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Smiles in the School Cafeteria

June 16, 2015

“Telephone’s ringing, but I don’t answer it
’cause everybody knows that good news always sleeps till noon”

– Michael Timmins from Sun Comes Up It’s Tuesday Morning

Parents with young children sleep with one eye open. My boys are both adults, but my self-imposed need to stay “near the phone” remains. Against all my intuition on keeping a cell phone on the bedroom dresser at night, I still do. At some point, it’ll be the other way around. I’ll decide that I need a phone nearby in case I need to get their attention in the middle of the night.

I try to avoid the phone first thing in the morning. It’s my first chance of the day to keep free of the ball and chain. Last Saturday I got out of bed at about 4:45 and saw the little blue light flashing on the cell phone. I took a peek and saw “Sad News” from JG, sitting in my email. JG and I have been friends since our school days. We’re what you call lifetime friends.

I read his brief email, went downstairs for a short glass of water and then climbed back into bed to doze. I dreamed about three animated teen-aged boys with long hair. Smiling. All of them smiling.

JG is from a family of JGs. Mr. and Mrs. G, Jim and Jan, raised three boys, Jeff, Jack and Joel. Jim and Jan were good Midwestern parents. They worked hard, knew the strength of family and raised good boys.

Jeff, a couple of years older than me, was the first in the family I heard about. He was a high school basketball star who knew how to put the ball in the hoop. He could drive and get to the backboard, but I mostly remember his outside jump shot. Even though this was when the 3-point line was nowhere to be found except in the wacky world of the ABA, Jeff threw them up from a distance and could rack ’em up.

Jack and I became chums in our first year at high school. I don’t remember how or where this happened, exactly. It was likely on the basketball court, since I don’t think we had class together. Whatever it was, it stuck through all of life’s changes.1984 13 of 13-2

Joel was Jack’s little brother. I last saw him the summer before I moved out west, so would become to know him only through Jack’s stories. I had him tucked away in my mind in Northern Wisconsin, helping Jan. When Jan lost Jim a few years ago, Joel picked up and moved nearby to help her. That’s where I had him – down the road from his aging mother, shadowed by the long-haired teenager carrying textbooks through the school cafeteria with a big smile on his face.

Joel 6-6 20Miles and years away, I’m out here thinking about Jack and his family.


Jack sorted through his photos and made a video about Joel.

People who grew up with Jackson Browne can’t listen to For a Dancer without reflection or some sort of emotional investment. As with a lot of his songs, you can only listen when you are ready.

I don’t believe there’s anything to make of it, but let me tell you anyway. I happened to play For a Dancer for the first time in a long while just about the time Jack placed it in his video for Joel. An oddity that I mention, but cannot explain.

Just do the steps that you’ve been shown
By everyone you’ve ever known
Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours
Another’s steps have grown
In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone

– J. Browne, from For a Dancer

  1. Agree– still feel the phone is the best way to convey news, not emails. Sorry for your loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry to hear about the sad news.

    I keep a phone near me at night too. You never know when you might be needed. But I have it on Do Not Disturb for everything except my family. That way I won’t miss an important call from them, but I won’t get a bunch of text alerts that disrupt me sleep.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing, Bruce. We grow apart from our close friends but never forget them. Joel will live on in your hearts.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Some lovely memories. I’m sorry it took some sad news to reignite them. Condolences.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sorry for your loss. I’m sure writing this wonderful reflection helped you a lot. When I played the video it was all scrambled here, but clear on Youtube – just wanted you to know. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bruce, I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. Our lives are intertwined with our childhood friends & memories, those we spent time with growing & learning, as we make our way into adulthood. When we lose them, we can’t help but feel a sense of longing for they easy breezy days of our youth & those who were such a part of our life. Wishing you a peaceful heart my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I grew up with the McCormick family. Sarah and I were the same age and were fast friends when we started kindergarten together. There were six of them. Almost exactly twenty-five years ago, her youngest sister was killed by a drunk driver, leaving behind several small children. I went to Patricia’s funeral, forever cementing my place with their family. We are all still close. Sarah’s son thinks of me as his Uncle Mat and I have been with her older sister and her husband when they have buried two of their three children.

