On June 2, 1992, my family moved from Louisville to Brandon. I met a few kids that first summer before school started, but when band camp rolled around a couple weeks before the first day of school, I got a jump start on making friends. So, on my first day of high school, I wasn’t totally lost. There were familiar faces peppered throughout the student body. Little did I know that I’d met my best friend throughout high school on the first day of drum camp.
Justin and I were friends all through our freshman year at BHS, but there was a Sunday afternoon outing in early May of 1993 that solidified it.
I was engrossed in my usual Sunday afternoon nap when dad said there was somebody at the door for me. After shaking off the fog, I stumbled down the hall to see who it was and was surprised to see Justin standing there. He asked if I could go with him to the reservoir, and I assured mom and dad there was plenty of time for us to go and get back in time for church at 6. They debated for a minute and. said I could as long as I was back in time to get cleaned up before I went.
We hopped in his sweet ’72 GMC with its tasteful glass pack exhaust and went to his house to pick up his step dad’s bass boat. Unfortunately, it was hitched and padlocked to the back of a huge, brown, 4×4 Ford affectionately named “The Turd” because of its spectacular spray paint job. He went inside to get the key to the padlock but returned a few minutes later without it. So, naturally, we went to Walmart and bought a pair of bolt cutters.
Thirty minutes and a disarmed padlock later, the boat was on the hitch. We were two 15-year-olds on a mission to burn up the water. With the windows rolled down, the kick panel vents open,–you folks over 40 might know what those are–and Z106 blasting on the radio, we slipped down the back roads to the boat ramp at Turtle Creek, just down the street from his dad’s house.
Upon arriving on the scene, we hopped out, unstrapped the boat, made sure the plug was in, and I held the line as he backed the trailered boat down the ramp. Once it floated free of the trailer, I tied the boat to the pier while he parked and secured the truck.
We hopped in, ready to unleash 90 horses of pent-up fury on the lake, but the key may as well have been a banana. The battery was as dead as Kim Jong Un’s back-talking uncle. I said, “Let’s just get the battery out of the truck “–Remember that for later.–Sure enough, the truck battery added some fire to the situation and before I knew it, we were bouncing toward the main lake.
I was having a blast going faster than I’d ever been on the water, and there wasn’t an adult in sight. I had no idea before then that bouncing across the waves was no softer than bouncing down a street in Jackson. Dad’s fishing boat with its 15 HP motor didn’t provide the same experience.
We cruised over to Main Harbor on the other side of the reservoir and saw all the alcohol -injected, leopard printed ladies shaking their tail feathers on the deck at The Dock as an 80s cover band played. Fishermen were tied up to the fuel dock at the bait shop a few piers over refilling their tanks and their beer coolers. Coincidentally, the fellow my parents bought our house from and his youngest son, who was just a couple years younger than us, were there. So, we drifted over to say hi and see what they were up to. They were getting gas and some Little Debbies before heading out for some more catfishing.
After noticing the time, I told Justin we needed to head back if I was going to make it home in time for church. So, we bid them adieu and zipped the few miles back across the reservoir to our home port.
When we pulled up to the dock at the boat ramp, Justin grabbed the battery and hopped out to reinstall it in his truck so he could back the trailer in the water. I stayed with the boat to stow the life jackets and anything else that might blow out on the way back home. Then, after everything was stowed, I walked over to the truck to see what was taking him so long.
Justin was frustrated when I walked up. The battery apparently wasn’t prepared for marine duty.. There wasn’t even enough juice in it to make the starter click. We exhausted the entirety of our knowledge of automotive electricity over the next hour. It was actually exhausted over the next 5 minutes. The other 55 were spent repeating what didn’t work in hopes it would work that time.
When the time came for me to already be at church, and since cell phones wouldn’t enter our lives for about 4 more years, I had no way of alerting my parents to the circumstances resulting in my tardiness. Our first hangout was turning out to be less than ideal.
After another 30 minutes of fiddling, fumbling, and brainstorming, a family planning on having a quiet picnic drove up in a big diesel-powered Ford. Our savior had arrived! The dad saw us with the hood up and walked over to offer his help. We briefed him on our situation, and he pulled his big red oil-burner over within reach of the jumper cables and their life-giving electrons…
It was alive!!!! The GMC roared to life and our predicament was over.
….for the moment.
Justin backed the trailer in the water, we got the boat loaded as fast as we could, and we set off for my house. Nothing could’ve felt better than the air blowing on us through the open windows and floor vents as we headed back toward my house. We were drenched in sweat
As we cruised the back roads on the way home, the truck decided it wasn’t done making sure I wouldn’t make it to church. As we coasted down the hill on Henderson Road, the passenger-side exhaust manifold decided it was tired of its long-time intimate relationship with the engine block and filed for divorce. All of a sudden, our cool ride sounded like a 40-year-old pulpwood truck.
After pulling over and surveying the situation, we looked at each other and threw up our hands. The truck was still running, and we decided to just push on home pulpwood style. All we were missing was a chainsaw and a few empty vienna sausage cans on the dash.
When we turned the corner onto my street two hours late, Dad was standing in the front yard, waiting. Undoubtedly, he heard us coming which explained why we were late without either of us saying a word.
I went inside, took a shower, and got dressed to try to make it to as much church as I could while dad tried to help Justin as much as he could before they decided he could make it home without any further incidents. So, off he went, grumbling down the street.
It was senior recognition Sunday at church, and even though our outing went disastrously off the rails, and I missed the evening church service, I did show up in time for the after-church fellowship where there was food and the graduates’ parents showed baby pictures while telling embarrassing stories about their children who were headed off into the world.
That fateful trip happened a little over 26 years ago, and we’ve been tight ever since. I’ve stayed within 2 hours of home for those years, and he’s lived half a world away at times; in Alaska, Hawaii and on both US coasts. Now, we see each other at Christmas every few years or on sporadic occasions when he slips through central Mississippi to visit his and his pretty little wife’s families. He has a little boy that is so much like him that I’m sure his mom grins when she thinks about the payback her grandson is dishing out for the “fun” Justin gave her when he was a little fella.
No matter how many miles separate us or that our phone calls have gone from daily to weekly to every so often, I know when we catch each other on the phone or see each other on his trips back home, we pick up where we left off for a little while and still laugh heartily when the talk turns to him throwing up Red Man chewing tobacco and Cheetos down the side of my truck or that fateful day at the reservoir.
Friendships like that are the good stuff in life.
How ’bout cha, Red Man… (He’ll know what I mean.)