Long-Lost Friends : Part 3

This is the third and final installment of my tribute to my childhood friends who have passed away much too soon.

Tom Theiss was my neighbor from sixth grade to our sophomore year in high school. I know this is hard to imagine, but those were very awkward years for me. I was pretty much a first class geek. (or maybe even second class). I suppose we both were. Tom and I loved playing outdoors down by our creek that ran past my backyard. We would run down there after school and spend the entire afternoon catching crawdads and tadpoles. We were both members of the Outing and Nature Club in Jr. High. (I told you we were geeks).

When we weren’t down at the creek, we were building forts in one of the vacant lots in our neighborhood. We would take scrap lumber from one of the houses under construction and build us a “no girls allowed” fort. I don’t really remember doing anything in the forts once we built them, but we had a good time building them anyway.

It was during this time when I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and I learned about the concept of becoming “blood brothers.” Huck and Tom decided to seal their friendship in blood, so they took out a pocketknife and sliced the ends of their fingers and held them together in an oath of friendship. One day when my buddy and I were sitting in our fort, I suggested we become blood brothers. But neither of us had a knife, so instead we both began looking for scabs on our elbows and legs that we could pick, in order to draw some blood. Unable to find any good scabs; the whole ordeal became rather awkward and I don’t think we were able to consummate our blood brotherhood that day.

I never heard what happened to Tom. I moved to another city in 11th grade and we lost touch. A few years ago, the Liberty High school class of 76 put out an invitation for a 35-year class reunion. Someone posted a list of deceased classmates and that’s when I discovered that Tom was dead. I have attempted to find out what happened but have had no luck up to this point getting any details. I only hope that he knew how special our friendship was during those awkward years of our youth. He was a great friend and I’ll always remember him fondly.

Long-Lost Friends : Part 2

Tom and Kent Kent and me, 1972

This is part 2 of a series of tributes to my childhood friends who have passed too soon from this world. You can find part one here.

Kent Kiepe was my cousin actually, but I also consider him one of my closest childhood friends as well. He was a few years younger than me but we had the best time together whenever I would spend a few weeks on my grandparents’ farm each summer.

We spent hours each day playing down by the creek, building forts, catching fish with string and safety pins, skinny dipping in the swimming hole, smoking our Uncle Charlie’s old cigars we found in his dresser drawer, skimming through old National Geographics (for the articles, of course), walking up to the little store at the end of the road for penny bubble gum, riding mini-bikes through the cow pasture, climbing hay bales in the hay loft, carving sticks into totem poles with grandpa’s sand grinder, riding in the back of the pick up truck to check on the crops down at the river bottom, riding into town with grandpa to get a rootbeer at A&W, sleeping over and watching home movies and eating grandma’s pancakes in the morning, playing whiffleball until the bat fell apart, riding down the hill in grandma’s red wagon until it fell apart, driving Uncle Glenn’s Chevy Corvair through the hayfield, riding bikes on Interstate 55 before it was opened to traffic, stealing cookies from grandma’s cookie jar, and exploring Victor’s abandoned house up on the hill.

In reality, Kent and I didn’t have much in common, other than we were related. He was athletic, a straight A student and always open for adventure. I was none of the above. He excelled in sports and could pretty much beat me at any game we played. But we had fun together, none-the-less.

What we did have in common was something we never really talked about. It was an embarrassing little secret that only a few members of our family knew about. We were both habitual bed wetters. That’s right, the secret is out. But somehow, that one little secret seemed to bind us together in an awkwardly intimate way.

The thing that made Kent so special to me was the way he genuinely loved and accepted me as a cousin and as a friend. He never teased me for not being good at sports. He never showed any frustration over my disinterest in his little league games. He always seemed eager to hang out with me even if what I wanted to do wasn’t on the top of his fun list. He was a great friend.

Years passed and I grew too old to spend the summers on the farm and Kent and I lost touch. I went off to college, got married and started a family. Kent joined the Navy after college and quickly rose up through the ranks as a pilot. The family was so proud when we got the news that he was tagged to become a member of the Blue Angels. But unfortunately, he never got his chance to fly with the elite team, due to his tragic death in a plane crash. Because of budget cuts, the Navy wouldn’t allow him to fly his plane to and from his teaching assignment across the state so instead; he was forced to hitch a ride in a single engine Cessna. On one particular flight, over Death Valley in California, that single engine Cessna went down. It was a devastating tragedy for our family. One we would never fully get over.

I remember the day of his funeral vividly. After the service, I excused myself from the family gathering to take a walk down to the creek. The cool breeze painted such a different landscape from the memories of my summer adventures with Kent. The forts were long gone and the swimming hole seemed much smaller than before. The hay barn was gone after collapsing under a heavy winter snow. My walk ended out back of my grandparent’s house where Kent and I used to smoke those old cigars and I began to cry uncontrollably. I cried over the loss of my cousin, my friend and our shared childhood that would never return. But I also cried in gratitude for having had such a great childhood friend in my cousin, Kent.

