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until the next vootie

January 26, 2022

On February 2, 1959, my parents and I moved from Butler, Missouri (population 3333) to Shreveport, Lousiana (population 127,000). We checked into a motel late and awakened to the news of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. But that wasn’t the weirdest part of that day. Dad’s new boss took us out for a tour of Shreveport, and my eyes have never been wider. Butler was not a progressive town, but its schools were integrated, I had black friends and it was generally peaceful. Shreveport was rabidly racist. We drove past gas stations with three restrooms: “White Women”, “White Men” and “Colored”. We saw separate drinking fountains, separate entrances to movie houses. My young mind was blown.

The next day, mom enrolled me and my blown mind into the eighth grade of Lakeshore Junior High. It had many times more students than Butler Elementary. Most fortunately, one of them was Gordon. Our mutual love of Mad magazine began our friendship. We borrowed the word “vootie” from Mad and used it as a greeting and sign-off word for 63 years. On January 15th, Gordon died unexpectedly without a chance for a final “vootie”.

We were an odd pair. He was a devout Southern Baptist, I was a marginal Methodist. I was the smallest boy in our class, he walked with a prominent limp that would later be remediated by physio and a stay in a Shriners’ Hospital. We were nowhere near cool. Undaunted, however, we started at Fair Park High School in 1961, where we had some success: he on the debate team, me editing the school newspaper. The ladies, however, remained unimpressed. Almost every Friday night we played Putt-Putt golf. We dabbled in conservative politics, writing a parody of the song “Goldfinger” to laud Barry Goldwater. We developed a friendly rivalry over baseball, Gordon supporting the Dodgers and me the Giants.

Upon graduating in ’64, our paths parted. Gordon attended Baylor and Tulane universities, I joined the Marines and attended the School of Hard Knocks. We both protested the Vietnam War at the October ’69 Moratorium in New Orleans, but neither of us knew the other was there. We did connect in the Crescent City in ’73 after my Marine stint and divorce. We stayed in contact since then. I visited him twice after he moved to D.C. and we talked often on the phone.

He called just before his death, but I was up at our micro-hydro site deep in snow. I tried to call him a few days later but I couldn’t find his number, so I e-mailed him for it. When he didn’t respond I should have been suspicious because he was always the Sensible One, the Reliable One, the Friend You Could Always Count On.

So, vootie, Gordie. I miss you beyond measure. I’m not at all sure about an afterlife, but if there is one I look forward to a big “vootie” from you. I know you’ll be there. No one deserves it more.

  1. John Bozich permalink
    January 26, 2022 2:23 pm

    so sorry to hear about your friend’s death…long term friendships are truly scarce in my world, most of them similar to your description, and tend to push the boundary of the metaphysical. I lost my lifetime adult friend David about 10 years ago after our keeping regular contact since 1968…we helped each other through officer training…I never became one, he served two years, then worked as a VA Psychologist till he retired to work at a Voc-Tech school in Albuquerque for a second retirement- and committed suicide March 6, 2012-just six months prior to my retirement. even being well-versed in death and other losses, I feel emptiness when I hear certain songs, see old familiar sights or just ponder why we could not have enjoyed the senior part of our days on earth…peace and semper fi Marine

    • January 26, 2022 5:09 pm

      And I regret to hear of your loss, J.B. It’s helpful to commiserate with someone who has trod a similar path. Gordon and I didn’t have any songs that meant a lot to both of us, but for many years we could recite from memory the narration from a reptile exhibit we saw in a shopping mall parking lot.

  2. summergale permalink
    January 26, 2022 2:53 pm

    I am sorry for the loss of your childhood friend.

    • Anonymous permalink
      January 26, 2022 4:58 pm

      Sorry to hear about Gordon…loss of a friend is never easy, especially one that you have known for so long. Didn’t we visit him on our roadtrip back east??
      Thinking of you….
      Brown Brother

      • January 26, 2022 5:15 pm

        We did indeed, BB. He took us to his favourite restaurant and I was buzzed to have two such close friends from different chapters of my life together.

    • January 26, 2022 5:19 pm

      Thank you, summergale. It’s especially difficult to face this in such a challenging winter.

  3. January 26, 2022 6:12 pm

    Life is a goddamn vale of tears sometimes, isn’t it.
    You’ll miss Gordon. Thanks for writing about your friendship. You guys were lucky to have friends like each other. -Kate

    • February 1, 2022 2:13 pm

      Thank you, Kate. I always felt lucky to have such a friend.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    January 27, 2022 11:13 am

    They say that’s what being “old” is mostly about–loss. I too acknowledge your grief, and appreciate your delivering what is a tender eulogy for Gordon here in cyberspace. I’m concerned about a friend too, who hasn’t responded to my emails or phone calls, and I sense that something is not good. I’ve a good shoulder Allen, should you need it. And btw, I’m finding it hard to imagine that you were the “smallest boy in your class”– look at you now!
    But then again, I was one of if not the smallest in my junior high years too, and yes, look at me now, lol. Take care. IT

    • February 1, 2022 2:17 pm

      Thank you, IT. I draw comfort from knowing that your tall shoulders are always nearby. I hope that you get better news about your friend. I do take care.

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