The headline is part of a famous Helen Keller quote. The missing words: Life is either …
Spoiler alert! This one could wind up being sad in a way. Though that’s not what I intend for it. Sometimes these things take on a life of their own, however.
I’ve written about these topics before, but they came up again this week. In a bad way.
I guess it was Monday. I got a message from my old friend George Fountain. I was hoping it meant he was coming to Charlotte, and we could get together. Sadly, it wasn’t. George told me of the death of our mutual friend, Larry Scott. It shook me, but I couldn’t say it was a surprise. George and I had discussed before that Larry had been in poor health.
But it started me thinking about the old days. Larry, George and I met in seventh grade. When they fully integrated the schools in my county in Virginia. Before that, they’d gone to an elementary school just over the hill from Cluster Springs Elementary School.
George had – and has – a big personality. He was funny and cool and had the best laugh ever. I can’t even describe it – other than to say once he started going he sounded kinda like a duck quacking. But you couldn’t be around George longer than about a minute without liking him. And I was around George a lot that year (we’ll get to that part in a bit) and throughout high school.
Larry was quiet, kind of nervous. He had kind of a high-pitched voice, but he was kind and happy and liked being around people.
I’ve talked before about my love for basketball during those years. My friend Mike Lipford and I played nearly every day after school. We’d walk back to the playground at CSES. The outdoor court there was terrible. The asphalt reached unbelievably high temperatures during the summer, for one thing. For another, it was on an incline. Which meant that the goal on the one side of the court was slightly too high and the goal on the other side was slightly too low.
We preferred the low side. Some days, before the schools even mixed, some of the kids from the “other” school would walk down to the court. Usually they’d start on the goal that was too high, but it wasn’t long before they’d come down and we’d choose up sides and play. But it was always shirts and skins, not whites and blacks. I can’t remember ever playing hoops with George and Larry in those days – they lived farther away than the guys that walked down the hill to CSES.
Anyway, Mike and I also had played basketball the year before in what was then a city/county recreation league. Or maybe I should say Mike played. He was really good athlete and excelled in every sport I can think of. I was one of those players of whom Dean Smith always said, “He means so much to the team in practice.” Which was a kind way of saying I was a scrub.
The team was called the Springers. We wore dark (but not dook) blue uniforms, trimmed with yellow letters and numbers. I bought a pair of suede Converse shoes that sort of matched the colors going into my last year on the team, and I thought I looked pretty cool. Our coach, and he was the coach of pretty much every youth rec team in Cluster Springs, was a guy named Harrison Conner. He was a tough coach, he yelled at us a lot. And I believe he cut me twice from the local youth baseball team – and I have to say with good reason.
Anyway, this is where I really got to know George and Larry. We were Springers. We practiced together and played together and endured the yelling from Coach Conner together. We stayed friends the rest of our days in school. And, oh yeah: Larry, George and Mike were terrific players. They went on to play throughout junior and high school, and Larry was a scholarship player at what was then Elon College. Our other two starters were Ronnie Ratliff and myself. Our job was not to screw it up. We didn’t. Our team might have gone undefeated in the county league that year – there’s a chance we lost one game. My good friend Stephen Palmer would know, but I’d prefer to say we went undefeated. (We did lose in the South Boston World Championship game against the best team in the city league, the Hawks. But that’s a tale, possibly, for another day.)
And about that yelling coach. We didn’t know it at the time, but the community group that sponsored our team had dropped its backing before the season. Because we had integrated the Springers. The only reason we played that year was because Harrison Conner paid for it out of his own pocket.
I think I might have seen Larry once in the 38 years since we graduated high school. We had the kind of awkward conversation people do when they encounter one another after a long time. We shook hands and said we’d keep up, but we didn’t.
The strange thing is, I’d been thinking about the Springers a few days ago and how proud I was to be part of the team. I’ll miss you, Larry, but I’ll never forget you, old friend.
At my new job, we work with keywords a lot. The key word of that last sentence in the previous section, as far as this post goes, is this: Forget.
Later Monday, another friend sent me a message after she heard about Larry. She had some more sad news, concerning a mutual friend of ours (whom I won’t identify for what will become obvious reasons). She told me our mutual friend – who had been part of the group of kids with whom I had eaten lunch almost every day in high school – had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia.
I was devastated. I hadn’t seen her in years – probably not since I started college. She hadn’t attended the class reunion I attended a few years ago. But she was – and I suppose still is – a very kind, sweet person. And I know a little about early-onset dementia/Alzheimer’s.
That’s because a dear college friend of mine was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2008. I’ve seen her a few times since; sometimes Laura has known me and sometimes she hasn’t. I wrote about her here.
So I know what my high school friend is facing, and I’m scared for her.
The point of this: Live. Live while you can and as long as you can. Don’t put anything off. Hug your partner. A lot. It can all go away so quickly. Get all the happy in that you can. Make life a daring adventure. Don’t let it be nothing at all.