Losing a friend, but not the years of memories

Published 4:39 pm Tuesday, May 19, 2020

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In the last couple of years, there was a call from my best friend growing up with a bad news message. 

There were no good news possibilities as good news/bad news anecdotes often allow.

“They have confirmed that I have Alzheimer’s,” he said without strained emotion. 

Nothing could have been more troubling. That call had been preceded by one to say that he was going to have a diagnosis to determine whether or not he had that dreaded disease. 

“It runs in my family you know,” he said resignedly.  

His call came without contempt or woe-is-me.  It was more like “Que Sera, Sera.” 

 He then made his small town life business as usual. Since that time, we kept in touch—our conversations like they always had been.  Laughing about growing up in a nest of colorful characters. Cynical old men who were flummoxed by any teenage male who chose to wear Bermuda shorts. 

“Do y’all use the ladies room?” the lead cynic would say. 

They were the motley prophets of doom, who hold sway in any town or community; drinking “co-colers” at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Sheppard’s filling station instead of coffee, clandestinely gambling at the local pool room, offering preachments and gossip at the popular beer joint—the railbirds who view life though suspicious lenses.

Week before last, my friend’s middle son, Greg, called from the hospital in Swainsboro to tell me his father wasn’t doing well. My lifelong friend, in addition to Alzheimer’s was compromised with debilitating stomach issues.  

“He’s not eating,” Greg lamented which I knew was a bad sign. 

When I spoke to Hodges Rowland from his hospital bed, I did not think that would be my last conversation with the best friend I had in yesteryear’s halcyon days. He died on the weekend, and I was unable, due to the dastardly coronavirus, to attend his funeral. 

I have lost a relationship that has uplifted and delighted me for years. The precious memories will linger.

We were responsible and enterprising, for the most part, but every day was filled with abundant laughter. We told jokes, we made fun of our friends and ourselves.

Makes you realize that the nonsensical lifestyle which made our days was something that came about naturally.  

There was time to let the drones—our colorless teachers—hold sway. There was a time for unbridled laughter at recess, time for scrimmaging under a sardonic and colorful football coach named “Red,” who had a bent for humor but mostly sarcasm which illuminated and amplified our clumsy mistakes—much to the delight of our teammates who were keenly cognizant that their time for caustic rebuke would come their way sooner than later. 

My friend Hodges, was friends with everybody. He might not have been their best buddy, but he treated them all with good-natured respect. There was an air of harmony and goodwill with all of his classmates all of whom were attracted to his generous and congenial personality.

He was responsible for enhancing my social life. We doubled-dated which meant that he always was the vehicular host. Back then, it was not fashionable to date in a pickup truck which was all I had access to.

Fishing and hunting were constants in his life. We were attracted to golf at nearby golf clubs, mostly the “Twin Cities” course which served the communities of Tennille and Sandersville.

All it took to play there was the green fee of 75-cents, a dime for a Coca-Cola and a nickel for a pack of square cheese crackers … and the comportment not to be embarrassed when your mighty swing sent a golf ball screeching into the woods. If we shot a good score and lost two balls, it was a bad day.  If we scored poorly but found two un-scuffed balls, it was a good day.

Driving home after golf was highlighted by a quart of Pabst Blue Ribbon, everybody in the car sipping away clandestinely with all parties, except the driver, scouting the side roads to make sure we didn’t imbibe in view of a state patrolman. Or a fundamental preacher who might pass us on Highway 15 and see to it that our parents would become privy to our miscreant behavior.  

An alert and prudent student in Law School at Georgia, Hodges got his degree, passed the bar and took over the practice of his father who also served in the Georgia House of Representatives. (Hodges was a relative of J. Roy Rowland who spent 12 years in the U. S. Congress after retiring from his medical practice in Dublin.) 

Hodges was intellectually alert, well connected in the state and could have flourished in a prestigious Atlanta law firm, but he preferred to live in the down home environment which spawned and sustained him.

With plenty of golden memories for reflection on a bountiful life, the years growing up with my best friend can’t be relived. What I would give, however, if that were so.