By Joe Rector

I called an old friend not long ago to see how he was doing and if he and his wife had completed their vaccinations against this cursed virus that’s plagued us for over a year. He assured me that all is well and he would soon receive both shots and be in good shape.

Doug Meister and I have been friends for a long time. In fact, I’m not quite sure what year he arrived in Knoxville to become the associate minister at First Christian Church. This guy with long hair, a beard and a gravelly voice was an unlikely candidate for a friend. He hailed from Ohio. He received his ministerial degree from, of all places, Vanderbilt. In fact, the man is a fan of Ohio and Vanderbilt sports.

Both of us were in our 30s when Doug arrived in Knoxville. The more we talked, the better friends we became. One year, Doug formed a church softball team and convinced me to play. I told him that I wasn’t able to run, partially due to an ankle that had been broken several times and on which I had had two surgeries.

That ball team sealed our friendship. We practiced and enticed others to join us. Our team molded itself into one that won its fair share of games. After every game, we headed to Roger’s, the best place to eat fantastic hotdogs and drink a beer. We spent plenty of time just talking about all sorts of things. Sometimes, I’d ask him a religious question and hold on tight as I tried to follow his scholarly answer.

Doug left FCC to take a position as a regional minister, and then he moved to Louisville, Kentucky to be the senior minister. It was there that Doug found Diane, and they married. His bride is a wonderful person, but she has pulled him farther away from ever being a Big Orange fan. They are dedicated Louisville fans. It’s so sad.

Doug left Knoxville more than 30 years ago. However, when we talk on the phone or meet in person, our friendship picks up where it left off. We still joke and laugh and philosophize. Our talks last way too long, and others leave us still flapping our tongues.

This October, Doug will turn 70. The following May, it will be my turn. Neither of us can believe where we are age-wise. I close my eyes and am playing first base (not much running for me there), and Doug is at third. Doug hits the ball and zips around the bases. I hit the ball, and he declares I’m the only person who can turn a homerun into a triple. We’re young, full of energy, and ready to enjoy life.

Doug and I refuse to believe that we are in the final years of this life. One of us always asks how we got so old so soon. We have much left to do. Only our aching knees and backs keep us from attempting to complete demanding projects or playing sports. Instead, we spend time sitting around the pool or rocking in chairs on the front porch and recall the good times. We sometimes grumble like old coots, but most often, we just bathe in the joy or each other’s company.

I have only one other person who is that close of a friend to me, and I’ll talk about Billy Hayes some time before long. What I do know is that my life has been blessed with Doug’s friendship, and I pray that we have several more years to spend together. We shall see about that. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.