Growing Older

The girl that I had a crush on my junior year in high school kind of had a crush on him. She was smart, though. She never allowed the attraction to affect her better judgement. David was and is one of the two most intelligent human beings I know. We met in the second grade. Dr. Dobson probably would have named David the prototypical “strong-willed” poster child.

He was the smartest kid in the class and very independent at 7. He lived in the country. Going to his house was fun. There were lots of woods to explore and we hiked what seemed miles in them. He liked G.I. Joe. I had never seen one before, but thought that the Gemini space capsule that was wrapped around the doll was way cool. We were friends for a year or two, but lost touch by the end of grammar school.

In 10th grade, one of my musician friends called and asked me to come sit in with some new people he had met. One of them turned out to be David. He was 16 and had picked up guitar. Let me restate that; I think he picked up the guitar at about age 12 and never put it down for 3 years. He had discovered the blues and listened to all of the guitar giants. David could play Albert King licks on a Les Paul without stringing it upside down. Like all of the rest of us, he was an Allman Brothers fanatic, and had learned to play slide guitar “just like Duane.” He was very good.

In those days, David had an ego larger than Robert E Lees’s carving on Stone Mountain. He had long hair in a pony tail and attracted girls like a magnet. The smart ones didn’t stay around him long, though. He could be tough to deal with. So could I. The renewed friendship was always a little tentative. The girl I had a crush on called him “obnoxious Dave.” I don’t know what she called me. I never got anywhere with her either.

When I left for college, David didn’t. I wasn’t really surprised. He was really a little too smart for that. I expected him to make it in music. He had the Macon contacts that were important in those days. David didn’t make it big, though. It was a couple of other guys in that garage band that went on to form a moderately successful 1980s band, REM. I lost touch with Dave, hearing about him occasionally.

I walked into Nu-Way hotdogs on Monday afternoon with the intent of getting something to go. I had wasted an hour on bureaucratic nonsense in an attempt to get the signs approved for AlphaGraphics. Nu-Way was a quick stop on the way back to work. I saw him sitting in the back and called his name. He put on his round glasses and looked just the same as he did at 18; pony tail intact but only a little older and with a receding hairline. He said that he was working on Robert Reichart’s mayoral campaign. Headquarters was right next door and Nu-Way was convenient. He was eating with another campaign worker.

We caught up. He talked, I mostly listened. I was introduced to the other campaign worker, but the poor guy got left out of the conversation. The ego was still there, but tempered a good bit by the years. He had published a newspaper, toured the country playing solo guitar, done some graphic design and writing. Both of his parents had died. His mom had Alzheimers and David took care of her during her last years. He told me that he lives in the country outside of Cochran and picks up odd jobs . . . carpentry work, campaign management and stuff.

At one point of the conversation, he looked me directly in the eye and said, “You know I was pretty much an ___hole in those days.” I told him that we thought that it was listed on his drivers license, that he was permitted for it. “I’m sorry for whatever I did,” he said.

Acknowledging both of our strong-willed tendencies, I apologized in turn. David went on to talk about his mom during her last days. I remember that her name was Pearl and that she could cook and that she and David did not get along well at all when he was sixteen. David said that he had inherited his personality characteristics from Pearl. During her last months, she spent a lot of time worrying about people she had offended over the years. She tried to track them down, but many had died before her. This made an impression on David.

It made an impression on me, too. We cut a wide path with our lives without ever realizing it. We can leave destruction and damage in our wake even when we don’t intend it. The New Testament has a lot to say about this and (thankfully) that we can be forgiven for it.

In our younger days, I was skeptical of anything that could be termed “religious.” David was downright derisive. Christians were “dearlords,” if I recall correctly. Never the intruding evangelist, I didn’t ask if he had come to an end of himself during his journey, if he had looked for something greater to hold on to, if he had discovered a need for God. I hope I get another chance to.

We don’t change but we do. We grow older, a little wiser, a little mellower, maybe more tolerant. David and I talked about another old friend that has moved to North Georgia. He quit drinking before he killed himself. When we’re young, we think we’re the masters of our own existence. We’re in control. Then we encounter trials and tests; our lives are bent and sometimes broken as God points out to us how very limited our control really is . . . and causes us to turn to Him and walk another way.

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