One thing about living on this planet as a human, that it takes a while to realize, is that it isn't forever. I met John sometime over 60 years ago, I think. When you've known someone for that long, it's hard to remember the details of your meeting. I believe either Dave Buskness or John Ranney introduced me to John when we were 8 or 9 years old. And I believe it was at Seventh Avenue Baptist Church here in Council Bluffs. But I can't swear to it.
Anyway. When most people are 8 or 9, they have little or no concept of death, especially personal death. John and Dave and John Ranney who was a year younger than us, and Wink Longnecker, who was a year older, hung out together through high school. It was in high school that John and I grew close. We became like brothers… so close that we even fought like brothers sometimes.
Wink graduated first and wound up flying helicopters in Vietnam. When John and I graduated, I went on to college and John joined the Navy. After college, I joined the Air Force and eventually found myself also in Vietnam. It may have been around that time that we first began believing in death.
John and I lost track of each other then for about a decade. We both survived our military stints -- so did Wink -- so the thought of death visiting us personally faded from our consciousness.
When we reconnected, John and I were still drinking and smoking. We did a lot of those over the next few years. We were both living in Iowa back then. We both married. In John's case a couple of times. :-)
I never met John's first wife, Ruth (until today) but I loaned John $125.00 to buy her a ring. There were a couple more wives, Wanda and Julie, and finally Penny. John was passionate about all his wives, but Penny was the only one who stuck with him through thick and think. What love!
John got sober 33 years ago. He was sober when he met Penny. That may have something to do with their longevity. I quit smoking 12 years ago, so I was a non-smoker when I met Sally. And that definitely played a role in our getting together.
John met Penny through my first wife, Vicki. Penny and Vicki were friends in school and had stayed in touch. Penny married John on December 31, 1989, and that marriage lasted. He finally got it right.
My marriage to Vicki ended less than 2 years after their marriage began, and John stayed with me. I was single for the next 19 years, but John always assured me that "she's out there." John describes Penny as his best friend. And, true to John's prediction, I finally met Sally 8 years ago. That's when I finally got it right. Sally has become my best friend.
John and I lived in different parts of the country for the last 30 years or so, but a couple of decades ago, we started hooking up around Presidents Day. Which often was about half-way between our birthdays: John's in late January and mine in late February. It was mostly just John and me. We did this to celebrate the anniversary of our 50th birthdays. When we got together, I would drink and John would smoke. We knew each other well enough that it didn't jeopardize his sobriety or my smokefreeness.
We have rendezvoused in Vegas, Reno, Albuquerque, New Orleans, and various other places. In 2000 we went to Belize. John brought Penny and his son Roy. I was single then, so I got to room with Roy. Then in 07 we went to Australia, with Penny and my then girlfriend Judy. She had taught school Down Under about the same time I was stationed in Vietnam in 1972. She showed us around her old stomping grounds. That's where this shirt I'm wearing came from. It was the 10th anniversary of our 50th birthdays.
We had planned on getting together for our 20th, but John ran into a problem with his arteries, and we had to postpone. Then, eventually, we had to cancel.
I did get to see him for our 21st anniversary, at his home in Colorado. We went to Gunther Toody's. That's the last time I saw him alive. But I got to talk with him, laugh with him, touch him. We'll resume our get togethers someday.
I now firmly believe in death. But only as a gateway to a new life.
Rest in peace, John, my oldest best friend.