Monday, June 20, 2011

One Day 'Off'

Those who know me (especially those who know me well), appreciate that I'm a little 'off'.

I've often wondered why it is that I am the way I am, generally coming to the conclusion that my personality is largely self-inflicted. Growing up on the eastside of Stockton, California, in a neighborhood with no other kids my age, my best friend from an early age was myself. As a child, I fished alone at the local diverting canal, watched TV alone, read books alone... I even practiced the sax alone, after picking up the family instrument at the tender age of nine.

Later in life, I continued to follow my own muse (so to speak), leading a church choir few thought I could lead, playing an instrument few now appreciate, using a computer few others used, writing poetry and prose few ever read, recording songs few would hear. For more than four decades, such solitary pursuits were the method to my madness, the modus operandi of my id... Until today. Today I came to a realization that upset all my prior assumptions......

I was simply born one day off.

Most of my birthdays growing up weren't particularly memorable. Birthdays were simply days that I ate cake and blew out candles in the company of immediate family and (on rare occasions) a few cousins or the odd schoolmate. As a matter of fact, the date held little added significance until my sophmore year of high school, when I met someone who would become my best friend... Someone who, oddly enough, was born exactly one year and a day after I was.

Steve Childress was a fellow 'okieville boy' (Okieville being the nickname of the unincorporated neighborhood where we both lived) who grew up approximately four or five miles south of my parent's east Stockton home. Both band geeks, we didn't meet until we were attending Franklin High School together back in the late 70's, as our geographical separation meant we attended different elementary and junior high schools. I'll avoid revisionist history by falsely claiming that Steve and I were ever inseparable, but he honestly was my closest friend in high school... A friend who was born on July 12... As was another friend from high school... And a friend I met after high school... And a close in-law I met after that. All told, more of the people I hold dear share July 12 as their birthday than any other... Just one day apart from my own... Just one day 'off'.

Steve never seemed to mind my being a little 'off' though, which is perhaps one of the reasons we became friends... For a few years, at least. And it's because of his impending birthday that I was reminded of one warm day in October, 1993 when, as the interim choir director of First Presbyterian Church of Tracy, Calfornia, during an AIDS Awareness service, I eulogized my late friend as follows (Note: I've left the copy as I originally wrote it back in '93, typos and all) ...

Good Morning.
I'd like take a moment to talk about a very close friend of mine. Those of you who attended my wedding, in this very church in the summer of 1985 may remember him, as he was my best man. His name: Steven Childress.
Steve and I met in the fall of 1979, at Franklin High School in Stockton. Steve was just starting as a Freshman, I was a sophomore, and we met through our joint involvement in the music program.
The two of us were a study in contrasts:
- Steve was what some would have called 'clean cut'. I, on the other hand, had long hair and smoked.
- Steve was an Eagle Scout. I had 'left' the Boy Scouts before making the rank of Tenderfoot.
- Steve not only attended church on a regular basis, he helped with the choir at his church, as well as playing both the piano and the organ. I myself did not attend church at all (even Christmas and Easter).
- Steve was the most exceptionally talented musician I ever met, or had the pleasure of playing with. Any instrument he had a desire or a need to play, he easily picked up in a matter of weeks. In the few years we were in high school together, he was asked to play the Piano (as well as various synthesizers), the Trombone, the Oboe, the Bass Clarinet, the Baritone, as well as several other instruments I'm sure I'm forgetting, all of which he did quite easily. I, on the other hand, had to struggle to learn any instrument, as well as spend a great amount of time doing something Steve generally didn't need to do: practice.
In the fall of 1990, at the age of 26, Steve died of AIDS. The following hymn was one of his favorites.

I forget which of Steve's favorite hymns I sang that day, a fact that pains me to no end. I haven't forgotten him, though... Nor will I ever forget any of the other friends and family I later met who share his birthday, and who also forgave me for being a little 'off' (and yes, I still remember who you are). ;-)

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Blogger Loralynn said...

How hard it must have been to lose a good friend like that. Thank you for a look into your July 12th friends.

June 23, 2011 at 3:27 PM  

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