Times have changed, and that’s a good thing
As an adolescent male in the 1970s, you didn’t tell your other male friends you loved them, not at that time, not like the hugs and “love you brother” that is so common today. Just didn’t happen, at least not in the Southern military town of my childhood.
This truth occurred to me while listening to a podcast as I worked through some chores around the outside of my house last Saturday. Actually, it was an audiobook of essays I was listening to, “The Anthropocene Reviewed” by John Green.
In one essay, Green talks about how the love humans feel at different periods in their lives helps shape who we are at any given moment in the future. Even if that love was decades ago, it forged a part of the person you are today. You still carry the ramifications of that love with you.
I stopped a moment while dragging a tarp of fallen leaves toward the woods that mark the border of our yard to hit pause on my phone so I could think about high school and teachers and friends that perhaps fall into this category.
I’m 16 or 17, and it would be fall in the late 1970s. Pine Forest Senior High School was just outside the suburbs around Fayetteville, North Carolina, a county school — meaning not in the city limits but in Cumberland County — that was a few miles from our neighborhood of College Lakes. There was indeed a private college that contributed to the neighborhood’s name — now Methodist University — across the highway, but we only ventured near the place to hit a few balls on the tennis courts or to get to the Cape Fear River for a quick swim in the summertime.
At 16, none of us had our own cars, but we were also too cool for the bus, so most days we walked to high school, a trip that would take us down by the no-name lake — the “lake” in College Lakes — at the edge of our neighborhood. From there we’d go through the woods where a half-mile trail took us to the back end of campus.
We didn’t walk to school for our health. To the contrary, we did it for other reasons — hanging out with friends or, when feeling the urge, perhaps partaking of a little weed if anyone was holding.
We also tended to skip school a lot in those days. Before absences were tallied up in the regimented fashion they are today, missing school was not that big of a deal if you maintained decent grades. Don’t miss tests, hand in your homework and all was good.
My friend group was Kerry, Kevin and Bryan. We hung together all the time, often holding jobs at the same place, always spending weekend time together unless someone had a girlfriend that would take them out of the circle for however long that relationship lasted.
Kerry’s dad was a builder, and on occasion he would find out in the early mornings that he was able to drive his work truck to school. This was prior to cell phones, so Kerry would ride around and try to intercept us on our walk to see who was still around and wanted to ride with him.
Getting in the truck with Kerry was risky business, but not because he was a bad or dangerous driver. Kerry was one of those people — we all knew them — who made damn good grades without seemingly trying. And he loved skipping school. One of his favorite stunts was to get all his friends in the truck, drive toward school, right in front of it on Andrews Road, slow down like he was turning in, and then gassing the old F-150 down the road without looking back, a big grin spread across his face. The other three of us would be screaming about tests or homework or classes, but the game was up. No school that day.
On beautiful fall days — like the one I’m experiencing right now — we’d often end up at Raven Rock State Park near Lillington in Harnett County, about 30 miles from our high school. We’d try to score some beer before we got there, and we’d run around that park on those fall days rolling and tripping and wrestling with each other down hills thick with leaves while laughing like 5-year-olds. We’d do it for hours, until exhaustion sank in or we simply ran out of time.
We’d end up back near our neighborhood on some dirt road, sun beginning to drop toward the horizon, us sitting in the bed of the truck clearing our heads, maybe eating hamburgers or cheap convenience store hot dogs, figuring who needed to be dropped off where, who had to work or who had to get home to help with dinner. We’d peel off and go our own way or perhaps get Kerry to give us a ride home, making plans for the next day.
I know it sounds almost corny and infused with the nostalgia that gets hold of many as Thanksgiving approaches, but I can go back to that place in a moment’s daydream and still feel the lasting warmth that was a part of hanging out with those close friends who shared everything together, whether in the back of that yellow F-150 or while wrestling each other down a leaf-strewn hill beneath an autumn sun. We loved each other, and that love is part of who I am today.
But as I said, back then we didn’t use those words to describe our feelings. I like how times have changed. Love you my brothers, hope to see you soon.