Four friends for life, we took a long weekend to reunite while we could, to share that which had brought us together, and lean on each other in the face of our failings. Why now, during the height of football playoffs? Because there is no tomorrow promised.
My phone has been a-buzzin’. How come I was not there for Friday and Saturday playoff games this past week?
“Are you OK?” a friend from downstate wrote.
I’m fine, in fact…or for all I know. I just needed to get away; and I wouldn’t have done it now had it not been for friend Pat Jewett, from Hanover, Minnesota.
Pat and I, you see, have been pheasant hunting buddies for nearly a quarter century. And over the years he’s introduced me to two other guys, Ronnie Straiting and Jerry Moenning (Manning) that have become part of a quartet in life that you would call not only friends, but “the board of directors”, as Pat might put it. This past weekend…Pat called a meeting.
He actually called me weeks ago to share that the four of us needed to get together for what might be that one last hunt. “You never know, kid,” he said. “We’re not gettin’ any younger.” And this was not as simple as just meeting at Panera.
No, it involved a flight to Minneapolis and a nine-hour drive west to Elgin, North Dakota, the site of so many of our best days together in the pheasant fields, chasing the seeming endless population of upland game birds on the Dakota prairies. And yes, we did get in that one last hunt (just in case). We killed some birds, but more, consoled and supported each other over our misses. We laughed, as always, but this time with a mindful eye on the clock and the consequences of time.
But the agenda was far more sobering than the fact of missed shots we used to make. This meeting was about friends sharing their souls, their hearts, and their need for each other over past choices and consequences.
Each of us had lost parents recently.
And the addictions you don’t appreciate, or calculate the cost of, when you’re young…when you’re untouchable.
Only now we’ve been touched. What’s that saying? What’s done for one is done for all? The laughter was different this time. There was a sense of remaining time. There were more sobering nods than nonsense.
Five years ago it was nothing for the four of us to walk fifteen miles in waist-high prairie grass. We pushed the limits of daylight and sundown (the close of the shooting day) until there was no longer a pink tinge on the horizon. This time, we made one ceremonial last mile walk as we wrapped up on Saturday morning. By noon we had hugged for a last time, and Pat and I pointed the Suburban back across I-94 through Bismarck and Fargo to the Twin Cities.
There was no talk of highlights, or high fives, but rather, recollections of days and people past. His dad, my dad, our dads, and the times of their lives, and now…the times of our own. How we reconcile with the loss that’s sure to come.
I hated to miss the weekend games…the highs of Jackson Center winning its second straight title in volleyball, of Miami East winning its third in six years…and the lows of area football teams you’ve followed since two-a-days bowing out prematurely, of hopes for championships dashed.
But this particular weekend brought perspective to sports and such games of youth. While there is no promise of tomorrow, there is an understanding that the percentages favor those whose glory is at hand.
I looked longer this weekend at the photos of kids, buddies, teammates, consoling each other at the hour of finality…meetings of their minds and hearts. I smiled. Their issues are ahead of them. They don’t know it, but it’s a good thing.
The real “board meetings” come later!
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