A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows you your strenghs; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recognizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities.
“So long as we love we serve; so long as we are loved by others I would almost say that we are indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend.” Robert Louis Stevenson
O who will walk a mile with me Along life's merry way? A comrade blithe and full of glee, Who dares to laugh out loud and free, And let his frolic fancy play, Like a happy child, through the flowers gay That fill the field and fringe the way Where he walks a mile with me. And who will walk a mile with me Along life's weary way? A friend whose heart has eyes to see The stars shine out o'er the darkening lea, And the quiet rest at the end o' the day,— A friend who knows, and dares to say, The brave, sweet words that cheer the way Where he walks a mile with me. With such a comrade, such a friend, I fain would walk till journeys end, Through summer sunshine, winter rain, And then?—Farewell, we shall meet again!
Chapter 21 ~ Joe Learns a Lesson
Joe drove along state route 57. He kept his speed at the posted 55 speed limit. Sam whacked Joe on his bicep. “Watch your speed, it slows down to 30 when we go through Marblehead.”
“Don’t hit me on my arm. It’s not like I can’t hear you.”
“Touchy? Afraid of what you might hear when you talk to Max Stein?” said Sam matter of factly.
Joe saw the speed limit sign, slowed down, and looked at the old worn out buildings and homes, “This is Marblehead? It looks more like a ghost town.”
“You never got your hands dirty with hard work is my guess. People live in these houses. They raise kids in these houses. It’s all they kin afford. But you kin make fun of it because you got some fancy apartment and you go and eat every night in a fancy restaurant. These folks don’t exist to you. As for me, I’d just as soon have a beer with them than with you and your friends. They’re real.”
Joe didn’t say anything. Sam’s words stung like an attack of killer bees. He knew Sam was right, but didn’t want to admit it. The town was no more than a half mile long. He drove over a small bridge and the speed limit changed back to 55.
The passed a soybean factory on the left. Joe looked over to his right, “You know what that is Sam?”
Sam turned to his right. “Those are storage caves. This used to be a big limestone mining area. You know the average temperature in one of the caves is about 55 degrees?”
“Yep. When you get our room, git a room with double beds. I hope you don’t snore, because if you do, you’ll have to put me up in separate room.”
Joe was kicking himself for buying Sam coffee and donuts six hours ago. He was kicking himself for thinking Sam might help him. And, he was kicking himself for agreeing to let Sam ride to him to Quincy. Now Sam was talking about going on to Boulder. Joe took a right on Broadway and drove east until he came to a Fairfield Inn on the east side of town. He pulled into the parking lot. Stopped the BMW in front of the lobby door and said, “I’ll be right back.”
Ten minutes later, Joe came out of the Fairfield and saw Sam standing outside of the car using Joe’s cell phone.
“What are you doing? Give me my iPhone?” demanded Joe.
Sam waved him off and turned his back toward Joe. Joe stepped closer and reached for the iPhone. Sam turned and started walking toward Broadway. Joe followed him.
Sam stopped at the edge of the parking lot. He held the iPhone away from his mouth and turned to Joe, “Let me finish my call or I’ll toss your cell into the street. How will that work for you?”
Joe threw his hands up in the air and went back to the BMW. He opened the door and sat inside. He whacked the steering wheel with his hand and winced from the pain he caused himself.
He turned and looked in the sideview mirror and saw Sam walking toward the car. Joe thought as soon as he gives me my phone, I’m telling him we’re done, through, finished. This is the end of the road for you and me.
Sam opened the passenger door, slid in the car. He said, “You know who I was talking to?”
“No, and I don’t care. Give me my iPhone.”
Sam held the iPhone in his right hand. He said, “I was talking to an old friend, Donna. She works as a waitress at Riverside Grill on 3rd Street. She said they have the best ribs in town. You kin take me to Goodwill and buy me some clean duds. Then I can go back and shower and shave. Before you get yourself all worked up, the reason I called her was I asked her if she knew anything Joe Ritchie and his Flamingos since he hung out in this area. You know what she said?”
“What?” said Joe.
“All she said, I’ll talk to you when I’m on break,” said Sam handing the iPhone to Joe.
Joe kicked himself for judging Sam too quickly. He felt guilty. He said, “There’s a Wal-Mart nearby. You can get your clothes there instead of Goodwill.”
Sam smiled and said, “No thanks. I just as soon help out Goodwill, they do a good service giving people work. I don’t need no high class clothes.”
“Thanks, Sam. I appreciate your help,” said Joe.
UPON THE SAND.
By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
All love that has not friendship for its base
Is like a mansion built upon the sand.
Though brave its walls as any in the land,
And its tall turrets lift their heads in grace;
Though skilful and accomplished artists trace
Most beautiful designs on every hand,
And gleaming statues in dim niches stand,
And fountains play in some flow’r-hidden place:
Yet, when from the frowning east a sudden gust
Of adverse fate is blown, or sad rains fall,
Day in, day out, against its yielding wall,
Lo! the fair structure crumbles to the dust.
Love, to endure life’s sorrow and earth’s woe,
Needs friendship’s solid mason-work below.
