By Joe Rector

If a person lives long enough, he can find himself smack dab in the middle of bunches of different folks. With a little luck, he might even build relationships and friendships with folks in those groups. From first grade to retirement, those people make meaningful impacts on our lives.

Elementary school was a scary time for lots of us, especially those children who had spent most of their early years confined to their yards with occasional trips to church. My first cousin, Brenda Balch, was in my classroom that first day, and I was glad to see a familiar face. Before long, I’d made friends with Steve Buffalo, Cathy Prater, and others. Those three were much smarter than I was, and they always sat in the advanced reading group. However, at recess, all of us were equal.

A group of grubby boys formed in our Ball Camp neighborhood. My brother Jim and I spent hours playing football and baseball in one of the yards. Among those boys were Joey Wallace, Pat Wright, Tommy Robinson, Clebert Roberts, and Steve Ritter. It seemed that part of each game was spent with a couple of boys fighting, but no one ever held a grudge too long. Regardless of the fits of anger, we were good buddies and stayed that way for years.

Of course, high school is where some memorable groups were formed. I was never an athlete, so, for a couple of years, my time was spent as the manager for the football team. Wayne Pearman, Carl and “Spud” Weatherspoon, Wayne Norman, Mike Hill, Mike Guinn, and Joe Kennedy were just a few of the players that became friends. Those guys were heroes back in the day as they won plenty of ball games and county championships.

During my senior year, I left football for band. Since my mother had sold my cornet to buy a better clarinet for my brother (he was a serious musician), I became a band manager. We went to football games and marching competitions. In that organizations, I made some of the best friends of my life. Ken Mills, Mark Large, Randy Allen, along with Jim, formed a close-knit group that enjoyed hours of fun, legal and illegal, during that year. Today, I still count them as close friends, even though we see each other rarely.

I made no real friends in college, other than my wife, whom I began dating my senior year. However, during the year I began my first teaching job, I developed friendships that still are precious. Bob Shoemaker was the closest friend, but plenty of other folks were in that circle. Linda Lyle and John Gilbreath were two fellow English teachers. We ate lunch most days in the tea room where culinary arts students prepared and served food. Jim Pryor, Bobby Campbell, Jim Talley, and Robby Howard walked to the baseball field every day during lunch. There we smoked or chewed tobacco and “shot the bull.”

At Karns High School, I joined an even larger circle of friends. Terri Runger was my next-door friend for more than twenty years. Amy Jennings became like a daughter to me. Dwight Smith, Dowell Bales, Geoff Davis, Lee Henson, and a whole bunch of other guys sat in the commons area each morning. There we talked about sports and funny stories from classrooms. The major topic of discussion one day each week was the matches that aired on WWE.

Yes, this column has listed lots of names, but I’m sure I’ve omitted some important ones. The point of the whole thing is that I’ve been blessed with being a part of several groups over my life. The people in them have made my life fuller and for that I am eternally grateful. Yes, I have much to be thankful for this and each Thanksgiving.