John Moore With a little help from my friend

Driving my new 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass, I steered its long front end into the carpet and tile store.

Actually, the Olds wasn’t new, but it was new to me. The person I was about to meet was also new to me. His name was Dennis.

He worked full time as an Ashdown, Arkansas, city cop. The carpet store was a part-time gig. At least then it was part-time.

I also worked multiple jobs. Disc jockey, grocery store employee, and photographer. On this day I had my photographer hat on.

Working in the high school journalism department, my job was to take photos of whatever the editor of the school paper and annual sent me to capture.

The carpet and tile store had bought an ad, and the instructions were to catch whatever the client wanted.

I killed the engine and reached for my Yashica 35mm camera in the seat next to me. Strapping it around my neck, I headed to the door and then inside.

That was the first time Dennis and I met. I was 17. He, five years older.

A sequence of events happened afterwards that, hindsight, seemed to push our paths into alignment. I hung out with another cop on the force, so Dennis and I would connect when I rode along during the graveyard shift.

Soon after, my grandmother decided to sell her home. Dennis and his wife bought it.

She got an on-air job at the same radio station where I worked.

I married, and the four of us began doing things together. We camped. Cooked out. Watched movies. Built things.

I grew up in a blacksmith shop, but I had learned little about carpentry and home improvement.

Dennis knew how to do just about everything. I envied his seemingly endless aptitude for doing just about anything. And he patiently showed me how to do a lot.

We worked on so many projects together it would be impossible for me to account for them all. The Saturday mornings where we met at dawn with work clothes and hot coffee to tackle something could fill a calendar.

In many ways, we were different. Our interests were our own, but our commonalities outnumbered our differences. If one of us had an interest the other didn’t, we humored each other and participated.

I moved to Texas, but we stayed in touch. Visits weren’t frequent, and I missed our time together.

One day, my phone rang. It was Dennis. He was ready to start a new business and felt Texas had more opportunities. He asked what I thought about Houston.

I told him that where I lived in east Texas had plenty of opportunity. Why not move there?

I helped them move.

When he started his new tile business, I suited up and worked with him on weekends until he was established.

His business thrived. They bought a house in the country. They had livestock and a big garden.

We helped each other in the garden. We traded vegetables and canning recipes.

He and his wife had birthdays near my wife’s and my birthday. We always celebrated together. What were big events in the beginning were later pared to simple dinners or gatherings with cocktails.

But we always celebrated birthdays.

Dennis’ fascination with NASCAR was legendary. He reminded me of a baseball fan who knew all the players, their stats, and all of the teams for whom they’d played.

Dennis could tell you driver rankings, total wins in different series, and sponsors for teams.

When Texas Motor Speedway was built, he couldn’t wait to see it. He asked me to go with him. So I did.

When we arrived on a Friday morning, it was cold and pouring.

“Where’s the parking lot?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s not done yet,” he said.

In his haste to see the speedway, he couldn’t wait for the parking lot.

We got out of the truck and waded in mud to the gate. We sat in the cold rain for hours watching cars drive slowly around that track.

He was like a kid on Christmas morning.

When I divorced, Dennis was there for me. He let me come over and invade his personal time so that I wouldn’t be alone. He found projects for us to do.

We always found something for each other to do. It wasn’t so much for accomplishing the task at hand, although that was important to each of us. Our projects were often excuses to do things together.

Dennis passed away this week.

It wasn’t unexpected. But I was woefully unprepared.

Loss happens more often as you age. You’d think that would help pad the fall. But it doesn’t.

I’ll miss the phone calls, the Saturday morning projects, and the discussions of what the future holds.

My future is now without Dennis. And that’s pretty hard to take.

We were friends for 43 years. And I’ll always be grateful for every single one of them.

John’s new book, Puns for Groan People, and his books, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on his website – TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.