It was on one of those average hot, humid summer eves when no one wanted to do much of anything. We complained the a/c wasn’t working. It worked fine for what it was designed to do but in that kind of humidity found in the south, it just wasn’t enough. Nights like that brought neighbors outside to sit on their front porches wiling away their time visiting one another. There just wasn’t much else to do. It was one of those evenings my friend proudly showed me his record of our peers who had passed away.
With a black felt pen, he’d drawn a cross through their high school yearbook photos and scribbled their date of death next to their names. Morbid as it was, throughout my lifetime, as my peers dwindled in number, I’ll never forget that night and Mark’s death records.
Mark was a curious sort. It had been sometime in the late sixties that I’d met him. He’d earned the moniker, “Wheat Germ” and was teased and taunted by the bigger kids. It wasn’t that he was small by any means but that he presented himself with a dwarf like manner often hunched over and timid. As our friendship grew through the years, I watched him slowly change as he became stronger, toned and proud. He allowed his hair to grow. It was sometime in the early seventies he’d cut his long hair and feeling remorse for doing so showed me the pony tail he kept in the glove box of his old Chevy station wagon. Eventually his hair would be waist length though he’d often keep it stuffed up under his old ball cap.
While he lived in a small house his parents had built in 1960, I lived with my parents about a mile away in a suburban neighborhood that was popular at the time with tree lined streets and cement sidewalks. The edge of that community backed up close to his house. I’d often get a kick out of seeing my friend walking down the sidewalk to my house. My neighbors did as well because Mark was a bit of a showman. He’d made stilts out of scrap lumber that made him a veritable giant with his head towering a good twelve feet above the pavement. He would often walk on those stilts the mile or so from his home to mine. He made me a set and taught me how to use them. I had to stand on his porch to climb onto the foot pegs while he could run across the lawn and stick the ends of them into the grass propelling him up onto the stilts like a pole vaulter rising to the crossbar.
With a hard earned $400, my parents let me buy a 1964 Triumph TR-4 that was in pretty rough shape but to me was the best looking car in the world. The faded Carolina blue car could only be started by shorting out the starter under the hood with a screwdriver but the convertible top was solid enough to keep out the rain as I drove. It seems as though I only drove that car to and from every junk yard in the south seeking parts to restore it. Mark always had an eye for the TR-4, too. One day he suggested trading one of his Kawasaki motorcycles to me for the Triumph. My father was thrilled to get his driveway back though my mother wasn’t too happy when I showed up with a Kawasaki 350.
Nearly forty years later I’m finally exploring Facebook. Looking up one old friend then another, I plug in Mark’s name to the search field and am directed to another site where I could read his obituary from the previous June. I was in Southern California the day my old friend died. Others have come and gone but his passing has left a void like no other. He was one of the reasons I fell in love with motorcycles. He was one of the reasons I yearned to travel for he seldom could but often dreamt of doing…I wished I’d looked him up a few years ago. If I had an old high school yearbook; Mark, I’d cross your photo out with a black felt tip pen. Rest in peace, my friend.