My first best friend was Doug. Well, okay, he might not have been my first best friend, but he’s the first one I can remember. And I might not have been his best friend, but it doesn’t really matter. Here’s the story, and why I think about it now.
In the early 1950s, when I was 7 years old, we moved from New York to California, settling in the northwest San Fernando Valley. We arrived just in time for the school year and my entry into the second grade. Almost immediately, I met Doug, a kid open to friendship with the newcomer. Doug was the shortest kid in the class but athletic and smart. I liked him immediately and I became one of his several close friends, who readily accepted me into their little clique.
Despite Doug’s wiry athleticism, he could be painfully slow of execution. At lunchtime, he would carefully remove his dental retainer, set it aside, and then eat his lunch painfully slowly and carefully. Long after the rest of us had inhaled our PB&Js, Doug would be chewing his sandwich, grapes, chips – whatever, so meticulously as to make the rest of us crazy, but we’d forgive him for using up so much of our lunch period because he was the kind of kid that you instinctively liked and, more importantly, was the kind of kid you wanted to like you.
I always wanted to be invited over to Doug’s house, mostly because he had an elaborate tree house in his backyard, the most outstanding characteristic of which was the “pee-pipe”, which was just what it sounds like it was, although I think it was later used as a hiding place for rolled up nudie magazines, issues of sanitation not withstanding. I only was invited into the tree house a couple of times, and I knew that his other friends spent considerably more time in it. This was my first indication that, although Doug and I were friends, I was not necessarily his best friend. It stung a bit, but I hung in.
When we were 12, we both became ham radio operators and were able to talk with one another using Morse code over the radio. This was far more exciting than using the telephone and, besides, aside from my father being a doctor and needing ready access to the phone, in those days we had a party line which I couldn’t monopolize.
By the time we got to junior high school, our social group had expanded, but Doug and I were the only ones in the group who had decided we would be engineers. This dedication to the physical sciences held through high school. Despite our common interests, the day we graduated to go off to college was the last time I saw Doug, and I have no idea whether he actually did become an engineer. I didn’t. I became pre-med after a time and ultimately went to medical school.
It’s been over fifty years since losing touch with Doug. I’ve always hoped he’d turn up at one of our high school reunions, but he never has, and no one seems to know what’s become of him. I’ve searched the internet and all the common social media sites with no success – it’s as if he’s vanished from the face of the earth.
As I get older, I’ve come to realize that there’s no particular value in living in one’s past, but remembering it and periodically reaching out to touch it helps to create perspective on the journey we’re all taking. Life, as we all know, is short, and having some sense of the composite whole of our brief existence is very comforting. It’s why, although I was miserable in high school (another story for another time), I always attend my class reunions. It’s wonderful to see old acquaintances and share the stories of our lives. This is especially so now for those of us who are leading edge baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s. We are the triumphant survivors of the ancient curse of living in interesting times.
So, Doug, if you’re still out there, and on the miniscule chance that you’ll stumble across this article, please, please reach back to me. I’d love to hear from you.
Your (not necessarily best) friend,