Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A New Friend

It was a new school year and I was anxious to go back to school.  The summer had been filled with chores and work, swimming and riding my bike, and a few days at the city beach in town.  Last year had not been a good year.  A new school, more teachers, and the loss of friends had caused me to recede into a shell.  I’d spent a lot of time reading books when I wasn’t out playing with my younger brother Jeff.  But there was always something exciting about the start of a new school year.

We walked the quarter of mile to the bus stop and waited for Mr. Lockwood to drive down the hill to pick us up.  We were one of the first stop on the bus route so as we got on the bus, we were able to sit pretty much anyplace we wanted.  Mr. Lockwood said hello and turned out onto the highway.  As he got to the end of our property line, he turned up a graveled county road.  This was different.  We’d never picked up any kids on this road before.  Mom and Dad had some friends who lived out here but they didn’t have any younger kids that I knew of.  The bus slowed down and came to a stop and 3 boys got on the bus.  Two were much older than I was, but the third boy looked to be about my age.  He walked up the aisle toward the back of the bus and sat down in the seat in front of me.

He was smaller than I was by about an inch.  Slender. Sandy brown hair. Dark eyes.  A nice smile.  He wore denim jeans and long sleeved “cowboy” shirt.  I sat in my seat, the bus slowing filling to capacity as the driver made his way into town.  My school was the last stop on the route and by the time we got there, there were about a dozen of us still on the bus.    I had been too shy to say “hello” and he hadn’t  said anything to me either.  As I got up to get off the bus, he stepped out in front of me, saying “excuse me” and walked off the bus in front of me.

We all started toward the school to find our classrooms and I noticed that the boy looked a little lost.  Jeff took off to find his friends and I walked to over to him. 

Do you need some help finding your classroom?

Yeah, I guess I do.

I’m Mark.  I have Mr. Johnson for home room.  Who do you have?

He looked at a piece of paper and said he had Mr. Spradlin.

You’ll really like him.  I had his wife for home room last year she was really cool.  He’d come over to our class sometimes and was always really nice. 

Thanks.  My names Cliff.  Cliff Wynn.  We just moved here over the summer.

We walked into the building together and went to his classroom.  As I turned to go back to my classroom, he asked if it would be ok to eat lunch with me.  I said sure and told him to look for me in the cafeteria.  At the end of the day, we got back on the bus and Cliff asked if it was ok to sit with me.  I said sure and we headed home.  I asked how his day was and we talked all the way to his house.  It was like I’d known him for a long time.  He was one of those people that’s just easy to like.

As the year progressed, we started spending a lot of time together.  I rode my bike to his place a few times on the weekends.  They lived on a farm and he and his brothers had the same kind of chores that we did.  They also had horses.  We didn’t.  I always liked horses but had never ridden one.  Dad didn’t like horses so that was all the explanation we needed when we asked for one.  When the answer was “no”, there was no need to ask again.

One day while I was at Cliff’s, he asked if I wanted to ride horses with him.  I told him “yes”, that I’d love to so we went to the barn and put the saddle and tack on the two of the horses.  He showed me how to make sure the saddle was tight and noticed that I wasn’t too sure about getting the bit in the horse’s mouth.  He came over and told me I didn’t need to be afraid.  He stroked the forehead and gently put the bit in his mouth. 

We walked the horses out of the barn and met his older brother heading our way.  He was in high school and was pretty big.  He was a wrestler (I’d find out later) and had a cocky attitude.  Cliff told him that he was going to teach me to ride and that this was the first time I’d ever been on a horse.  He didn’t seem too interested and kept walking.  Cliff showed me how to mount the horse and I watched as he swung himself up into his saddle.   I grabbed the saddle horn, put my foot in a stirrup and tried to do what he die.  I pulled myself up and put my foot into the other stirrup and sat on the horse, a little wobbly trying to center my balance. 

Cliff told me to hold the reins loose and let the horse walk for a bit.  I was following Cliff on his horse when his older brother came back out of the barn.  I didn’t notice him as he walked up behind the horse I was on.  He hollered at Cliff to show me how to ride and slapped the horse on his hind quarters.  The horse reared up and I toppled off the back, falling hard on my back onto the hard ground.   His brother was laughing as he grabbed the reins to the horse.  Cliff jumped off the horse and ran over to where I was lying on the ground, trying to catch my breath.  He yelled at his brother and called him some names and asked if I was alright.

I sat up and looked at Cliff.  There was a genuine look of concern in his eyes.  It was something different.  I’m not sure I’d ever seen it before.  I could tell that he really cared if I was okay. He helped me to my feet and asked if I wanted to try again.  I looked over at his brother and said I didn’t think so.  He said that was fine and walked the horses back to the barn.  He apologized for his brother and told me what a jerk he was.  I agreed with him and we laughed and spent the afternoon exploring in the barn and in the woods on his property.   

 As the afternoon sun started its descent, I said good-bye and got on my bike and headed home.  He asked if he could ride with me to the highway and his mom said yes.  We rode our bikes down the county road weaving back and forth, having races, braking hard and throwing gravel everywhere…laughing and smiling.  He stopped at the highway and said good-bye and waved as I pedaled back toward home.  I turned and waved, saying I’d see him on Monday and pedaled my bike back home.

Mom asked how my day was when I got home and told her I had a lot of fun.  I told her about riding the horse (but not the getting bucked off part).  I told her how nice Cliff was and how nice his mom and dad were.  She said that it would be okay if I wanted to have Cliff come over sometime and play here.  I said that would be great and went down to our bedroom. 

As I went to bed that night, I thought about the day with Cliff and how much fun it was.  I’d never had a friend that lived close.  My folks didn’t like us playing with the family that lived across the railroad tracks behind our farm so I never got to be friends with the kid that was my age.  But today, I felt like I had found a “real” friend.   And I had.

Photo from Flickr