As a rule of thumb, the General and I don’t generally invite friends over for dinner on a school night. Do you remember that rule from your childhood years? When I was a kid, we never got to vary from the norm on a school night. Morning came early at our house. When you have to get up early the next morning, it doesn’t make sense to stay up past your bedtime the evening before. Consequently, my folks were strict constructionists when it came to enforcing limits during my childhood years. I guess old habits are hard to break.
Yet, yesterday seemed like an important day to color outside the lines. My friend’s 75th birthday was yesterday. That is three quarters of a century. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that concept. Why not make it a celebration? I telephoned him Sunday evening and asked if he and Janet had plans for Monday evening? He said they did not. I responded: “Good! I know your mother always took you out to dinner around your birthday. Since she’s now with the Lord, I think she’d want me to help make your day special. If you don’t have plans elsewhere, plan to have dinner with us tomorrow evening. He agreed and the die was cast.
Why not surprise him and invite two other mutual friends over for dinner? I met Clif in 1970 when he interviewed me for a position with child welfare in San Angelo. By the time I started to work in children’s protective services, Clif was promoted to Regional Administrator for the Texas Department of Public Welfare in El Paso. I subsequently began working for him in Austin in the mid-1970s when he became the Director of Child Care Licensing. Long story short, Wayman had a close friend in the Houston area, a pilot who also flew for Continental Airlines with Wayman, whose childhood best friend was Clif’s brother-in-law. Consequently Wayman met Clif independent of my friendship with Clif.
The three of us have conjointly been friends for the past sixteen years. Wayman and Clif are golfing buddies. That’s what old men do when they no longer work. Riding around on golf carts get them out of the house where their wives have an incessant list on ‘honey dos” for them to complete. A little of that goes a long way! I guess you could say that I’m the odd man out. I don’t play golf and I still work. Of course, I’m a lot younger than either of them. At any rate, I invited Clif and Susan to dinner last night as well.
Clif and Susan were the first to arrive. Clif called me on my cell phone and reported that the gate opener wasn’t working. Consequently, I started walking down the drive toward the gate to assist. Before I got to the crest in the hill where I could even see the gate, Clif and Susan drove up. I’d never have recognized Clif’s car in a million years. He was driving what appeared to be a new Cadillac Escalade. Impressive was my first thought. How does someone whose been retired for the past forever drive a Cadillac Escalade? In addition, it was so out of character for Clif.
During the years that I worked for Clif, he drove an Orange Datsun pickup. He drove it forever. It was easily discernable. Orange shows up as easily as a red fire truck. It always seemed a little understated to me. After all, Clif dressed to the nines, but the small pickup seemed like a contrast to the persona he always displayed in the office. In addition, he generally had a pipe in his hand. Whether he smoked in the truck, I don’t know. Obviously, that was a long, long time ago. Back then, people openly smoked in the office environment. Truthfully, I can say the smoke didn’t bother me back then. I never gave it a second thought. My maternal grandfather smoked cigars. He never thought twice about lighting on up in the car. You just accepted that as the status quo. Of course, that was all back in the day before the Surgeon General’s warning that smoking tobacco could be dangerous to your health. Today, if I get within 500 feet of anyone smoking, immediately I can’t breathe.
Clif rolled down the window on the Escalade and explained that when he’d called, he was blinded by the sun and couldn’t see the push button on the gate’s key pad. Are you kidding me? Surely, he hadn’t gotten too old to see?
The Escalade was more congruent with what you’d think Clif would drive, but this was a first for him. Within the past year, I noticed the Susan was also driving a new Lincoln. Now Clif is sporting an Escalade instead of an old truck. What did he know about retirement years that I didn’t know? I joking tell folks it is my intent that the last check I write bounce at the bank. Maybe Clif has the same intent?
In the course of the evening, Clif told Wayman that he’d recently sent me a picture from our working years together where I had long dark hair and a beard. Of course, I thought my hair was stylishly the correct length over my ears and my full beard was uniformly trimmed. Obviously at the time, I had a very different appearance than I now have. Wayman responded to Clif, “Let me tell you about the first time I met Don. He had that same appearance.”
He went on to infer that not all of the previous pastors at Henly had been the epitome of people you’d want to know as your best friend. He suggested that the previous pastor had the reputation for occasionally paddling his wife. How’s that for church discipline? I can promise you that something like that has never been a scenario in our household. I’m not even going there, but it would be the gateway to “death do us part.” The General wouldn’t put up with that for a minute. By the way, I’d be the newly departed and not fondly remembered.
At any rate, I was the new kid (pastor) on he block and I had not met Wayman before. He flew for Continental Airlines and he was often out of town. We both showed up for a workday at church. Needless to say, I didn’t fit the profile of what he was expecting. For one thing, I looked like a “hippie”. Those where his words, not mine. Secondly, he anticipated I’d hang around with my arms folded doing nothing while the other men worked. He anticipated I showed up just o wait for the fried chicken to be delivered at lunch. Honest to God, I’m not making this stuff up. That is what he actually said. He was shocked that I actually rolled up my sleeves and worked as hard as anyone else. Consequently, despite my appearance, he thought maybe there was hope for me.
They say first impressions are lasting impressions. Do you remember the lyrics to Willie Nelson’s “Beware Of The Red Headed Stranger?” I didn’t form a lasting impression of Wayman during our first meeting at the workday at church. It was sometime later when his grandfather was hospitalized in San Antonio. When I arrived at the hospital to visit Mr. Lauren (his first name), a host of family members were gathered in the waiting room. Wayman said to his mother: “I bought a new suit this morning.” I’m thinking in the back of my mind, “Did he buy a suit to wear to his grandfather’s anticipated funeral? I’m praying the guy gets well. Wayman is planning on bidding farewell. We need to talk and get on the same page.”
Wayman’s mother asked her son: “What color is your new suit?” He responded “Green”. Are you kidding me? Actually, I’ve got a green suit now, but I didn’t have one back then. Nobody wore a green suit. (Green suit – red hair – go figure). His mother then asked: “Where did you buy it?” He responded: “I bought it at K-Mart”. Oh yeah, “Beware of the Red Headed Stranger” definitely served as a warning label to wrap around this guy like bubble wrap.
Of course, none of what he told his mother was true. He was just pulling her strings. He was also building a lasting impression with me. Despite that, I love the guy like my own brother. After all, his mother treated me like her son. Three quarters of a century sounds like a long time. Could Wayman really be that old? It obviously goes by quickly. I did the math in my head last night. Would you believe, Wayman and I have been the best of friends for over half his life?
Clif and I have known each other longer than that. He too, is someone I love and respect. Our friendship has been one of great value. I guess at the end of the day you could simply sum it up that we are “Three Amigos”.
All My Best!