Long-Lost Friends

I woke up one morning to discover all my friends were dead. Okay, maybe not all my friends, but three of my very best. Granted, I haven’t seen them for decades, yet it still hit me like a bad phone call in the middle of the night; all three of my best childhood friends were dead. And it made me sad. None of them would ever be able to get together with me to share stories and reminisce. I could never reach them by phone or meet up for a drink after a class reunion, nor would any of them ever be available to friend on Facebook.

I had three best buddies growing up. My very first was Dennis Beiter.

Dennis and Me
Dennis and me, August 1966

Dennis and I became fast friends in 1964 when my family moved two doors up the road from him. I was five; son of a Baptist preacher and Dennis, one year my senior, was the son of a Catholic grocer.

My 50-year-old memories of Dennis picture him as a freckle-faced kid with big front teeth and sandy colored hair who typically wore nothing but a plain white t-shirt and blue jeans to play in; and he was always up for an adventure.

We spent most of our days riding our bikes up and down Heinz Road, seeing how far we could coast with no hands. Sometimes we made it for what seemed like miles. But one time I recall only making it to his driveway before I wiped out, planting my face into the fresh tar and gravel.

When we weren’t on our bikes, we were playing in the woods across the road. We enjoyed turning over rocks, looking for bugs and skipping stones in the pond. We were known to spend hours out there, until finally, one of us either wet our pants (usually me) or we thought we heard the mysterious bobcat our big brothers swore lived in those woods.

When the weather was bad, we were in his basement doing what all little boys did in the mid-sixties. We pretended to be the Beatles. (Okay, maybe that’s not typical). At the top of our lungs, we would belt out, “I wanna hold your hand,” while strumming air guitars atop an old kitchen table.

It was your typical 1960’s basement with concrete floor and walls furnished with boxes and worn-out furniture. I remember next to the table was an antiquated refrigerator that I couldn’t help but peak inside any time we were down there. Mainly because it contained things I’d never seen before; things, such as bottles of beer (one would never find that in a Baptist preacher’s fridge) or freshly skinned squirrel carcasses hanging there with their furry tails still intact.

It was in his basement where I had my most traumatic childhood experience. Dennis wanted to show me the giant battleship he’d received for Christmas. We ran downstairs to check it out, but it wasn’t long before we got tired of the battleship and turned our attention to the empty box it had come in. It was long and narrow, with both ends kicked out. My buddy was the first to try it on. He slipped it over his head with his arms out in front, flailing about like the robot from Lost in Space, “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!”

It was my turn next. I squeezed into the box and began to shuffle around like a robot when suddenly; I lost my footing and began to fall forward. Because I was confined in that narrow box I was unable to put one foot forward to catch myself and instead began to tip over. That’s when I caught a glimpse of the window leaning up against the wall. As I fell towards it, I must have instinctively covered my face with my left arm and down I crashed, glass shattering all around me, piercing my forehead and slashing a deep gash into my left arm just above the elbow. I remember the blood. Lots and lots of blood. And Dennis’s dad rushing me to my house and my sister crying and my grandma wrapping my arm in a dish towel and then calling my dad to come home and take me to the hospital. It was all so very exciting.

It’s been fifty years since that day. And fifty years since I saw my best friend, Dennis. We moved shortly after that and I never saw him again. But I did call him one time in early 2003. I remember thinking how strange he sounded with his deep bass voice, instead of that six-year-old with whom I had shared so many adventures. We had a great visit over the phone, reminiscing about the old days and our childhood shenanigans and we promised to keep in touch, but of course life moved on and we never spoke again. I heard from his sister recently that he died from esophageal cancer on April 1, 2013.

Dennis was my first best friend. I don’t remember ever quarreling or competing with him. (Except when we argued over who got to be Paul and who had to be John). We both just simply enjoyed playing together and having a good time. Isn’t that what friends are for?

The Old Man

4173092-3x2-940x627His familiar eyes peered through creviced brow
Remembering days gone by when time crawled long into manhood
Boyhood charms long lost to obligations and paychecks
Unable to stop time hurtling toward an unfulfilled bucket list.

My old friend sits across the table lamenting youthful regret
Yet smiles at mistakes turned beautiful through the course of time
The grey hair thinly reveals age spots atop his wrinkled head
Inhabited by a foggy memory of folk songs sung around the campfires of his youth

The ghost of his beautiful muse invades his thoughts as he remembers her huddled next to him shivering against his flannel jacket.
Her hair smells of smoke and jasmine.
Her voice singing sweetly of a budding romance ignited by a floating ember.
He looks up and smiles as he hears her once again sing their song

A Poem for Brooklyn Rose


The fairest flower with bluest iris
Each petal soft with brightest bloom
She plays, she loves, she sings her song
The princess in her little room.

A rose grows in Brooklyn
A bridge was built to see her there
Her budding beauty can be seen
Inside and out, this one so fair.

Brooklyn Rose brings joy to all
The sweetest flower, pure delight
Her lifelong journey, just begun
No doubt will take her to greatest height.


