By Joe Rector
I know that most of us have few friends but many acquaintances. However, for the sake of argument and the development of this piece, I’m going to talk about “friends” in a larger context. It’s been my good fortune over the years to have come into contact with plenty of folks whom I consider friends.
School brought many friends. Especially in high school, I enjoyed being with lots of teenagers with whom I had a common interest. Sometimes that shared interest was the music of band and choir. At other times, the bond existed around a case of beer and a drive-in movie. In all cases, we lived out our high school years and enjoyed some events that are still glowing memories after several decades.
I didn’t think I’d made friends in college. My efforts were turned toward making good grades while competing with two brothers and a sister-in-law who also were taking classes. I also wanted to make sure I didn’t screw up and get drafted into a war where I surely would have been killed in a relatively short time. Upon thinking back, I recalled that I had made at least a few friends. Two girls, Sandra Denny and Sharon Phillips, were also English majors, and we developed a close relationship. A student named Jamie Cotton and another named Paul Godwin were pals that I liked much. No, I haven’t seen any of them in years, but I still think about them every once in a while.
During my teaching years, I developed some strong friendships. At the old Doyle High School, a band of us teachers stayed close. Jim Pryor, Bob Shoemaker, Ray Garner, Jim Talley, and Bill Rickman used to walk to the baseball field during lunch to smoke and “chew.” Rob Howard and I became good friends as we coached freshman football. John Gilbreath and I were good friends who carpooled from West Knoxville for some time. We sang two-part harmony to songs on the radio and talked about every imaginable subject. I also had female friends in the English department, and they helped me through plenty of times.
At Karns High, more friends came. Dwight Smith, Glen Marquart, Geoff Davis, Spencer Riley, Dowell Bales, Rick Cathey, Lee Henson, and a bunch of others made my years easier as we enjoyed a variety of topics that had nothing to do with school. Mona Beverly, Marilyn McClain, and Terry Runger were pals as well. For just a few years, Amy Jennings was as close as any friend could be, and she was also like a second daughter.
At church, I’ve met so many wonderful folks who have made my life fuller and happier. At First Christian Church, people accepted us and included us in all things. We not only had a church home but also a family that shared years of our lives. Then we moved to Beaver Ridge United Methodist Church. Once again, people took us in, and in no time, we felt that same kindred spirit that we’d shared at FCC.
Over the years, the closest friends still are present. Doug Meister and I have been tight for about 30 years. We’ve played softball together and discussed religion and philosophy over that time. When we touch base, it’s as if nothing had separated us over the last 20-plus years. Billy Hayes is another special friend. How could he not be after we spent all those years coaching our sons in baseball and reliving each and every game and play under the carport at my house? Today, Joe Dooley and I are good friends who enjoy working together on yard projects or mission trips. It’s funny how we taught in the same school for so long but didn’t become friends until Amy and I moved to BRUMC. The last good friend is probably Catherine Nance. She and I sort of understood each other the first time I met her for an interview for a news story. I suppose we just connected, and to this day, I consider her a close confidant and fantastic minister with a special gift of delivering a message that we all need to hear.
These days, my new friends are found in a bunch of older guys with whom I work. The definition of a friend includes the qualities of being nice and being helpful. Both fit these men who have taken me in and explained how things are done. They make each day at work a pleasant one, and I enjoy their company.
Friends come and go out of our lives, and it’s true that only a handful are truly close friends. Still, I feel fortunate to have been in touch with so many good people over the years. They’ve all made my life a little better.