Childhood friends have lasting impact on some kids’ lives

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When thinking about the people who contributed to who you are or who you are becoming, the list begins with parents and grandparents. For many of us, siblings and cousins, aunts and uncles play big roles too.

Teachers have a huge influence in shaping our thinking. The community at large ranging from neighbors to churches have a part.

But sometimes the influence of friends are not appropriately appreciated — particularly that posse from your early teen years.

That’s a time which involves the first hints of independence yet, for some reason, young boys in my day tended to enjoy that freedom from parents as a group.

Mine was a gang of six: Dick, Pat, Gordie, Red, Goldie and me. On occasion, we might be joined by the Smiths, the Bashams or the Barkers. Now and again, the oldest of the McCombs kids would join. Some of the overnight campouts might attract friends from town.

Generally, it was that core of six roaming the quiet state highway that connected our homes outside Vine Grove.

Often, we’d play basketball on the concrete pad outside Harold Miller’s garage. It eventually tore the hide off a basketball but it was the only place to find a true bounce. We’d snap a chalk line along one edge to define our ABA 3-point line.

In summer months when the shallow pond alongside the road dried up, it became our baseball diamond. Playing 3-on-3 basketball is fine, but 3-on-3 baseball requires special rules. In order to keep the ball in play, if it landed in the tall weeds on the fly, it was an out — not a home run. In order to keep us alive, the same rule existed for any ball hit toward the road.

When it too wet or we were too tired for sports, most days involved playing spades or hearts. Sometimes, a piece of plywood across a table would be set up for ping pong.

Camping involved a quick hike to an empty pasture along an abandoned road bed. Most of the experience involved tall tales about a man who lived in the woods, firing bottle rockets into the sky and shivering overnight when the fire died down.

You can learn a lot from good friends.

For example, I discovered mastering a left-hand hook shot like Artis Gilmore is beyond my skill set. I also learned you can singe the hair off your forearm launching a bottle rocket while holding the bottle.

Most important, for all you guys wearing eyeglasses: Never sit in front of a window while playing cards. It probably was two years before I found out the guys steered me toward that seat because a reflection off my glasses revealed the cards in my hand.

In that group of friends, you begin to define who you will be in life. A leader or a follower, quiet or talkative, gullible or cagey, inquistive or indiffernt.

That’s a part of growing up.

I don’t see those guys much any more. Dick died a few months back. I didn’t even recognize Goldie when we met at the funeral home. Pat’s an important guy at Fort Knox and his brother, Red, made a career for himself in local industry.

Gordie’s retired from the U.S. Air Force and lives in California. I’m connected with him Facebook and all these memories popped up last week because of the massacre in Las Vegas. He was with his wife and some friends at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival.

They came through it safely. You may have read our front-page story last week about Gordon Allen’s experiences in that horrific event. Gordie was a quiet one in our group.

Just a bunch of boys beginning life. Thankfully, we’ll have another chance to catch up someday.

Ben Sheroan, a Vine Grove native, is editor of The News-Enterprise.