Old friends and photographs

Robert Charles Burger, 57, died today.  A native of Hot Springs,  Virginia and graduate of Bath  County High School, he was eighteen years old.

Bobby and I met on the dusty, rock filled playground of Ashwood Elementary School.

Sitting beside the only straight stretch of highway 220 between Hot Springs  and Covington, the playground was a safe place to reenact the heroics of Audi  Murphy, defend the  Alamo or try our luck at smoking the crisp, brown leaves that fell from the many Sugar Maples.

Life was simpler in those days – –  and not just because we were six.  Kennedy was in the  White House, America hadn’t yet sent a man into space and our biggest problem with  girls was trying to figure out how to keep from catching something called  ‘cooties’.

Bobby’s and my life would be intertwined for 12 years like the ivy growing on the hill behind the red brick schoolhouse.

Bobby was there at my tenth birthday party when I was given my first camera. He appropriately ooed and ahhed at the red and white plastic box that also came with a Junior Reporter ID badge.

As we got older our lives stayed close and parallel.  Through Little League baseball where I played for the Cubs and he played for the  Giants, to high school where we played for the same team,  Bobby’s and my life was like watching the grainy home movies that were popular in that space before digital.

We got our first jobs together and raced our first cars against each other. 

Together we  would occasionally swipe meals from the dining room  at The Homestead where we both were waiters, buy cigarettes from the newstand and sit on the loading dock talking about dreams that hadn’t happened yet, places not yet seen and adventures not yet  experienced.

The last time we saw each other was at our graduation almost 40 years ago.

With each of us wearing goofy graduation gowns and even goofier grins, we left the gym that night and stepped into the world to bring about great and mighty changes.

That is the photograph that I carry with me in the album of my mind.

Stored somewhere on a top shelf in the closet of my memories is the picture of Bobby as he walked down the concrete steps and into life.

Late at night when I’m in a strange city and can’t sleep,  that’s how I see Bobby.  He will forever be 18 in my thoughts.

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