Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Enduring Friends


(Scott Kennison and Paul Genesse, in Scott's back yard in Boise, Idaho)

Why does coming from the same place seem so important to many of us? Why do we ask most of the people we meet where they’re from, and get so excited when we find out they are from somewhere nearby our home town? Does it matter that much? Is there some stronger bond with the people you went to high school with compared with your friends now? I loved so many of the people in my graduating class from Beatty high school, and I got to visit with several of them this past weekend when I visited Boise, Idaho. Many people from Beatty moved to Boise.

So, I combined a book tour gig, (teaching writing at five schools, signing books at Borders at the Boise mall, seeing The Killers in concert) and visiting with friends.

I visited six “enduring” (not old!) friends that I went to Beatty High School with: Alan Johnson (class of ’93); Alan’s sister Amy Johnson (class of ’94); Misty Merritt (class of ‘92 with me); Scott Kennison (class of ’92); Dave Myers (class of ’92); Angie Merritt (Misty’s little sister—class of ‘95) and Angie’s husband—also from Beatty. Angie’s husband is named Steve, and he graduated in ’97—I think. He’s a cool guy, but I never knew him in Beatty, as he was much younger than I was. Steve can fix almost anything and is a competitive motorcycle rider. I even got to visit with Misty and Angie’s parents. They looked good and it was cool seeing them.

They all ended up living in the Boise area—except Dave Myers, who drove from Portland, Oregon for the day. It was such a great gathering and we had a wonderful time. We had pizza, played Frisbee golf with all the kids, then most of us ate at Wingers. We ended up spending hours together, getting to know everyone’s spouses and kids—and of course reminiscing about Beatty—a tiny town in the middle of frakking nowhere. It was 120 miles to Las Vegas. Living there cemented a bond and now that we’re all more mature, it’s easier to put things into perspective.

My three classmates, Dave, Misty, and Scott were good friends growing up, as was Alan and his sister Amy. Angie and Steve were much younger, and I actually coached Angie when she was in Junior High basketball. She was a spitfire then, and still is. Angie has two kids and works in a dental office cleaning kids’ teeth. She also works in oral surgery a couple of days a week in a hospital, and on the side, Angie and her husband own a cleaning business and work hard at it. I’m very impressed with them. For fun, Steve and Angie they ride motorcycles. They own at least nine of them, and have the scars and injuries to prove it! Like me, they’re also fans of mixed martial arts, and we had some fun conversations about that. Angie’s older son is 16 (I didn’t meet him) and her daughter, Shantelle is in 4th grade. Shantelle is a strong-willed kid and I loved hanging out with her. She throws a mean Frisbee and is way too smart and beautiful—a truly frightening combination. Angie and Steve admit that they are big trouble. (grin)

Misty is the president of the educators association in Nampa school district, in Nampa, Idaho—an administrator/trainer type with lots of responsibilities. She’s married, with two really good kids, Nick and Erick, ages three and eleven. I enjoyed seeing them and playing in the park. Misty took me to five schools where I taught writing. Getting to hang out with her was awesome. She’s been asked to run for the state senate of Idaho, but declined because of her family commitments. Maybe someday she will, and I will totally work on her campaign. Misty is still the easy to get along with gal, with a keen intellect and a warm heart. She fights the good fight and I know she has impacted countless lives in a positive way. She loves the kids and I have such deep respect for her. Her husband, Andy, is a cool guy as well.

Alan Johnson has three kids and one more on the way. He’s still the gentle giant, coaching his son’s football team, taking care of the kids, and his talented wife Cindy—who plays the piano when she’s not programming computers at work. She’s the go-to gal at her company. Alan worked as a program manager for an IT company, but the bad economy gave him and about 12,000 other people more free time—for the moment. Alan was always a great friend and I’m so glad he’s liking my Iron Dragon Novels. His son, Brandon likes them a lot as well. Oh, Alan has a beautiful daughter named Jaina, pronounced like the Jaena in my book—though he says he didn’t name her after my character. Alan lives one house away from his sister, Amy and her husband Rob (they’re both accountants). Their kids play together and they live in a good neighborhood in Nampa. I love Amy, and it was so great seeing her. She was always a star in sports and academics. I was her coach and cheerleader much of the time, cheering her on when she ran the two-mile in track, or got tough rebounds in basketball. I’m so glad Amy’s life has turned out to be great.

Scott Kennison went to Beatty high his senior year, then moved back to Boise, and married a wonderful girl named Virginia. They have beautiful children. Virginia is Latina and Scott is half-Japanese, so their two girls are gorgeous, and their little boy, is way too cute. I loved hanging out with him. They all have very gentle personalities and I stayed with them for two nights at their gorgeous house near downtown Boise. I think Scott has an awesome family, and he’s a good dad, very patient with all his large extended family, as well as his kids. I do envy him, though he has had to endure some tough times. He still looks the same as he did in high school (except for the goatee!) Scott and I were friends in elementary school and junior high, then he moved away from Beatty and came back for his senior year. We were on different paths then, me being in sports, and him just getting through to graduation. I’m so glad we connected after all these years. Facebook and my novels helped bring us together and I’m so glad they did. Getting to know Scott again and talking about our experiences growing up in Beatty were priceless. We know what it was like living in such a small town, knowing all the same kids and adults, and that shared experience gives us such a connection. We understand each other in a way that few others would.

Dave Myers is an engineer who oversees manufacturing operations involving building semi-conductors and various high-tech items. Now he’s doing consulting work for Intel and lives in Portland, Oregon, with his beautiful wife, Suzanne. He went to nuclear school in the navy and worked on a submarine for years running the reactor. He also grew about four inches after high school! Did the radiation cause some kind of mutation? Who knows. Now Dave is very strong, is in fighting shape (he does mixed martial arts), and is still very witty and funny. I would describe him as quite dashing! Dave is an avid motorcycle rider and an adrenaline junkie. He was always a good friend, but keeping in touch was difficult after high school. Now with the internet, it’s so much easier. I’m really glad he’s been enjoying my books and short stories. That means a lot to me and it was great seeing him this weekend. Like me, he undertook a nearly 400 mile drive for the reunion. I completely agree with what Dave said toward the end of our evening together, “I enjoyed the reunion even more than I thought I would.” I think we were all pleasantly surprised with how much fun we had.

Enduring friends are perhaps easier to have now a days, especially with Facebook, blogs, and email. We didn’t have the internet when we graduated high school back in 1992, but now it seems quite easy to keep up with your friends. Sure, there are some people from high school you never want to see again, but there are others you really do want to see. I also think that some of the people from high school that I didn’t necessarily get along with then, would be good friends of mine now. I think that most of us are more mature now and can see past the petty squabbles and rivalries from high school.

In the end, I think it does really matter where you come from. That shared experience during those crucial formative years is huge. Finding out how people turned out turns out to be quite amazing and fascinating. This weekend I saw six examples of how well some of my friends turned out. I had high hopes for all of them and I was so impressed how all of them turned out.

Now, I can’t wait for the next gathering and am absolutely positive it won’t take 17 years for the next one.

Paul Genesse
Author of The Golden Cord, tag line: “Some bonds can never be broken.”

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