Getting Back in Touch

Felton and I were friends in high school.  Not real close.  He was Black and I was white, and close friendship was a little dicey back then, in the late 50s, in Kansas City, Missouri — or so it seemed to me at the time. So we would see each other at school, and especially after school, at track practice.

Freshman year, we were kind of friendly rivals, both running the same events — sprints. But by the next year my fast-twitch muscles jumped ahead of his — Felton was fast; I was faster (not to brag). I never knew how he felt about that; that’s just how it was. So we didn’t seem as much rivals, which maybe made it easier to be friends.

I remember a few things. One time I noticed him running barefoot. This was on a cinder track, tiny, hard, black, sometimes sharp pieces.  To me, barefoot on that stuff was no mean feat. I asked him about it. “Oh, we used to go without shoes all the time, when we were kids,” he answered. “Guess I’m used to it.”  So of course, I had to try. It hurt a little, but surprisingly, I was able to do it. Not for very long, and I was glad to get my socks and shoes back on. But I could see how it was possible.

Senior year I pulled a hamstring — bad. Most of the time I wasn’t able to run. I remember at the Kansas Relays, working on handoffs with the 880 [yard — that was pre-metric] relay team: Rodney, the two Davis brothers, and Felton. We were proud of our handoffs — we could gain a yard or more on faster teams on every handoff, sometimes enough to beat them. I had made the trip hoping I would be able to run; Felton had come along to take my place if we needed him, and as it turned out, we did. Instead of running, I was taking them through practicing handoffs, over and over, adjusting the takeoff points, getting it all just right. That day we won!  “Congratulations, Coach,” Coach said to me afterwards, grinning.

A week or so before graduation, Felton and I talked about colleges. He was making a choice, University of Missouri or Lincoln University, a small Black school in Jefferson City. I was for Missouri; he was leaning toward Lincoln. Knowing what I know now, maybe he was right: it was 1961, and though we didn’t have a governor standing in the door, Felton would have been one of a handful at MU and might have felt not all that welcome. I was perhaps being naive; Felton was not. I don’t know what he finally decided.

Twenty-five years later at our class reunion, there he was. We had been out of contact since that conversation about college. He was heavier, bearded. It was good to see him. A bus driver now, Felton was President of his union, something I appreciated, having become much more political in those twenty-five years. We had a good time talking, laughing. He wrote down his address and phone number for me, on a torn off piece of paper.

I carried that paper around in my wallet for, it must have been twenty years. I would look at it every now and then, especially when I got a new wallet and transferred the contents. At those times I would think, “Gee, I should really check on Felton.” But I didn’t.

One day I was making change and that piece of paper fell out.  I thought to myself, “Gee, I should really check on Felton.” This time, though, I actually followed through. I called the number, but the person who answered did not know him — it had been nearly twenty years, after all. I tried but was unable to find an email address for him. So I did what has now become a very unusual thing for most of us — I wrote him a letter, putting my phone number and my email at the bottom.

Three months went by and nothing came back. I had pretty much forgotten about it, when I got an email from somebody I didn’t know. “I’m sorry, but Felton passed away last February [four months before], of a massive heart attack. We met each other just a year ago and got married two months later; he made me so happy — he was the most wonderful man I have ever known. Any friend of his must be a wonderful person too.”

So — is there someone who once upon a time  in your life was important to you at some point, whom you cared about, even a little, somebody you might once in a while think about and wonder about? Hey, do it now! Finding people has become much easier now, with Google and Facebook. Find him or her and get back in touch. If you’re good to yourself, you know, you might live another fifty or sixty years — but your friend? Who knows?

Do it today.  Yes?

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