31 July 2006

Friends: It's a Generational Thing

Last night I got a really cool call. "Hey, Jim," said the voice on the other end of the line, "It's been a long time."

Since I have been through a bevy of names in my short life, I can often infer someone's relationship with what they call me.
  • The name, "Jim," belongs to my school days--primarily grades one through ten. I knew right away that this person and I went way back.
  • If I'm "James," then it's a professional relationship, usually.
  • "Jay" is the name from my four seminal years in Arizona.
  • I'm "Dittes" to my AZ students and a few Portlanders here.
  • And, sadly, if it's "Dits" "Dietz" or "Deits" it's usually a telemarketer. Click.
It turned out to be Eric, my best friend from my days growing up in southeastern Ohio. We hadn't talked for years--it turned out to be eight as we pieced together our last conversation eight years ago (the last chat I ever carried on over Instant Messenger).

Even though I moved from Ohio to Tennessee just before my 13th birthday, Eric and I had been able to keep in touch over the years. We attended each other's high school graduations, and he was a groomsman in my wedding. Our deep bond came from our years as close friends, but it was kept alive by meeting at Cincinnati Reds games once a summer.

When Eric and I were ten, we moved from collecting toy cars to buying packs of baseball cards. He and I both loved the Reds, and we were always pestering our parents for another 35 cents to buy a pack that included 15 cards and a stick of bubble gum.

When we were eleven, our parents drove us three hours to Cincinnati to attend a game between the Reds and the Atlanta Braves. It was one of the shining moments of my childhood, and I carry many images from that game: the Reds' starting pitcher (Bruce Berenyi), the Braves right fielder (Jerry Royster), and the time Johnny Bench came to bat with two outs and the bases loaded (he popped out).

The next year we found the entrance to the locker room, and we waited anxiously for autographs of our favorite players. That was also the year that our families started the tradition of walking to the Spaghetti Factory for a post-game meal.

After I moved to Tennessee, we met for a few more games. I was in England in 1990, the last year the Reds won the World Series, but Eric was a true friend. He made it to a game, and he even sent me a ticket stub to help me share in the glory (I have it framed, along with a picture that I clipped from the London Independent about the Reds' victory).

When he called, I thought, "This must be something big!" I prepared myself to drop everything and head up to the Magical Land for a wedding. Instead Eric told me about his business selling sports tickets on E-bay, and he invited me to attend...yes, a Reds game with him and his girlfriend in September.

Today Ellie was on the phone for a similar reason. Darby, her best friend since age three, had moved away this year, first to Chattanooga and now on to Oklahoma.

"Dad, I need to use three-way calling," she said. I had never used this feature but I dutifully--dadifully--got online and figured it out. Within minutes, we had Darby on one line and Kaitlyn on the other. They were talking girl stuff.

Next, Ellie moved online, directing her friends to some of her favorite web sites. As they looked at them together, they talked about TV stars, clothes, and many other pre-teen inanities. By the time supper had called an end to the conversation, Ellie's sadness for her missing friend had been sated.

As we sat down to eat, I tried to compare Ellie's lost friend with the one I had left behind 22 years ago. In the age before three-way calling and unlimited long distance, it had been a miracle to get the chance to meet at a Reds game once a year. Despite the miles that separated them, Ellie and Darby could confer over a joint love of Disney Channel, not baseball.

Of course this blog goes out to far-flung friends as well, keeping us informed about one another's thoughts and news, so maybe I'm not as "old school" as my daughter's high-tech reunion might have made me feel.


Meg said...

From a far flung friend across the globe...

I enjoyed reading this JD. One of life's little ironies I guess-it is both a great sadness and also joy to have friends all over the world.

Amanda said...

You have always been able to tell a story well, JD. This was a real pleasure to read. I have a few similar tales of re-connections with valuable long-time friends. Aren't we lucky that the Internet and all these other modern phenomena make it possible to find people who have impacted and enriched our lives so much?