Two Sundays ago, before the first salvo of holiday hubbub that officially begins Thursday when those turkeys are dropped into fryers and pumpkin pies are aligned on the side counter, a group of men in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s boarded a minibus with a designated driver. It was the 20th straight year for such a trip, and I was one of the ones in the “60s” group.
The reason for the trip, as it is each mid-November, is actually twofold. First, and I’d be lying to you if I told you otherwise, it’s a chance for friends to gather and act far more immaturely than our chronological ages would suggest we should for an afternoon of watching and again shaking our heads at the missteps of the Browns, eating wings, and drinking more than our share of beer. The locations have varied through the years, with this year’s road-trip destination the Inn Between in Botkins.
As for the second reason for our libidinous gathering, one where each of us throw in $100 to pay our tab and donate the lion’s portion of the pot to an agreed-upon good cause, well, it’s a reason that is rooted in a friendship that even death hasn’t been able to diminish.
His name was Tommy Davis, a 1966 LCC graduate, Vietnam War veteran and longtime worker at the refinery. To some he answered to “TD.” To us and others who knew him better, he was “Rooney,” because our diminutive friend bore some resemblance to Hollywood’s Mickey Rooney.
While some in our group trace their time with Tommy to childhood, most of us really became friends through his and our affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, a place all of us simply referred to as “The Club,” the one on the corner of North Elizabeth and West Wayne, long before the current version opened off South Cable Road just south of Lima Central Catholic High School almost a decade after his passing.
The physical part of Tommy left us far too soon, shortly before his 47th birthday in January 1995, felled by a heart attack in the lobby of the YMCA after a workout.
And so it is, each year, we board that bus to laugh and tell “Tommy” stories and do what friends are always supposed to do, which is to remember the very best of someone as imperfect as all of us are. When it comes to friends, we remember fortes. As for the foibles, we develop selective amnesia.
We remember his kind heart, his quick-to-engage smile, and the guy who so readily said, “Give us all one.” And, we remember someone who was so very loyal to those he called his friend and to organizations such as the K. of C. that he loved and to the teams for which he so ardently rooted — Bob Seggerson’s LCC basketball T-Birds, the Detroit Tigers, the Cleveland Browns and the Fighting Irishmen of South Bend, Indiana.
Every year, there’s a lot of laughter, certainly a bit too much beer, and a bit of revisionist history when it comes to our stories about our boy. But, then again, what’s a little stretching of the truth among friends?
Then, there is a culminating event when we return to Lima and pass through the gates of Gethsemani to the unpretentious marker where we have all stood so many times over the past two decades. While there at his gravesite, where all of us were on a cold January day in 1995 involuntarily flinching at each volley of that three-volley salute, we offer a toast, dribble a little beer on the marker in a ritual not a one of us feels is desecration, and take a few pictures on smartphones that Tommy never lived to see.
And, as surely as there is a falling action to most narratives, this story that plays out each November has its denouement at Fat Jack’s for a few final memories on the site Tommy would have only known as The Alpine.
Over that final unnecessary cold one, we’ll conduct the business portion of our day and mutually find accord as to where the rest of the money will go. Through the years, it’s been donated to youth baseball programs, given to the K. of C. to improve the operation and, one year, even went to buy textbooks for an in-need incoming freshman at a local college.
Our business never takes too long. We knew him so well that we sort of know what he’d want.
As I make my way home each year, my sides a bit sore from laughing and my eyes a bit rimmed with tears, I have the same manifold hope. The first is that Rooney is out there somewhere, knowing that we have sustained the flame of friendship so many consecutive years after his fatal final moment. And, my second hope is that we did a good enough job while we had him here with us to let him know how much we thought of him.
So Thursday, when I’m with my loved ones, when it’s time to pause and reflect on what I am thankful for, I’ll think of the power of a friendship stronger than death.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.