I knew that my friend Art from boarding school was gone, but until recently I didn't use the magic of google to hunt down the reference to his passing. I did it this month when I was reminded by a passing reference to him in the Class Notes in the quarterly alumni magazine. He died in 2001 at the age of 50 after a long battle with a brain tumor. I remember the last time I talked with him, around that time on the phone, and I particularly remember that he said, "Every day is a good day."
The last time I saw him was when we departed the environs of our rustic campus at graduation, when we were both 18. That's the image of him that lives on in my memory, the way he still is residing there even more than a decade after his passing, a tall, lean, athletic, blond young man, smart, powerful and easy-going. After we graduated we just passed on into different worlds, he went to school at LaSalle near his home in Philadelphia, and I went far away out west to CU.
But I have my memories of our four years together, which I'll always treasure. It all started when I showed up at the boarding school for ninth grade (second form) as a nervous 14 year-old. Soon we were ensconced in a room with a bunk bed, Art took the top bunk, two second formers in a houseful of third and fourth formers.
We got along fine. My first appreciation of Art was when we were arrayed in a boyhood battle against the entire Dickinson House, it seemed, and I was holding our door closed by bracing my legs, seated on the floor with my back to the door, against two small pillars in the walls to the entrance to our room and Art was holding the door closed standing facing the door with one of his feet braced against the bottom of the door. We were prepared, and as the door slowly opened due to the force of five or six older boys pushing against it from the other side, Art sprayed the aerosol shaving cream can he had been holding in his free hand out the crack in the opening door at our tormentors in the hallway and the door slammed shut and the assault was never, ever rejoined. Oh, yeah.
In third form, our rooms were singles, adjacent to each other on the third floor, so I spent a lot of time in his room surreptitiously during the interminable, every weekday-evening (including Friday night) study hall hours. If you listened real hard with the door ajar you could hear the housemaster, Mr. Graham, come out of his quarters on the second floor to do a study hall check and you could quietly creep back into your own room before he came up the stairs. One warm New Jersey autumn night I remember Art eating a cream-filled pastry he had purchased after dinner at the Jigger Shop across the highway in front of campus. He didn't like its taste so he tossed it out his opened window. Two seconds later we heard a distinct "Plop!" as the food missile hit the sidewalk three stories below. Two fifteen year-old boys thought that was the funniest thing ever and just couldn't stop laughing about it or relating to each other the sound of it hitting the ground, which provoked another round of peals of laughter. Silly but innocent times.
As sixteen year-olds, we played house football together. He was a tight end while I was a linebacker and occasional halfback. My salient memory of him that year, our fourth form year, was him catching a short pass, spinning away from a tackle and sprinting to the end zone eighty yards away. I was on the sideline watching, matching him stride for stride down the field, him on the field of play and definitely slowing down as he tired while I excitedly paced him off the field of play and exhorted him to make it to the end zone before he got caught from behind. I issued the ultimate threat during our separate runs towards the end zone, I yelled at him that I would hide his cigarettes if he didn't score on that play. You see, in those simpler times, boys could smoke at boarding schools, during specified times and in certain common areas, if they had a letter permitting them to from their parents, which we both did. I didn't have to resort to my threat, as he did sprint into the end zone on the play.
As seniors, or fifth formers, he came to my parents' house one weekend with me. He had a driver's license and I did not, as he was slightly older than me. We borrowed my father's car, which had a stick shift which he didn't know how to operate but I did. I remember my hurried instructions to him as he tried to put the car into first gear to pull away from the curb in front of the house, hoping desperately that he would accomplish the unfamiliar task and get the car around the block so I could take over driving. He could not, driving a manual-speed car is a learned trait, and my father came out to the curb after a couple of minutes to ask, "Young man, perhaps I didn't ask the right question when I asked if you had a driver's license. Do you know how to drive a manual?" Art admitted that he did not, and out incipient adventure was over. Good times!
And what is my ultimate memory of Art, who died so young? Parting ways with him at graduation, where unbeknownst to me I would never see him again, he shook my hand upon parting and informed me that for four years I'd been mispronouncing his name as La-moan instead of La-Mon. I'm a jerk. What an easy way for him to let me down! Art, you were a prince and I miss you!