Tim Ard



The Water Fountain
Freddy Lessly

Did you have a good friend in elementary school? A friendship that stood the test of time and followed you both into adulthood? Someone who shares the same great memories that you so passionately cherish and treasure? A friend whose companionship transcended all the nips and scrapes and barriers that kids must face in those early years where everything was both exciting and in ways, sort of frightening? A friend that was there throughout all the changes that growing up presents. Someone that helped celebrate your accomplishments and agonized your defeats. I suspect you may have had such a friend! I know I did!

It was in the early years of my grade school days, I was a transfer student from the Catholic school, Saint Xavier’s. I didn't know anyone at Central Ward School but the atmosphere seemed much more conducive to making friends than I had experienced at the "academy" as it was called. I was excited since there so many more students than I had been with before and also because Central was a leading contender to win the city track meet every year. I had wanted to be able to participate in that track meet long before I got to Central Ward.
As it usually happens, we chose our group of friends like everybody else did. If you remember, three or four students just sort of fell in together, based on what we thought to be common interests, I guess! It wasn't long before I had my group. One boy in particular seemed to be on the same page with me and little did we know at the time, we had started what would be a lifelong friendship!

To borrow the lyrics of an oldie song, I guess you could say that we "skinned our hearts and skinned our knees together” My friend and I seemed to somehow fall into the same classroom with the same teacher each year. However, we were in different classrooms in the fourth grade, but by then, our friendship had been formed and we weathered the year apart.

We spent all our recess time together and at times we actually wanted to exclude others that wanted to hang around with us. We were both fast runners and we developed codes that alerted the other that we wanted to "shake” Charles or Jimmy or whoever! One of us would say the secret code words and then we'd take off running until we lost the other boys. I know it was kind of rude, but at the time it seemed like the thing to do. We were best pals and we wanted to be left alone! We were a twosome and that's the way we liked it!

Perhaps some of you remember those trough water fountains that were mounted to the wall of the building outside the schools? Central Ward had four of them. They was a white porcelain water fountain with four spickets, about four feet wide. The fountains were mounted about three feet high from the ground. They were just about the right height for two little boys to squirm up underneath them and hide from the world! Often, we would sit under these water fountains and tell stories to each other, mostly lies that we had made up. It was underneath the water fountains that we shared our innermost secrets! To hear some of our stories, one would think that we already had lived the life of "Indiana Jones". I guess you could say that the water fountain was our official headquarters. Two little boys, with the world at their feet, holding sway underneath a water fountain, tomorrow's leaders!

Time marched on and we progressed through junior high and into high school. More skinned hearts and more skinned knees. We had accomplishments and failures, but were still best friends! By this time, we had gotten over the "only the two of us" syndrome and had acquired many more friends. We managed to get jobs at the same grocery store, working after school and on Saturday. We watched the John F. Kennedy funeral together and saw the Beatles on television for the first time, together. One day when school was out due to ice and snow, we drove out in the country and fell through a pond together, trying to ice skate! We bought an old rowboat together and couldn't wait to get it out to Loy Lake and try it out. It sank halfway across the lake. We drank our first beer together, double dated, first went hunting and camping, went to summer school and finally graduated high school together!

Having lost the bond that kept us all so closely knit by attending 12 years of public school, we had finally reached that point where our individual lives took us in different directions, college, career, marriage, all unlike the sixth grade when friends all had the same goals and interests. Two good friends never really part though, there's always a connection! We attended different colleges and have various different jobs. We made new and different friends and even acquired different interests, but we still did things together and got together often.

By now we’d have found ourselves out in life, graduated college, had careers and had gotten married. We became engrained in all things that one must involve their selves in when they reach adulthood. You know, Kirby Vacuum Cleaner payments, a barbeque grill in the backyard, Salad Master and Tupperware parties and a truck for the husband to drive and a family car for the wife. The things that previously had absolutely no importance to our lifestyle!

My friend and I enjoyed many laughs through the years, about things that happened when we were very young! We still had codes and sayings that only he and I could interpret. Most conversations were an "inside joke"! Through the years, we developed a language all our own. For instance, we called our sixth grade teacher, "Little Bitty Cobo", her actual name being Mrs. Cockburn, who we admired and adored. How we came about the nickname is another story all it's own. At times we must have sounded rude, because we would often laugh about things in the presence of others, things that would take considerable time to explain to anyone who didn't know the background of the humor.

We spent most New Year's Eves together, but one in particular stands out. It was along about 1990, when after a night out partying, he went home and discovered that he had some internal bleeding. Later in the week, tests showed that he had a cancerous intestine. He had surgery to remove 15 inches of the large intestine and everything was back to normal. A few more years passed and things were fine but by late 1993 and early 1994, the illness had returned and it had returned with a vengeance! I remember we were in the midst of planning our 30th year high school reunion, which was to take place in 1994. The planning process began in early 1993, with the committee meeting throughout that year. I recall taking what was now a very ill friend to one of the later planning sessions. Fortunately, we took a lot of photos at those sessions and I have one of all of us, with him included.

As we approached yet another year, the partying was almost over. My friend was too sick to do much of anything so no New Year activity took place as we saw 1994 approach the horizon. The outlook for the New Year was not the exciting adventure it had been in the past. A lifelong friend was fighting for his life and I knew that just being there was the only helpful role I could play.

Somehow on that bright and sunny Saturday, his wife’s birthday, I had a stirring premonition come over me. It was March 5, 1994. Somehow I knew that day was not going to go well. My friend had not been awake for several days. He lay comatose in his bed. I thought how good it was that he was at home in his own bed and not institutionalized. I went to see him early that day; I didn't really say anything to him but just sat quietly on the side of his bed. I left his bedside but only to come back around noon, things remained the same. When I came to the realization that I really couldn't get my mind on anything else that day, I went back for a third time. It was my fourth visit that day that turned out to be the most memorable. Something had just told me to keep going by to check on him, so that's what I did.

Again, I was sitting quietly on the side of his bed, watching him, he seemed to be breathing easily and resting peacefully. A lot was going through my head, some 40 years of happenings, from growing up to adulthood, many great times and a few rough times! While I sat there, all sorts of emotions went through me. I can remember at one point, even being angry that he would just leave me like that, after all those years! On the other hand, I thanked God for such a friend and for all the great experiences and all the great times we had shared together. At this point, I realized that our chapter was closing and we were nearing the end of a fabulous story! As I sat quietly beside him, he breathed his last breath! As my heart swelled, I could only think about one thing, “two little boys sitting underneath a water fountain, rulers of the universe, holding sway at our headquarters”!

About the Author: Freddy Lessly is a 1964 graduate of Denison High School. He resides in Denison with his family and is a bail bondsman for North Texas Bail Bonds. His other works include: "The Porch", "My Life on Main Street", "It Can't Last Forever", "You Ain't Gonna Believe This", "Ladies and Gentlemen, As I Stand Before You Today" and several more. He is the current President of the Denison Alumni Association.