May 312013

Several days ago, I was running to pick up lunch. In the car, I heard a very brief part of an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. The host was interviewing Greta Gerwig  who plays the title character of the film Frances Ha.  I believe Gerwig co-wrote the screenplay with director Noah Baumbach.

I only caught a small part of the interview, and am not really interested in the movie, but Gerwig made an interesting statement that’s stuck with me. She said:

“You don’t know when the last time of something happening is. You don’t know what the last great day you’ll spend with your best friend is. You’ll just know when you’ve never had that day again.”

This sentiment struck me, and I got a melancholy feeling thinking of times and people past. Many still a part of my life, but many cast to the distance of time, geography, or life’s natural momentum.

I started thinking of some of these great days. Some were shared with or created by people who are still very much a part of my life, and so I’m not ready to believe we’ve had our last great day.

These times include visits to the North Carolina mountains with my friend Glenda. We visit often one of the days before Thanksgiving. I remember one year meeting on the Tuesday before the holiday, and basically having run of downtown Boone, and the little business district of Blowing Rock. It was a misty cool day.  While some might prefer a bright sunny day, I enjoyed the muffled sounds and soft outlines of the foggy mist. We laughed and joked, and just enjoyed the slow easy pace. There will be other trips and other great times.

I remember frequent Sunday afternoons here in Tampa at the home of our friends Jeff and Mike. Mike would cook dinner, and we’d play Shanghai. This even included a hurricane evacuation to Orlando from Tampa in 2004, right into the eventual path of Hurricane Charlie. We spent the afternoon playing cards. I’d get picked on the entire game for being slow in my decisions for my next move. We’re still friends with both,  but they parted ways, so we  no longer have those Sunday afternoons.

However, there are experiences which I have strong reason to suspect fit within this category of “last great days.”

A group of high school friends would rent a house for a week each summer at Myrtle Beach. This went on after graduation, and started to include some college friends of mine. Those were some great times. One summer we met some guys from Pittsburgh there with their parents. I became close friends with one of them, Bill. My first visit to Pittsburgh was a visit with him, and I  had a great time. As is so often the case, our contacts have lessened over the years, and we haven’t been in touch in a long time.

One of the people who came to be part of that summer beach group was my best friend from college, Jeff. Jeff was a terrific guy with a great family, and I felt very close to them. I remember the last summer we did the beach trip together, and I specifically remember a trip we made to Atlanta to attend a Braves Baseball game. It was my first major-league game. We had a fun weekend. Jeff, unfortunately slipped quietly away after I came out to him. I still miss that friendship, and those good times.

Another person who went along with us on that Atlanta trip was Jim. Jim was another close college friend who lived in Lenoir. I would pass through Lenoir on my way home from college. I wasn’t out in college. I was still kind of trying to sort out my feelings, and finding my sea-legs in this new world, but I realize now that Jim was probably my first real crush.

I was a Resident Assistant in a dorm for three years at Appalachian, which meant being one of the last to leave campus for breaks. I remember stopping to have lunch with Jim in Lenoir on my way home from Boone for a Christmas break. It was most likely my senior year, but I’m not positive. After lunch, we spent some time at his parents shooting pool. I’m not sure what made it such a great day, other than there was easy conversation, and just that warm feeling you get when around a good friend.

We had very few contacts after college. Jim went on to graduate school, and wound up in Atlanta, but I’ve since lost touch. He kind of vanished, and there’s never been any contact information for him in any of the directories published since our graduation.

Michael S. is another friend from Kings Mountain. He came through school a few years behind me. His sister was in my class. We had some fun experiences. I remember a visit he made to Boone near the end of a school year. I think he was probably a senior in high school then. My floor was having an end-of-the-year keg party on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Mike over-did it a little. He’d gone back to sit inside the car. I noticed a Park Ranger looking into the car at him (he was passed out), so I started over. Just as I got there, the door opened, Mike leaned out and puked on the Ranger’s boots. The Ranger was surprisingly calm about it.

I think the last great day I remember with Michael S. was a round of golf in Kings Mountain. It was a beautiful Fall day. It was just the two of us, and no one was playing behind us. We’d had a great time, but I specifically remember standing on one of the high greens at Woodbridge on Moss Lake looking out over the trees and the lake. I’d just paused and commented about what a great day it was. Mike walked over and put his arm around my shoulder, and we kind of stood together and took in the view for a few minutes. I stay in touch with Mike from time-to-time. He now lives in Savannah, but we’ve just drifted apart due to time and distance.

There’s been another Michael in my life (there seem to be an abundance of those), Michael L. He was a year or two ahead of me in High School, and we were friendly acquaintances. He didn’t start college at ASU for a year or so after I did, and we became much closer during those years.  We had some very good times. He had moved to Charlotte a couple of years after he graduated, and when I was in town, I’d be sure to have lunch. I got a strange call from him one day that had something to do with his much younger step brother, and it seemed to relate to him being gay, and Michael couldn’t hang out with me. The whole conversation never made any sense, and while we’ve talked from time to time since, that’s never come up. Our conversations are always fun, and I wish we could have them more often. I always have to be the one who calls.

We had some good times after college, but I remember two great days with Michael L. We went out one weekend night in Boone to see the movie Deer Hunter. We both came out of the theater kind of exhausted, and driving in silence to Blowing Rock to have a beer we finally both just said, “Wow!” The other time was a Friday when Michael was riding home with me. We had to make a later start, and that particular day was the last day Walter Cronkite was anchor for the CBS evening news. To watch, we stopped at a restaurant in Blowing Rock to have a sandwich and watch that last broadcast (this was in the days before TiVo or even VCR’s).

I came out in the 80s in Greensboro, N.C., and developed a lot of close and supportive friendships there. I remember fondly the community I found myself in there, and I had many wonderful times. One person I remember, in particular, was Sam H. Sam might well be one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. He came to parties at the house where I lived, hosted some parties of his own, and we attended a lot of parties together. I remember one particular party in our house when Sam sat down in a big fan-backed chair, and basically “read” everyone in the room, dishing us all in one way or another. We all laughed until our sides hurt.

There have been lots of other great days in my life. I realize, having thought about it because of the quote above, that many of these great days will be “last great days” with some of these people. As I said, I expect more great days with some friends I’m still in touch with, and I would like nothing more than to have more great days with all the people mentioned in this little story.

Last Great DaysJ. L. Carr wrote in A Month In The Country:

“And, at such a time, for a few of us there will always be a tugging at the heart—knowing a precious moment had gone and we not there. We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours for ever—the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on belfry floor, a remembered voice, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass. “

I don’t want this article to be a downer. While there is some sadness when one thinks about “last” great days, there is the warmth of memories, and the knowledge that there will be more great days with loved ones.

But let it also remind us of the importance of Carpe Diem. Don’t waste a moment in time nor take for granted a friend with whom you might have a “great day.” As Albert Camus wrote, “Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.” So build a generous tomorrow by living fully today with those around you.

What are some of your last great days with friends?

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