Bellbottom Blog

Scratching A Writing Itch From Time To Time

Friends

This might turn in to a bit of a ramble.

I was thinking about friends over the weekend.  As befits people my age, the thoughts came up after reading the obituaries.

So, let’s go back a few years.

In June of 1978, I was hired by the Postal Service to work as an operator on a letter sorting machine.  Actually, over 200 people were hired in over the next year just to work on those machines. They were, for that time, state of the art technology. Now, they are museum pieces.

You would sit at a 20 key keyboard and a vacuum arm would place a letter a second in front of you.You would read the letter, key in the proper code and it would be sent on its way. You had to do this with a 95% or better accuracy or risk being fired.  It was a little stressful. We found different ways to deal with the stress.  There was a golf league. In the spring and summer, co-ed softball. In the evenings, too many probably , there were the local bars. But we were young and the worries of liver damage were for old folks.

It was an interesting time for all of us. We were making more money than we had ever made in our young lives. $6.90 an hour.  So many of us, young and dumb.  The people I met back then are my oldest living friends. I don’t really have any to speak of from high school.  These guys are it.  We were part of a shared experience that only we understand.  Much like any factory group, you tend to stick with the people you came in with.  I know factory sounds like a strong word when you think of the mail, but in the distribution plants, it is noisy and dirty.  In the air there is a constant supply of paper dust.   I knew guys who worked for General Electric and our experiences were relatively similar.

So,in the group that I started with, on June 8, 1978 was a noisy young woman and a slightly older man.

His name was Steve. He was 39.

We got along really well. He told me his life story. And it was colorful, to say the least.

He had, at various points in his life, worked as a sheriff and worked for NASA.  His home state was Ohio and he got there as often as he could.

Funny and opinionated. Charming but with a hair-trigger temper. He knew what he wanted in life and was going to make sure he got it.

And he was my entrance into the life of hanging out in bars.  Something that would take up a considerable portion of the next 13 years of my life.

A group of us would get off work at midnight and head to the closest bar that we were all comfortable in and stay until closing.

He was great company and a wonderful storyteller.

The last time I saw him was about 10 years ago. He was still working at the main post office, fixing machines and alternately complaining and joking.  As you do with people you have known for a long time, we got caught up with what we both had been up to since the last time we saw each other.

This past weekend I read that he had passed away in hospice care at the age of 72.  He is going to be buried in Ohio with full military honors, said the obituary.

One story sums him up for me.

I talked to him at work one day and he said how tired he was.

I asked what he had been up to.

He said, “I went to Dayton for a cup of coffee.” (We were in Fort Wayne a few hundred miles away)

“I wanted coffee and the best coffee I know is in this coffee shop in Dayton.”

“How much did you have?”

“Just one. I had to get back here for work,” he said with a shrug.

So, this has left me reflecting on friendships.

I mentioned how close we all were in the early days.

And I realize that time passes, things change.

In my life, when we got married, I stopped going to bars, eventually stopped drinking altogether. No more golf league. And wound up not seeing any of the people I had invested so many years with.  That was by choice and I don’t regret that choice at all.

I didn’t think raising a family from a bar stool would be a good idea. I saw others try it and fail.

But…..when I read a friends name in the obits, there is always a small, lingering, nagging doubt in my head about the kind of friend I was to them.

I don’t have an answer to that.

I guess I could just wind up writing an unending string of posts about them when they pass.

Or maybe just realize that they made up a specific part of my life that helped me get where I am today.

Yeah, let’s go with that for now.

Peace.

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2 thoughts on “Friends

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend.

    I agree completely – everyone in our lives helps make us, in some way, who we are today. Good, bad, whatever. In some small way, or, in some cases, a bigger way. They affect us, we affect them.

    This is beautifully written, John. Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. Thanks. He was something else. I like the idea of having these stories about people I have met floating around the internet.

    I guess it is cathartic in a way. Or it lets me get the last word. Either way, I am glad you had a chance to read it.

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