Life According to My Friend, Vernon
SO THERE WAS THIS GUY
I met in the seventh-grade whose name was Vernon. This was, and is, his real name. I am not using his real last name, not that he would mind, but to spare him of what few people wouldn't stop to understand Vernon, but just to laugh at him.
And that I couldn't bear.
VERNON WAS NOT AN INTELLIGENT
man if you judged by his appearance. Vernon, to me, was ahead of his time in how he dressed and how he thought, not just of school work, but of life.
Vernon always wore a faded-blue wool sweater to school, and everywhere else I assume. I know this because every time I would see him in and out of school, he had that faded-blue wool sweater on and looking sharp.
VERNON AND I WERE ALWAYS
friends for as long as I can remember. In my tough times, Vernon was there. In my jubilation, Vernon was there. There was not a time I can remember that Vernon was not at my side.
Well, there was this one time, he didn't stand-up for me.
IN SEVENTH-GRADE EVERY TEST IS TOUGH
and it is like your life depends on how you do on those tests. I sweated a lot when we had tests. I was secretly-hoping that my teacher, Mrs. Lena Ray Shotts, would think I had an affliction and take pity on me and give me a passing grade.
She didn't. Mrs. Shotts was a pretty woman teacher, but I never had a crush on her. That in itself is amazing. For I started appreciating females a year before in 1966, but that is another story for another hub.
On this particular occasion, we were being tested on some mathematical portion of junior high math and I, dumb as a tree, resorted to underhanded-tactics in order to pass. I asked my best friend, Vernon, to let me copy his homework. You see, Vernon was always "acing" math tests, so who could blame me for choosing Vernon to copy from?
THE CLASSROOM WAS SILENT
and all that you could hear was the sound of us breathing, pencils being dropped on the tile floor, and papers shuffling on desks. I was doing great using Vernon's homework because I wasn't sweating that much--just whizzing through each problem like beer through kidneys. Man, was I going to be a hit with the girls by bragging about my wisdom of such high-levels of math.
At least that was my thinking.
You know something. Junior high teachers are like the King Cobra in their stealth-like ways of sneaking up on a dumb student who is cheating. I can testify that this is true because halfway through our test, Mrs. Shotts in her southern lady-like fashion, stood by my desk and gently pulled Vernon's homework from under my paper I was using to cover it and said . . .
"Vernon, here is your homework."
Both Vernon and I froze. I started sweating artillery bullets while Vernon never showed any hint of fear. He just grinned his opossum grin and reached over the row of desks that separated us and took back his homework. I thought I was going to be made an example of by Mrs. Shotts for cheating.
But God was merciful to me and she never mentioned it.
rolled around, Vernon was missing from my class. What I mean was that on the first few days of being in "real" junior high, was like being born again for me. I felt like I was no longer a kid, but a young man in mind and soul. Vernon and I kidded-around on our school bus about life and women as we enjoyed the newness of eighth-grade.
I foolishly thought that "this" good thing would never end.
I told you earlier that I wasn't bright. And so on about the second-week of the eighth-grade, I began to worry about Vernon. I asked those who are supposed to know all things, the girls of my class. All I got was a few flimsy answers and some rolled-up eyes at my question.
But I missed my best friend, Vernon. I tried not to think the worst that maybe he had moved. Died, I could cope with, but not him moving away so I couldn't joke around with him on the phone after school.
Eighth-grade went by faster than I thought. Not that I wasn't thankful. Summer vacation was here and I was excited for the first time in a long time. My missing Vernon was still there, but it wasn't as bad as at the start of the school year.
FALL CAME AND WENT
and it was time for another new chapter in my life: Ninth-grade. I was worried about such a monumental shift in my life. I mean, seventh and eighth-grade were rough enough, but who was I going to cheat from in the ninth-grade with no Vernon? This worried me all that summer.
BUT ON THE FIRST MORNING
I boarded Mr. Linlon Cox's school bus, my heart leapt into my throat. There he sat grinning like an opossum eating sweet persimmons. Vernon. In that faded-blue wool sweater. I thought I was going into a trance or having a stroke. Naaah, I am too young for a stroke I thought as I sat down next to Vernon.
This is the actual conversation that we had:
ME: Vernon! You old rascal. Where have you been for long
VERNON: (laughing) awww, I moved up north and went to work.
ME: Work? Doing what?
VERNON: I had an uncle get me a job in an auto plant.
NOTE: Vernon even had his W-2 Form with him. I guess to show where he had been. And to this day I never actually knew why he had these adult forms with him on the first day of ninth-grade.
NINTH-GRADE WAS NOT THAT EVENTFUL
in the fact that after a couple of weeks, Vernon was gone. I mean for good. No goodbye. No hand shake with me, his best buddy. Just a good case of gone.
I guess for the very first time, I was angry and resentful with Vernon for not telling me that he was going to vanish, but it was that anger that drove me to do good and pass the ninth-grade.
And with God's help, I did.
THE NEXT TIME
I heard anything from or about Vernon was from my brother-in-law, Tim Winsett, his real name. I am using his entire name because he loves to be the center of attention. He also loves Elvis Presley and can sing like him too.
Tim told me that Vernon, who now had owned his own logging company, had a near-death truck accident and lost his left arm and messed-up his face so much that it required a lot of plastic surgery.
I never told Tim about my anger toward Vernon leaving me stranded in the ninth-grade. Now my anger was replaced with concern and sympathy for Vernon, who had never experienced anything close to failure in all of the time we knew each other.
THE NEXT TIME
I ran into Vernon was at our first-annual New Home School Reunion. (New Home School was a real two-room school house that in the early 60's, Vernon and I met and went to school for the first time).
I was nervous as I walked into the gymnasium of our local recreational center where our reunion was being held. Who could blame me? Vernon had left me without friend or broom handle to lean on.
"Kenny, you old dog," I heard a very familiar voice boom.
I looked around and it was him. Vernon. Wearing a special harness to allow him to use part of his left arm and his face was not that disfigured.
And believe this or not. My eyes never saw the affects of his accident, but my heart only saw that it was my best friend.