Chapter Five ~ A Starting Place
Tony was waiting on the porch steps, a mug of coffee in his hand, when Joe pulled into the driveway. Joe waved and reached over to the passenger seat and grabbed his backpack.
He got out of his car, closed the door and looked over at Tony. He said, “I hope you made enough coffee. I didn’t fall asleep until four. I only got three hours of shuteye. I’m blaming you for making talk last night.” He tossed Tony a big grin.
“Don’t blame me. If Marie was in bed with you, you wouldn’t have had a sleep problem,” Tony laughed.
“Sleeping single in a double bed is no fun, I agree. I’m going to get used to it until I find this guy. Let’s get started,” said Joe as he and Tony hugged. Joe followed Tony into the house.
While Joe was getting set his laptop up on the table, Tony went to the coffee pot and poured a fresh cup of coffee for both of them. He turned his head toward Joe and said, “I got a head start on our search this morning.”
“You find anything?” asked Joe half expecting Tony to have all the answers he needed.
Tony picked up two mugs of coffee and carried them over to the table. He set one down in front on Joe and the other to right side of his laptop. He went back to the counter and brought over a bag. He set the bag down, “There are bagels and cream cheese in the bag. Help yourself.”
Tony opened the bag, peered in and pulled out a pumpernickel bagel, a container of plain cream cheese and a plastic knife. He looked up at Tony, and said, “Well? What did you find?”
Tony reached for the bagel bag and said, “I figure your mom was about twenty, maybe twenty-one when you were born.”
Tony continued, “She was in college at St. Clare University. It was all women at the time. So we know Joe Wright wasn’t a student at St. Clare’s unless he was a cross-dresser.”
Joe rolled his eyes, and said, “I hope you got more than this.”
“Bear with me, Joe. I’m laying this out so a guy with your low level intellect can understand.”
They both laughed. Tony continued, “Just because he was in the army when he wrote the letter to your mom, doesn’t mean he was in the army when they met and started sleeping together.”
“Man, that hurts,Tony. Mom was such a saint in my mind. Then I see her in a skimpy bikini and now you toss in sleeping with guy who walked out on her. What next?”
“Give your mom a break, Tony. She was no different from you and me. What were you doing when you were 20? I remember a girl named Nina in high school. So, your mom got caught up with the wrong guy and got pregnant. You think she was the only woman on the planet that this ever happened to?”
Joe shook his head. He said, “You’re right, Tony.” Joe raised his head toward the ceiling, “Forgive me, Mom. My bad.”
Tony continued, “At the same time St. Clare’s was an all women university, across town was St. Bernard University. It was all male. A little Internet checking and the two universities held mixers throughout the year. You know, they wanted to make sure Catholics were marrying Catholics. Now, St. Bernard, like St. Clare’s is male and female. What if, Joe Wright was a student at St. Bernard’s? Think about it. St. Bernard’s had and still has an ROTC program. Students who joined the ROTC got their education paid for by the government in exchange for four years of military service and they were commissioned as officers when they graduated.”
Joe waited for moment. Then he said, “What you said is all true, but it’s pure speculation. You’re just guessing. The only thing I agree with is that he went to college. His being an officer in the army means he most likely went to college. It doesn’t mean he went to either Catholic college. If he’s local, it’s more likely he went OSU. They have a big ROTC program. Here’s another thought, what if he was in the army and home on leave and they got together. He could be six years older than mom.”
“You’re not making it easy, Joe.”
“I just did a quick search for the surname Wright and it is one of the most common in the US. There are nearly a half million people with that last name. All I need is a starting place and I think the rest will unfold. I’ll find a trail I can follow right to its end. If this guy is living or dead I want to know so I can close this chapter. It’s something I need to do or it’s going to eat at me for the rest of my life.”
“The logical first step is to ask your grandmother or your aunt Estelle. They both would know your mom was pregnant and not married,” said Tony.
A look of pain crossed Joe’s face. He said, “Gramma just went to a nursing home about two weeks ago. I hate to bring up a bad memory. She’s all alone. After mom was killed, all she has is Estelle. Estelle was four years younger than mom. I don’t think they were close when they were growing up.”
Tony said, “Why don’t you want to talk to them? I’ve never know you to be afraid of anything, now you’re afraid of talking to your gramma and aunt? If you really want to find Joe Wright, you’ve got to suck up and do what you don’t want to do. Your gramma is probably going to be happy to see you. When was the last time you visited her?”
Joe turned away from his friend. A flash of anger crossed his face. He knew if said what he wanted to say, he’d regret it and maybe lose a friend. He felt his jaw tighten. He looked down at his hands, they were balled into big fists, his fingernails were digging into his palms. After an eternal moment, he turned back toward Tony and said, “Anybody but you who said that to me, we would have taken it out into the street. You’re right, Tony. I haven’t been a good grandson. I haven’t stopped by to see her in six months.”
Tony said, “Your gramma is the first step. See what she can tell you.”
“Good idea, Tony. We have some time, let’s see what we can find. I’ll hit People Finder.
You try some other location services, maybe obituaries, that sort of thing. I’ll head to gramma’s this afternoon.
Joe nodded and fist bumped Tony.