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The summer of '74 l Chuck's World

 

October 2, 2019



I’ve been exchanging text messages with an old friend lately, “old” as in old. We met when we were 15, 46 years ago this month. Maybe on this very day, who knows? I didn’t make a note in my diary.

What we’ve been texting about is the impeachment talk, although that’s hardly remarkable. We rarely communicate these days, though, as he’s not on social media and doesn’t live in my neighborhood. We share the occasional text or email, that sort of thing. So this is a little unusual.

And it’s not really about current events. It’s about friendship, and how often that surprises me.

I’m very curious about long friendships, particularly in this era, when it’s easy to at least pretend to maintain relationships we should have aged out of long ago. I’m always happy to reconnect and catch up with lives I barely remember, but this isn’t really friendship.

Then there are the ones who slip away, who share significant moments of our personal history but seem less compatible with age. Again, a generation ago this would have gone unnoticed; now, it seems we often extend our friendships past their expiration date, just because it’s easy, not necessarily meaningful.

But this particular friendship is different. It began in adolescence, for one thing, when our interests were just forming and mostly involved girls. I say “mostly” only because we also liked to sleep and eat.

We grew up together, in other words. We stayed friends throughout high school and our college years. We married within a few months of each other, in our mid-20s, and he and his wife followed us to the Pacific Northwest from Arizona.

This is what I find curious. My buddy and I have diverged in many ways since those early days, and a Venn diagram of our interests and hobbies would intersect only occasionally.

I wasn’t surprised to get his message, though, and as serious as our current political situation is, it made me smile.

“Impeachment!” he texted me. “Just like the old days, except I won’t be riding my bike over to watch.”

It cemented our friendship, that summer of 1974. The year before, I’d spent the entire summer watching the Watergate hearings, imitating Sam Ervin’s funny drawl to make my friends laugh. I wouldn’t have tuned in if I hadn’t been fascinated, but there’s no ignoring the formative nature of the experience.

And the next summer, as impeachment hearings ramped up, as the “smoking gun” tape was finally released, and as Richard Nixon flashed his victory sign from the steps of Marine One for the last time, my friend would pedal over to my house (once we woke up; it was summer) and we’d watch history happening together.

There’s nothing like real-time history to make the subject breathe. The first draft was being written every day on the front pages in 1974, some of which I kept and still have. My interest in American history and politics was already smoldering, but this was a big spark.

Again, this is a somber moment for our republic, not to be taken lightly. I’m enjoying having something substantial to read and think about. I’m worried about how things will play out. I’m not sure nostalgia is appropriate, but there it is. I remember, and my friend is part of the memory.

If you’re on Facebook, scroll through your list of friends sometime. I do this occasionally, mostly to marvel at how many of them I don’t really know.

I long ago stopped paying much attention to Facebook, and I rarely see posts from most of these people, having muted their odd opinions and their multiple photos of dogs. I like dogs. One picture a day would be enough, I think.

As I mentioned, this particular friend isn’t on social media, aside from an infrequent Twitter presence to share articles about professional golf (something that would have baffled me when we were 15). We have an old-fashioned friendship, then, sustained by history and a strange inertia that seems to hold the whole thing together.

I can go years without seeing him. When he got remarried a few years ago, I went to the wedding, but I don’t know his wife that well.

I only have a vague idea about what he does for a living these days, although I was actually the one who suggested he take the class that set him on his particular career path.

But friendships are forged in specific fires, apparently, and it only took a casual text message to bring me back to that ’70s show. From this perspective, we seem to have been perfectly ordinary teenagers except for being sort of civics nerds. I guess that was enough.

History doesn’t repeat, and if we think it does, then I suspect we’re not paying enough attention. I don’t have predictions or even guesses as to how our current crisis will resolve, but it will resolve. I have opinions. I have concerns.

I was just surprised to also find a little pleasure in the mix, after all these years, in shared experiences and good friends. And if you had told me, 45 summers ago, that it would all come back with just a short text message, I don’t think I would have been surprised at all.

Well. I would have asked what a text message is.

Also, the golf thing would have been very confusing. People are funny.

 

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