I was saddened to learn of the recent death of a good friend from my childhood days at Skelly School in El Dorado. I hadn't seen Dean Roedel for several years, and only occasionally for years before that, but it's amazing how all that time melts away in an instant when news such as this comes.
Not unlike the diverse gang of kids in "The Sandlot", it seems natural to revel in the memories of those carefree days when we were growing up. It was the 1960s - you had three channels on the television, most of it shown in black-and-white, and we were immune to the worries of our parents' adult world. Sure, we knew what the war in Vietnam was - it was all over the news on that TV set - but so was "Gilligan's Island", and that's where our heads were. We were kids - we went to school, did homework then played endlessly after school, and we had friends - like Dean.
Dean was on of the cool guys at Skelly - an athlete, popular - you know, cool. So was Charlie Silver, who was in our class, too, as were guys like Mike Sweeney, Barry Holem, Leroy Gipson, Bobby Griffith, Jimmy Wehry, Mike Bruce, Jimmy Finney and Gene Riddle, among others. Dean and Charlie were friends, but also rivals of sorts, both good at sports and both good-naturedly, vying for the unofficial title of "the coolest."
Now, I wasn't very good at sports, but Mr. Ginder coached us sixth grade boys into a flag football team, The Panthers, that competed against the other local grade schools; Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Grandview. As I recall, we did pretty well that year, undefeated, in fact - had football jerseys and everything- royal blue with red and white stripes around each shoulder. I wasn't cool like Dean or Charlie, but some how, being a part of the team and wearing that jersey made me feel just a little bit like I was.
One of the things I remember most about that experience was having Dean, who was our quarterback, tell me in front of everyone that I had done a good job after plowing off the line into a couple of players from the other team. It was momentary, something the athletic kids were used to hearing, but for a chubby boy who liked to draw more than he usually played sports, hearing it from Dean was huge. I never forgot it.
Besides, on the other side of the coin, Dean always thought that my being able to draw was cool.
The summer we moved to Augusta, my brother, Brook, was already signed up to play Little League baseball on a summer team in El Dorado, so we would drive over to take him to this games there on the diamonds behind MacDonald Stadium. Once, as we rounded the road that went through the complex, I heard a voice shout, "Hey! It's Clark!"
Page 2 of 2 - A good feeling went through me to know that somebody hadn't forgotten me, even though I was living 20 miles away, which was the end of the earth for a kid, and missing all the friends I had ever known in my 13 years. That sound coming through the hot, dusty open window of the car was an affirmation that I was still considered to be part of the gang. I looked to see who it was...and it was Dean.
Time passed, and after that, I only saw him a few times, mostly on the streets of town, but we would always stop and talk. He once came out of Graves Drug Store, when he was working there, because he saw me passing by, just to say "Hello."
Dean being gone is like Charlie being gone, or Barry or Craig...you didn't see them much, but now you know you're not going to, either, and you miss them - the kid they were. I guess we all got older, did our own thing, went our own directions...but Skelly School was never really very far away.
Bryan Clark lives in Augusta and is a Times-Gazette columnist and editorial cartoonist.