For The Tribune-Democrat
I find it remarkable that so many folks, especially young people, have literally hundreds of friends on their Facebook page. They have not been alive long enough to have that many friends, much less acquaintances.
We use the term ‘friend’ very loosely, when in fact there are various degrees of friendship.
I have been blessed with many close friends over the years, both here in town and during my time in Atlanta. I have written about some of my friends over the years: Chuck, Fred, Lynn, and of course, the Norlen gang: Tom, Ron, Jim, Dave, Randy and Deacon Bruce.
My oldest friend (seniority-wise) in the world is Bob M., with whom I have been friends since third grade. Our friendship was formed in the cauldron of grade school and continued on as we graduated from St. Benedict Grade School, Richland High School, Pitt-Johns-town and now into life itself.
This past summer I had the good fortune to reunite with Bob and his wife, Flo, for the first time in many years. They live in Florida and rarely get back to Johnstown. I cannot remember how long it has been since I had seen Bob. Too long.
But we fell back into our old familiar patterns of friendship and conversation.
Bob’s sainted wife graciously endured our many stories of our halcyon days of youth, reveling in our triumphs and supportive of our past setbacks.
Bob, like my other good buddy Tom, had open heart surgery last year. With my recent strokes, Bob and I had our hospital stories to exchange. Older but wiser, we both encouraged each other to stay healthy.
Bob is still the same nice, quiet, well-mannered guy I knew since grade school. And yet Bob is an imposing figure, a tall redhead who earned his black belt in karate back in high school.
Bob was a loyal friend you could always count on; someone who always had your back.
During gym class our senior year at Richland, swimming was added to our course, with our new Olympic-size pool.
Our gym teacher, in an effort to teach us how to swim, offered us ultimately the ‘sink-or-swim’ method by diving off the board into the deep end. I was not enthusiastic about this, but Bob said he and another classmate would rescue me if I did not surface. After jumping into the deep end, I sank to the bottom.
Suddenly, I felt Bob and the other guy tugging at my arms and pulling me back up.
It was not the first time Bob came to my aid, and not the last time either. Bob was as constant as the sun; a true friend.
He was also a great audience: He always laughed at my jokes. I always assumed it was because Bob had a great sense of humor, like myself. But true friends are always a great audience.
Bob and I have a lot in common. We are both the oldest of three brothers (although Bob has two sisters as well). We are both redheads who grew up reading comic books and were Cub Scouts, and we share the same political leanings. Our parents also became friends after Bob and I became friends.
Unfortunately, we both lost out fathers in the not-too-distant past, who we both miss very much. Dad and Mickey (Bob’s dad) always supported our Cub Scout events with their attendance and enjoyed each other’s company.
As for today, Bob and I keep in touch with email and phone calls. We still tell the same jokes and same stories and add new jokes on current events.
Bob also comments on my columns in the paper, and always has a kind word to say about them.
I have a lot of respect and admiration for Bob. He knew what he wanted to do in college (psychologist) and achieved his goals in record time, finishing his four-year coursework in two years at Pitt-Johnstown before moving on to postgraduate schooling.
Bob is someone I have always looked up to, figuratively and literally. I know Flo, his mom, Dora, and his siblings are very proud of him, as am I to be his friend.
And I know his dad is looking down from heaven with much pride for his eldest son.
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