A Poem for Kaiah


Tiny tsunami floods our place
A tidal wave with pixie face
She laughs, she sings, she tears up things
Twirling, swirling, little girling.

Kaiah is an ocean wave
Hawaiian waters don’t behave
Her dance, her prance, mischievous glance
Wraps me tight with little chance.

I love this girl who won my heart
I loved her from the very start
A gift from God with twinkle in eye
So cherished is she, no money can buy.


A Poem for My Grandson

Tom and Kaden copy

He’s growing much too fast for me
Just yesterday sat on my knee
Cherubic face with brightest eyes
His slobbery smile brought wistful sighs.

He’s older now, but still as sweet
Nicest young man you’ll ever meet
He cares for his friends and little sis
And he’s still okay with a grandma kiss

Kaden James is eleven-years-old
When he was born, God broke the mold
A sturdier tree was never made
He welcomes all to his gentle shade.


Facebook is slowly killing me

Facebook is slowly killing me. It reminds me of how I feel every time I sprinkle a packet of pink sweetener in my tea. I know it’s not good for me, but how is this little bit going to hurt me? Then before I know it, I’ve had six glasses of iced tea and my placemat looks like I’ve just snorted a couple lines of coke.


I enjoy Facebook and I love feeling a connection with friends old and new. But, and I guess this is a flaw in my personality, every time I read a post that I find contrary to my own beliefs or some that are just down right offensive, it feels like part of me dies a little. I have always hated conflict and disagreement. I mean, can’t we all just get along?!

I have got to learn to differentiate myself from these comments. When someone on Facebook (or in person, for that matter) says something that I disagree with, I can’t take that on. I need to learn to celebrate our diversity of thought. That’s what made this country so great. But lately our political and theological debate has become so polarized, we are no longer able to have civilized and respectful dialogue. Now we just post short provocative jabs at one side or the other.

I guess what this really says to me is that Facebook and Twitter are really not the best forum for these subjects. They are better done in the context of relationships that are healthy and respectful. It seems now a days we can’t even agree to disagree.

So maybe I should just delete my account. Maybe I would be better off if I spent my time journaling and writing down my thoughts for nobody to ever read, until I die that is, and then I won’t care if anyone agrees or disagrees with me.

Laughing in the Mirror

It took less than five seconds. I watched as my two-year-old granddaughter, Kaiah found her grandma’s lipstick, pulled off the cap and applied it to her lips like she had been doing it for years. Truth be told, I was quite impressed. She looked up at me and smiled, then ran to the full-length mirror so she could see herself.

“I’m pretty,” she said.

Grandma and I got a big kick out of it, so of course I grabbed my camera and snapped a picture.


I wished I was as kind to myself when I look in the mirror. I must admit I’m pretty critical at what I see. Perhaps I’m too obsessed comparing myself to my younger image, or more likely, to what I think I should have looked like had I been the one who made me. My prayer is that I can begin to recognize the beauty in how God created me, to see myself as He sees me,  and to be able to look at myself in the mirror with a good sense of self-worth as well as a good sense of humor. I believe the first step in that journey is to practice gratitude for what I do have. To say like the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 139:14, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Starting Over

For the few who actually read (or used to read) my blog, it’s quite apparent that I have taken a hiatus from writing this past year. I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post, but my life has been a whirlwind of transition this past year, and my writing (or lack thereof) ended up as one of the first casualties. (That and my diet).

While some of you might be thinking that journaling during life-changing transitions could be good for the soul, I assure you I was not in a good state of mind to blog. If I had, I feel certain it would have become a puke-fest of whining and complaining interspersed with dark poetry that didn’t rhyme. Depressing, huh?

Don’t get me wrong; this past year has not been all bad. We have so much in which to be thankful. We have a beautiful new house minutes away from our kids and grandkids. God has blessed both of us with jobs that exceeded our expectations. We have had a good time exploring our city and spending time with family and friends who visit. It truly is a blessed and wonderful life.

But the journey has been difficult and scary at times. Job uncertainty, schedule changes and financial adjustments are difficult for people in their fifties! I’ve told friends, I’ve never worked harder for less money in all my life.

And then there was the temporary housing situation. Our family was gracious and generous to house and feed us while we were in transition but it did take a toll on my ego (being 55 living in my parent’s basement).

One of the most stressful elements of our transition has been the physical move. We ended up renting 4 different moving trucks, moving into two storage units and one temporary apartment before finally getting into our new home six months after selling our house in St. Louis. When we finally got settled, I told my kids we were here to stay. They would have to move us out next time, feet first.

So here I am, 56-years-old, starting over. Starting over with a new home, a new city, new jobs and a new outlook. I hope to get back to blogging on a regular basis, nipping this elusive writer’s block in the bud once for all. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Thanks to all my friends and family who have supported me on this crazy journey. I count each of you as cherished blessings this year as I have found myself starting over. But my greatest, most cherished blessing is my wife, Sally who has been by my side each step of the way these past 33 years. You have given up so much, putting your own dreams and desires aside in order to follow me all over the country. I love you very much and thank you for loving me through the ups and downs of our journey together.