I have heard it said that if a person makes three good friends after leaving high school they are fortunate. I have been very fortunate indeed as I have good friends and I treasure each one. I have been blessed with close personal friends since my move to Canada. Each is a treasure and I am forever grateful.
This is about one of my four first friends. Circa 1953 I met Bob. We were both little guys and his back yard touched mine. We were two of the early families that moved to the new sub division of Cottage Hill. It was a good time to be a wee lad. Bob and I became friends. He, Russ and Creig were my best of friends and we enjoyed the time we had to be kids. We played in the woods, rode our bicycles and lived a carefree life of kids with no worries.
Russ, Creig and I were inseparable and Steve soon joined our circle. There was a year age difference with Bob and at that age a year was significant. His closest friend was Mike, a kid his age and who also lived in our little subdivision. Our friendship circles touched often. Sand lot baseball games, groups of kids playing in the woods, charging about on bicycles and on and on. Just being kids. It was simply a wonderful time – our parents had jobs, there was food on the table and we were part of a middle class that was the strength of America at the time.
Bob was simply a nice guy. So easy to like. No pretentions and was a real as anyone I have met. It is hard to say when Bob and I became close friends. I think is was circa 1963 when his dad unexpectedly died. Bob was the oldest of four children and a lot of responsibility fell on him. His wonderful mom kept the family going and any of us who knew her had incredible respect and affection for her.
It was around this time that Frank joined our merry band. The core – Bob, Mike, Creig, Steve, Russ, Frank and a few others. Other friends drifted in and out – good friends too – but the foundation was few. Bernie became a close friend around this time too.
As we found our way it was a wonderful journey. We always pushed the envelope. In high school we chased pretty girls, tormented our teachers, drank beer despite being underage and the basis of our friendship got stronger. We drove fast and parents of pretty girls did not care for us.
There are so many names I am not mentioning. Friends for a lifetime and wonderful good men and women. Yet when I think of those years, these are the people I think most often of. I think of the wonderful pretty girls. Some became our wives, some drifted away to other lives and a few have stayed close friends to this day.
Most Friday nights and many week nights started with a trip to Sleight’s general store for beer to go. Then We would gather at a number of places and solve the problems of life. On weekends it was not uncommon for the group to increase to 25 or more. We had fun. Yes, we were a hedonistic bunch and yes we were the alpha group. We were as full of life as young men can be.
Somewhere along the journey we all gained nicknames and Bobby became Pief. It suited him. He was a big man and his personality was bigger than life. If my ass was against the wall in some seedy bar it was a comfort to have Bobby standing with me. (It was a fairly common occurrence in those days.) It did not take long for it to spread that we were a group to be respected. Even the first members of the Sherrif’s Department treated us with respect – and we them. We were not bad young men but we lived for fun.
…when I started this I wanted to explain my lifetime of friendship with Robert F. Beckerle Jr. As I ponder my friendship with this man I realize the impossibility of this. I wanted to tell Bobby stories, but those are stories to be shared with those who lived them with us. I also realize how my friendship with Bob is intertwined with others. These are friendships that were formed by kids and are friendships that have stood the test of time and distance. As kids grew to be teenagers, teenagers to young adults, and young adults to the next part of this journey we all maintained contact. Many of us scattered to different places. Some had families and some had quite spectacular business careers. Most of us just managed life with families, mortgages and jobs.
Over the past 37 years I have returned to my home town. I always find Bobby and Frank and we always pick up where we left off. We can and do talk and laugh for hours and it is all good. Mike is still there and we manage to get together when we can. Creig died some years ago and Russ lives in North Carolina where he is dealing with some health issues. My last visit Bob made sure that Steve joined us. It was so damn good.
I missed Bobby’s 60th birthday party. I was sick at the time and could not travel. I had purchased a bottle of island shine to deliver and it still is unopened, being saved for my next visit.
In June of last year Bobby was diagnosed with cancer. I called him and in typical Bobby fashion he said, “just another bump in the road, Bub”.
He fought this disease as only Bobby can do. He never quit and had as good medical care as can be had. On March 28 The Champ died in his home with his sister and brother with him. Bobby found comfort in the writings of and belief in P. Yogananda. He spoke to me of his curiosity of what might come next. Bobby was a kind and gentle spirit and as good a man as I have known. He was full of mischief, full of fun and despite his bigger than life persona had a gentle nature and enjoyed the wonders around him. His big ham sized fists could swing with the power of Thor’s hammer but Bobby was a gentle soul who touched so softly. His soft and patient touch led him to caring for growing things. Many local resorts employed him to care for their grounds
He is still bringing his friends together. Our phones have been ringing and our emails flying. This coming summer there will be a gathering at Bobby’s pond. It will be a large gathering as Bob made life time friends wherever he went. There will be good food, strong drink and the scent of hemp in the air. There will be laughter – oh so much laughter. I will be there. I suspect Frank, Mike, Russ, Steve and I will be standing back with Sue and Pete. We will smile. Bobby will smile. We will open that bottle of shine I have been saving. We will toast our brother Bobby and the many old friends who are no longer with us. Sickness, disease and violence have thinned our ranks but our memories are forever.
As I write this I realize just how large out circle of friends was and all of the names I am not mentioning. Each has a very special place in whatever it is I am.
I will not say rest in peace. Rest is not Bobby. He will have peace wherever he is. Instead I will say:
Rock on my brother. You were, you are and you always will be my family. I love ya brother.