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I’m glad Tom Dennis was my friend.

Watching Nebraska play in the Cotton Bowl todaymakes it easy to remember, almost feels like I’m there again.

The first day of my first paying job on a farm in central Nebraska, I learned I’d be working with Tom off and on that summer. I was fresh out of the eighth grade, super-eager to take it all in, glad to have a paying job and money in my pocket, and reason to cut the sleeves off an old shirt to wear to work. We worked on a farm, was true, but no sleeves meant no farmer-tan. We had a good time that summer. Tom worked hard and I did my best to keep up. We laughed often. His way of teasing me was just right. He drove fast and his ’65 Impala was almost the same pale yellow as my parents’ VW Super Beetle. He had his own friends when work was over and I had mine, but at work we got along great.

Then came the fall – and school. Born and raised fifteen miles south of town, Tom was a senior, 6’2″ or more, 200 pounds plus, strong as an ox, and varsity right tackle on the football team accross from his younger brother Steve at left tackle. He was one of Arnold High School’s varsity basketball forwards – starting five, of course, and during track season he tossed the shot put around. Me? I was new, only six months in the area, barely 5’6″, maybe 135″ – and a freshman. I was glad I was on Tom’s good side, though I didn’t know how I’d fare with the other seniors. If figured if I could survive initiation week I’d be happy.

The first day of school I rode into town with my friend Craig and his older sister Sandy. When we arrived at school I stepped out of their little black VW bug and looked around. Tom and some of his buddies were gathered out by the front steps, hands jammed in the hip pockets of pretty-new jeans, laughing and talking. I caught his eye and he motioned me over with a nod of his head. I figured it was one of the safest places to be, so walked over to the group where he introduced me to a few of his friends – all seniors – and I listened to their small-talk and stories until the bell rang and my first day as a freshman officially began.

The seniors at Arnold High School had a favorite intitiation rite. Administration limited the initiation activities to the first week of classes, so seniors would round up unsuspecting freshmen, haul them to the town dump in the back of pick-up trucks (35 years ago it wasn’t against the law to ride in the back of pick-ups) and make them walk back to town. They didn’t care if you were late to your next class or missed your bus home; that was your problem. I somehow managed to make it to Thursday without getting snagged and hauled to the dump. Then it happened. Kenny Meyer, the varsity center, and a couple of his friends had a handful of us in custody, and herding us toward one of their pickups. I don’t know how Kenny came to notice me; maybe it was one in those before-school conversations, or maybe he knew I kind of had a crush on his sister Kim, I don’t know for sure. But I was on my way to the dump. Oh-well, I made it to Thursday, I guess. Life could be worse.

“Hey Meyer!” Kenny turned around to answer. I thought I recognized the voice so looked back to see. It was my friend Tom.

“Can I have one of those?” he asked. We frosh were nothing more than so-much-property the first week of school.

“Sure, why not.”

Tom didn’t say anything, he just pointed at me and raised his eyebrows like I was in trouble or something. Then motioned “c’mere” with his finger. I didn’t argue, just did what I was told. Tom turned his back on the group as I joined him and we began to walk in silence toward where his car was parked. I guess if I had to be initiated I’d rather be at Tom’s mercy than someone I hardly knew. When we were away from the group he finally spoke. “That dump thing is nonsense. You’re not going anywhere.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep, back to what you were doing.”

“Thanks, Tom!” Just like that I was free again. I’ve never forgotten that moment. What a great friend!

I still have a friend like that, only better. We talk before things get going every day. He’s bigger, stronger and more experienced than me. He enjoys my company, and I his. He wants me to do well. In fact, he’ll live his life through me as much as I’ll let him. He looks out for me, even when I figure I’m pretty much toast. Whenever I am at risk he motions for me to stick close to him and he rescues me from the enemy’s plans. If I will remember to let him do for me what he wants to, 2007 will be a year to remember, in a great way.

Would you like to know more about him? Leave a comment or send me a note, I’ll introduce you to him.

Phil—

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