Every bird must leave the nest. In the wild it takes the form of a single, instinctive, irrational leap for survival. Human beings however are cursed with a more introspective and reasoned nature and the very leap itself seldom consists of a single dramatic moment. It is rather a gradual tearing away, starting perhaps with college planning sometime during the high school years. Even the college event itself can be part of a measured process with holiday and summer trips back to the home nest. Post college becomes perhaps the defining moment, but even so, it has been approached in a slow, reasoned progression over a period of years. The uncertainty of the entire process however, is never more intense than it is in high school when the master plan, filled with uncertainty, is first taking form.
Many of us, subconsciously perhaps, attempt to project some anchors from the present into an uncertain future. These take the form of solemn promises made with a great, naive, teen-age sincerity. I suspect that most of these vows are forgotten as the reality of life supersedes the intentions of the past. However, in the rare instances where they come to pass, they can provide golden nuggets that defy the natural breaking of ties.
Dick had just finished his first meeting with the high school ROTC instructor where he laid out his hopes for an appointment to a United States Military Academy. He stood with Curran and me in the empty Drill Hall as he poured out his aspirations with all his heart and soul. There was no naiveté here. He had done his homework and knew too well his chances were slim. It was an intense conversation. As Dick finished, Curran and I grasped his hands in a three way grip and we vowed to attend his Military Academy graduation if he were successful. It was a classic “solemn promise made with a great, naive, teen-age sincerity.”
High school graduation came and went and the three of us found ourselves at separate colleges. Dick’s appointment to one of the prestigious United State Military Academies did not materialize. As the years passed Curran and I gradually lost contact with him. The ties that bind were loosening their grip. We did hear however, at one point, that Dick had in fact received an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
With an Electrical Engineering degree I landed a research and development position in New York City. Curran was into corporate real estate management with a large Chicago firm and Dick, we assumed, was still plugging along at Annapolis, having started the four year curriculum some two years behind us.
Then in spring of 1962 it arrived. An engraved invitation to the Naval Academy Graduation, seven years after our high school graduation. I called Curran in Chicago.
“Did you get one?” I asked without explanation the moment he picked up the phone.
“Yep, sure did.”
“Are you going?”
“We made a promise, didn’t we?”
There was a moment of silence as we each recalled that moment almost 10 years before.
“Then we’re doing it!” I responded.
I made arrangements to rent a car in New York. Curran would fly into the D.C. National Airport where I would pick him up and drive to Annapolis. Dick made reservations for us at a local motel just outside Annapolis. Three high school buddies reunited to fulfill a promise made years previous. Ceremonies were mid-week and both Curran and I could not afford extended absence from work. With a short time to spend at the Naval Academy, the festivities became a blur of pomp, circumstance and beer.
It was over now and I was heading north, alone, on the New Jersey turnpike in the wee hours of the morning. I was tired and a flood of thoughts and emotions nearly overcame me. Dick was a naval officer now and the Viet Nam War was escalating rapidly. What would his fate be? Curran was flying back “home” to Chicago. Oh how I loved Chicago and the family and friends I had left behind.
I was struggling to stay alert, tuning about on the radio for anything of interest to keep me awake. Then, there it was… WGN 720 “Clear Channel Radio” and Franklyn MacCormack. His quiet blend of soft music, nostalgic poetry and tranquil patter was a mainstay for Chicago’s night people. Part of his obituary read;“His listeners ranged from misty-eyed teen-agers returning from dates to policemen on stakeouts who relaxed to his quiet hour tones designed to tie memories to.” If you were a teen-ager in Chicago, out past midnight, you listened to Franklyn MacCormack. Turnpike miles laid out a ribbon behind me. Between musical selections Franklyn read from his mythical “book of memories,” offering poetry, homilies and homespun advice. This was home. Right now—streaming in through the speakers of a rented car speeding toward New York City. Listening to it was almost unbearable and I nearly turned the car west toward Chicago. But I stopped at the next exit, cleared my head, breathed the early morning air and then headed back to my dingy apartment in Queens.
Dick would see the world as a navy pilot, hunting Russian submarines in the Pacific Ocean on excruciatingly long missions. Our paths would cross again in 1966 in Hawaii while I was on my honeymoon. He took me flying in the Navy’s subhunter, a Navy P3 Orion. We buzzed Waikiki beach as my wife looked on from a lanai of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. She was not impressed. Apparently that was not acceptable honeymoon behavior.
After the Navy, Dick became an international airline pilot where he claimed he found commercial world-wide travel mostly routine and boring. He eventually retired to Washington State.
Curran stuck with real estate, traveled the country coast to coast and eventually retired to Central Wisconsin. We were best men at each other’s weddings, the culmination of another high school “solemn promise made with great, naive, teen-age sincerity.”
A major career shift found me back home as a cop in the city I love. I spent most of my street time in homicide, living a life most people only see on television. In some ways it was more exciting than my two buddies. I retired as a Lieutenant.
Several years back, the three of us sat at my kitchen table, reminiscing about the meaning of friendship, camaraderie and our ties that somehow did not dissolve.
And then a few months ago, out of the blue, the golden nugget arrived. A grainy, underexposed, out of focus, out of color balance photo by email from Washington State. The miracle of Photoshop almost transformed it into a quality image befitting the three old high school buddies—except for the rumpled suit worn by yours truly.