My eighth grade class had 10 students and during that year our tiny school district merged with two small nearby districts. The merged high school would commence the next fall.
Getting acquainted with new classmates didn’t concern me much — I had already attended four different schools — but I did wonder who my new friends would be.
My family worshiped at a church in the community that would be the location of the merged high school. That summer my church and the only other church in town held a joint youth picnic and there I met at least three of my future classmates.
One of the three was a good-humored farm boy named Lyle. We hit if off right away and when our freshman year began I already had a new friend.
That friendship continues today, nearly 56 years later. Though our careers took us to different parts of the Midwest, we are now both retired in the Des Moines metro. In recent years we have consumed gallons of coffee in local coffee shops. Recently we enjoyed lunch together.
Lyle and I were not raised in affluence so I was neither surprised nor upset that Lyle brought along a coupon for 20 percent off our bill. Neither of us is a miser but we’ve made it this far by being thrifty.
Our nearly two-hour luncheon conversation covered a wide range of topics and, as with many of our visits, included recollections of high school days and updates on our classmates.
Lyle and I share a number of experiences from those high school days. He and I led the first ever Northeast Hamilton High School hot lunch strike. Someone ratted on us and we were disciplined for our attempt at civil disobedience.
We were both involved in competitive speech and drama. He got better report cards than I did but his sense of humor was as twisted as mine.
Always a dollar short, we sometimes double-dated. On one occasion we triple-dated in his brother’s early ’60s Plymouth Valiant. Though the crowded conditions were not comfortable I rather enjoyed my discomfort.
I became acquainted with Lyle’s family and even dated a couple of his cousins.
Lyle has been a good friend in many ways but there’s one thing he did for me that has made a significant difference in my life.
As a young teenager I suffered from self-esteem issues. I was tall, overweight and had a serious complexion problem. I had so many zits you could play connect-the-dots on my face.
Early in our junior year, our class met to elect officers. When it was time to elect a class president Lyle nominated me. I was upset; I hated losing and, I thought, that’s what was going to happen. No one was more surprised than I was when the ballots were counted and the new class president was me.
I understand that in the big picture this election was nothing. It didn’t make the 10 o’clock news. To a 16-year-old kid who was short on confidence, however, it was a gust of self-esteem that set me in a new direction. Lyle did that for me.
Later that year I learned that a petition calling for my impeachment was being circulated. I panicked… until I learned that the petition was a joke. Guess who had composed a petition accusing me of collusion with the faculty and “authenticated” it with his father’s expired notary public seal? Yes, it was my buddy Lyle who thoroughly enjoyed seeing me sweat bullets.
Having escaped impeachment as a junior, I was re-elected our senior year.
Lyle went on to become a pastor, then a hospital chaplain and then the head chaplain for a group of hospitals.
A few years before we retired we were discussing the irony of two mischievous country boys ending up in careers serving God ̶ Lyle as a hospital chaplain and myself with The Salvation Army. How many of our high school instructors, I asked, would have ever predicted that?
I attended Lyle’s retirement party and heard one hospital chaplain after another tell how Lyle, as their supervisor, had helped them attain success and significance. I was not surprised. I shared with them how Lyle had done the same for me five decades earlier.
All friends are valuable. Old friends are priceless.