Friday, January 19, 2018

Elegy for a Friend

My boyhood chum, Kenny Richardson, died from a heart attack this week.
He was just a few weeks younger than me.
My earliest memories of the childhood years spent on Forum Drive include Kenny.
I’m still wrestling with the fact that he now belongs to the ages.
James Kenneth Richardson
(March 10, 1955 - January 17, 2018)
Kenny lived in the house across the street. He was the youngest of three. His father was a Navy veteran who worked for the post office, and I never knew what his mother did besides keep house and chase three kids, which is quite enough for anyone. Mrs. Richardson was one of our Cub Scout den mothers, and we met in their garage. I think every third grade boy in the neighborhood was in that first scout den.

We were never in the same classes at Valley Oaks Elementary School, which is probably a good thing, but we rode Bus #55, driven by Mr. Jenke, which picked us up at the bus stop across from Dr. Chreiten’s house, and dropped us off every afternoon on the corner, at the house next to mine. We grew up in the late 50’s and 60’s, when kids could and would play outside until dark, or our parents called us home—whichever occurred first. Kenny’s dad would whistle for him from the driveway of their house—one, slightly shrill, thin, drawn out shriek, emitted by two fingers placed in the corners of his mouth. Mr. Richardson would squeeze out that whistle like a bagpipe player, long and loud, and audible for two blocks, which was the effective range of our roaming as small children.

(My mother, on the other hand, would come to the front door of our house, and just holler, “Breeeeeeeyeeeeeent!” The results were the same. We’d stop whatever it was we were doing—storming the Alamo, playing Tarzan in the chinaberry tree, or crafting a fortress from scavenged items in the neighborhood—and head to our respective abodes for supper.)

We started band together at Landrum Junior High. (Ironically, our first Band Director, Jack Miles, passed away just last week at the age of 78.) Kenny chose the Sousaphone; I picked the snare drum. Our paths diverged when my family moved from Forum Drive into a new school zone, but I remember running into Kenny when our high schools would compete in football games. He’d be sweating in his band uniform with that fiberglass Sousaphone wrapped around his torso; I was sweating in mine, with a bass drum hanging from my shoulders.

In college I commuted to the University of Houston, and Kenny went to mortuary school. He married—and divorced—found a second career and retired. I lost track of Kenny in the process of my moving out of state, marriage, making babies, and work. 

Only with the advent of the Interweb and social media were Kenny and I to reconnect within the past few years. He’d generally IM me when I was working an air shift, ask about my parents, and make general comments on photos of my wife and kids. Once a year apiece, we’d salute each other’s birthdays. 

I found out Kenny was working as a credit manager for a liquor store, and I showed up one day, unannounced, to say hello and buy a bottle of gin for my gin raisin recipe. It was not a good day for surprise visits, and he didn’t have long to talk. We exchanged pleasantries, I bought a bottle of gin, and we shook hands and said, ‘see you around.’
Only, we never did, again.

Kenny leaves behind two older sisters and a slew of friends, and a place in the tapestry of my childhood memories.