Like so many Saturdays over the years, I was headed to see the Jaguars play football.
The COVID-19 pandemic had robbed me and other Jaguar fans of the excitement that is college football in the fall.
The rules had been set for Saturday; there would be no tailgating. With no chance of hanging with my tailgate group, I parked my vehicle about 100 yards from our spot. What was the point?
After a half-mile walk to get a game ticket, I returned to my truck. My mood had changed. An emptiness had consumed me. Not only would I not be enjoying tailgating with my group, Mike, my friend from childhood, would not be there. Mike died last year.
Mike loved tailgating. He fancied himself as the group leader. Anytime the media came around, interviews had to go through him. We were OK with that.
Mike talked a lot. I mean a lot. Sometimes even more than that. He could be funny, insightful and annoying simultaneously. There was no subject beyond Mike’s intellect, whether he really knew about it or not. But that was Mike, and it was what everyone loved about him.
He had a slight stutter, but that was like seasoning in gumbo. It just added spice to what he was talking about.
Mike was kindhearted and instantly a friend to newcomers. He was your friend to the end. Both he and I were raised, for the most part, by our grandparents. So we both knew what obedience meant. "Stop right there" meant not another step. And a certain look meant you didn’t have anything else to say.
Mike was a school librarian. In the neighborhood where we grew up, that identification would have raised eyebrows and smirks. But Mike made being a librarian cool. He wore it like a badge of honor. Just ask the students and faculty at Buchanan Elementary School.
Mike and his wife, Brenda, are subdivision neighbors. During the great flood of 2016, Mike and Brenda waded through water to get to my house where my wife and I made breakfast for them and we ate under my carport. Their house took on several feet of water, but he never whined. Months later, their house was better than before.
If I had to leave town, I could call Mike to take a ride by the house to see if I had left something out or if a package had come. There would be times Mike would call and congratulate me on one of my columns. He was never negative.
Those thoughts weighed on me as I sat in my truck. For some reason, I drove over to where we tailgated and parked in Mike’s and Brenda’s usual spot. I don’t know what I was hoping for, but I parked there and sat for a few minutes.
I swear I could hear Mike laughing and saying “Boy, you a fool,” something he would say to me when we would be “joking on each other.”
Just as I was getting out of the vehicle, a group of young women passed and I asked one of them to take a photo of me standing near my truck in that spot. I just wanted to feel something, I guess.
I remained a little longer, reflecting on all those times laughing with him and our tailgate group. I wondered how Brenda was that day. I know if Mike was here, they would have been on the campus.
Mike would have called me earlier to ask if my wife and I were going and they would have stopped by our location. During that conversation, Mike would have found a way to call me “homeboy” and mentioned something that happened in our old neighborhood.
As we would have started walking to the game together, I probably would have said something that launched everyone into laughter.
And his response would have been the standard, “Boy, you a fool.”
I miss my friend.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman, at email@example.com.