I just read this story and it got me to thinking about my own group of five guys.
Way back in 1976, I set off with four of my best friends from St. Louis U High for our Senior Project.
A Senior Project at SLUH is where you go and do some sort of community service work for a two-week period. Some people work in sheltered workshops, some volunteer to work in Retirement Centers or for special needs kids. During our senior year, we somehow managed to head off to El Paso, Texas where we were scheduled to conduct a survey for Blessed Sacrament parish to determine who was registered in the parish and encourage those who weren’t, to consider doing so.
Joe VonderHaar was the one who managed to get it all arranged. His uncle was a priest and the rector of Blessed Sacrament parish. The others were Joe Berra, John Grigaitis, Mike Salsich and yours truly. We all played football together and were close friends having spent the last 3-1/2 years having a variety of good times wherever we went.
In theory, our trip to El Paso would be a great learning experience.
And indeed, it was. Five male teenagers, packed into a GTO, traveling from St. Louis to Dallas, enjoying an overnight stay in Dallas and then onward we went, driving down to El Paso.
On the grounds that I might incriminate myself and everyone mentioned above, I won’t go in to all the details of our experience.
Suffice it to say, I learned all sorts of things on that trip, not all of them religious in nature.
It was eye-opening – we went into Juarez, Mexico and for the first time in my life, I saw real poverty as young kids were begging us to throw them pennies.
It was hilarious – we were conducting this survey of people who lived in the area and the majority of them spoke only Spanish. Only one of us knew any Spanish at all. I’ll always remember a lady slamming her front door in my face as I mistakenly asked her if all of her children were asses. I was trying to ask the age of her children but ‘age’ and ‘asses’ are quite similar in Spanish.
It was memorable in so many ways. From the five of us sneaking on to the playing field of the Sun Bowl and running imaginary plays to stopping on the highway in the middle of the night somewhere between El Paso and Dallas and gazing up at a night sky filled with more stars than I’d ever seen to this day – I’ll never forget it.
After our adventure was over and we were back home, we had a little group gathering and I remember my mom snapping a photograph of us all. I still have that photo … somewhere but haven’t been able to track it down so far.
I wish we could have done the same thing as the five guys mentioned in the article. We’ve all changed so much. One of us joined the Jesuits, then left the order, married and now lives in Texas. The rest of us are all still here in St. Louis and we still see each other from time to time throughout the year. Joe V., who had those great organizational skills back in high school, still does – he has a Christmas gathering every year and Chris and I always enjoy attending it.
We’ve lost a lot of hair and brain cells along the way. We’ve raised our own kids and I imagine most of us are grateful that our offspring haven’t totally followed in our footsteps because we definitely wandered astray a few times.
At the heart of it all is the simple fact that I know we will always be friends. Time has aged us. Other obligations and the paths we’ve taken in life have separated us.
Photos fade and so do the memories.
I’m okay with that.
What are you and your fab five doing to stay in touch?