    The roots run deep, very deep.


    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jackson Browne writes some great lyrics. I thought the album Lawyers in Love was a lyrical masterpiece. Anyway, I just stopped by to say, it’s good to hear from your, Bruce. Hope you don’t read this until after 12:00 Pacific time 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. With two kids in their twenties and aging parents, I often fear bad news when receiving an early morning call. Love Jackson Browne!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lovely memories in that video. Condolences for your loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Very sorry for your loss … thank you for sharing your memories and heart with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Joel looked like he got a whole lot of life packed into a short time. But I’m so sorry for your loss, and for that of your friend.

    “Sad news” is how my father started the phone call that told me that my sister, Judy, had passed. Hearing/seeing those words will make my heart stop for the rest of my life, I’m sure.

    As someone whose experienced this devastating loss, I suggest that you remember Joel when you speak with Jack. Not just now when it is fresh. But always. Because one of the hardest things to bear is that people pretend that the person you loved so very much never existed after a few months. (For this reason, I love the Harry Potter books. They comfort me. Because unlike in our world, in the wizzarding world, folks don’t get forgotten when they die.)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. And now that I’ve read the whole thing, I feel like utter crap. I wish there was a way to delete my prior comment. I’ve had a somewhat similar experience with a good friend of mine who died suddenly at the age of 30. I’ll just leave it at that. I’m sorry for the loss of your childhood friend and what it means to you now. It’s a difficult thing to deal with, but it sounds like you have some incredible memories to hold on to.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sorry to hear about your friend. (╥︣﹏᷅╥)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. A caring tribute, Bruce. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  16. So sad. Thanks for sharing, BT. He did have a wonderful smile…one that never seemed to leave his face.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. ralph permalink

    well put

    Liked by 1 person

  18. My family, which is now reduced to my siblings, niece, bro-in-law and me, does not do that early morning bad news phone call. Last year, when my sister and I were participating in our dying dad’s hospice care, my sister had a brain freeze about our rule. She told his caretakers to call us at any time if his condition worsens or he dies. I said, “We both know that Dad’s dying. Do you really want them to call us at 4am so we can drive over in the middle of the night? You bitch about not being able to find a place to park at ten in the morning!” My sister changed the directive to call us after 7am. When his condition worsened, my brother got the call, but he didn’t check his voicemail until after 10am. Fortunately, my sister and I got to Dad’s bedside in time to be with him during his final hour, which is what we wanted.

    I am very sorry about your friend buying his rainbow. Our friends own a piece of our history as we own a piece of theirs. They are irreplaceable.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. George Shaw permalink


    Although we’ve never met I wanted to say thank you for a caring tribute to Joel. I worked with him for 12 years in the Middle East and can honestly say that he was a unique individual. I was in sales for 45 years. Joel took sales to a new level and did so with confident laughter. I have been deeply saddened by the news of his sudden passing. Your YouTube clip is a truly fitting memory in song and picture.

    George Shaw

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Such a beautiful tribute to your friend, Bruce. I am sorry for your loss.


  21. I think we honor those we love and respect through our writing. You honored Joel beautifully here. Thanks for sharing such beautiful thoughts of long-ago but still living friendships, of music that personifies love and friendship and memories, and of a man who left his family way too soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Bruce, I am sorry for the loss of your friend. He and I were born the same year. Makes ya think.
    I keep my phone by my bed, but in case my parents, sisters, or son needs me. Somehow we don’t think it will be our friends.
    Thanks too for sharing Jackson Brown’s words in song

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Bruce, I’m sorry. A little bit of us dies with each friend and family member. We are old, lost five longtime friends last year, three currently with cancer. But they stay alive in our hearts.


  24. You honored him well with this, Bruce. My thoughts and hugs are with you.


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  1. Teach Your Children Well | Ram On
  2. Ram On 2015 – Part 1 | Ram On

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