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Steve Miller, one of my oldest friends from Speedway, lost his mother, Pat, earlier this month. Like me, Steve now finds himself to be a 60-year-old orphan.
Many, if not most, of my childhood friends have lost one or both of their parents. We’re at that age, and that’s the way life goes. And while the death of a friend’s parent doesn’t pack the same emotional impact as losing your own mom or dad, it’s still sad.
I was fortunate as a child to have several very good friends. I’m even more fortunate that though we no longer hang out, or even see each other, we’ve remained friends for 50 years or more.
And when you spend as much time at each other’s houses as we did back in the day, you develop relationships with your friends’ parents.
If you’re lucky, they take a liking to you and treat you like one of their own. In that regard, again I was fortunate.
My family moved to a new house in the summer between fourth and fifth grades. I would be going to a new school in the fall (back then school started in the fall), and I was nervous. Then I met Steve and his family.
Steve lived on my block and was everything I wasn’t … good-looking, athletic and popular with the ladies. But somehow we became best friends, which meant among other things that I spent a lot of time at the Miller house.
From day one Steve’s mom and dad, Pat and Al, treated me like one of their own. They were genuinely nice people who never made me feel like I was wearing out my welcome. I remember lots of summer days when his mom would drive us to the golf course so we could play all day, then come back in the late afternoon to take us home.
One of the best memories of my childhood came my way courtesy of Al Miller.
A Purdue grad, he was friends with astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom. He was also a “yellow shirt” guard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The night before the 1966 Indianapolis 500, the Millers took me along to the Speedway Holiday Inn, where I got to meet Gus, who was in town for the race.
The following morning, Al took Steve and me to the track and got us seats in his section of the pit grandstands for the 500. For a kid crazy about all things NASA and racing, it was a dream 24 hours.
Sometime around junior high, the Millers moved. Though we still went to the same school, Steve and I soon drifted apart. But today, thanks to Facebook, we’re back in touch, though he lives in Florida.
And in the “it’s a small world” category, Steve’s sister, Pam, and my daughter, Kelly, work together in Indianapolis.
When my parents died, some of my old friends shared with me good memories they had of my folks. I was glad to hear that my friends felt the same about my parents as I felt about the Millers, the Yohos, the Thompsons, the Fishers, the Washburns and others.
I can only hope that I was as kind to my daughters’ friends as my buddies’ folks were to me. I certainly didn’t lack for good role models.
Doug Showalter can be reached at 379-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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