The Water Fountain
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
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