Monday, October 22, 2012

Memory of a Friend

Did you ever have a memory jolted to the forefront of your thoughts at the mention of a name?

Friday, as I talked to a visitor at the Harvest Moon Festival at Dakota Village in Farmington, she mentioned that her last name was "Sayers." She said she had been married to Jack, who had passed away.
 I quickly asked, "Did he have a brother named Jim and one named Jerry"?

Mrs. Sayers said, "Yes, but all the brothers are dead now. Jim died young and Jerry died a couple years ago."

My heart jumped to my throat for a second. I asked in disbelief, "What?'

She repeated her statement.

I said, "Jerry was one of my best friends in school. We go back to the fourth grade."

Mrs. Jack Sayers was friendly and willing to talk, and we chatted about a number of things before she had to move on.

Later, when customers had left, I sat down to reconstruct what I remembered of my early childhood friendship with Jerry Sayers.
When the country school closed, I was bused to Lakeville Public School to begin my first year as a fourth-grader. Lots of things were new: 
I had never seen a urinal before and when we had a lavatory break, I lagged behind to see how it was supposed to work. I still remember waiting in a long line to use the urinal and hearing the gush of water as each boy pulled the handle to flush after he'd finished.
I'd never heard of a milk break, but on the first day our teacher, Mrs. Thomas, selected me along with a couple other boys to go to the milk cooler in the big school to fetch the wire containers of bottled milk and carry them to the fourth-grade classroom. Although I was used to the smell of cows and manure from helping milk in my parents' dairy barn at home, the sour-milk stench in the walk-in cooler at school made me gag. 
And when I first tasted the bottled milk, I nearly puked. I was used to the taste of the milk from our cows on the farm where I lived. Mom had always put our raw milk in clean jars that smelled really good. 

Other new things for me included playing catch with a football for the first time, playing kickball, and playing basketball. I'd never even seen a football or basketball before this.
Also, I'd never seen so many kids that were my age!
Recesses were fun. At first, it was great!

But I soon learned the downside. 
Thirty-five to forty kids doing the same lesson in one room was not nearly as interesting as in the country school where we had just a few kids in each grade, one through six, and where I could listen to all the lessons of all the big kids. 
Also, the country school was small enough where we all played together, boys and girls. Kids in the town school seemed to be in "groups." I knew almost no one, but I seemed to make a few new friends fast.
One of these new friends was Jerry Sayers. Jerry was a smiley kid, who could never keep his shirt tucked in because of his height. He was always the tallest kid in class.

One day at lunch break Jerry approached me and said, "We can go downtown, you know." I really didn't know what "downtown" meant. I just nodded. He said, "Com-on, I'll buy you a nickel Coke at the drugstore.
And we walked downtown, a long quarter mile, to a narrow building with a green front. I had never seen a soda fountain, and as we entered, I stared at the slick stools, the shiny counter top, and the stack of glassware on my left. When I turned to look at the wall on my right, I tried not to stare at the glossy magazines on the rack less than three feet from my stool. I saw the pictures and turned away, embarrassed.

Jerry sat on a stool and I followed his lead. Then he ordered two nickel Cokes from Ed, the pharmacist and owner. Ed was an older fellow who didn't seem to smile a lot, but he seemed to genuinely like his customers, even though you had to look pretty hard to see any expression in his face. 
Ed expertly pumped a dark substance into a small, sparkling glass. Then he moved the glass to another spout to fill it with bubbly water. He repeated the task for a second Coke and then placed the Cokes with straws in front of us. I looked at Jerry. He knew this was my first. He grinned and gently sucked on the straw. I did the same. Sure, I had tasted Coke out of bottles, but this--this flavor and this bubbly texture--was heavenly!

Even though our paths in high school took some different directions, Jerry and I remained friends through all of our school years. In high school Jerry was in sports and involved in other school activities. I was not. But once a month or so he would stop me in the hall and say, "Com-on. Let's go get a nickel Coke."

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