Remembering my first best friend

Published 8:52 pm Saturday, August 10, 2013

Long before moving to Wellons Street we lived in a charming little house on Elly Court. It was a one-lane dirt road that branched off Smith Street halfway between Leigh and Wellons. My parents started off there in the first house on the left.

Across the street lived Dimples Bird. She was the kind of gorgeous that inspired boys like me to create excuses for wandering on to her porch. Down the lane lived Bootsy Howell, one of my mother’s best friends.

But behind our house, a fence separated my yard from a wonderful old man I knew only as Mr. Beal. Never got his first name. Didn’t care whether he had one. Mr. Beal lived in the two-story white house next to the old Mallory’s Wholesale Store on Smith Street.

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He was my first best friend. He’d pick me up with strong hands and large arms chiseled by hard work and the passion for providing for a family long grown and far away. He was among the kindest men I ever knew. Like my father, he enjoyed tossing me in the air. It didn’t matter where I came down; I always knew (like Dad) he’d catch me.

Isn’t it amazing how early in life we learn to trust? How quickly we learn whom we can trust — whose love is unconditional, whose kindness guides and whose love resists the need to confine?

Sometimes that kind of unconditional affection is overwhelming to a child. At times I didn’t know what to do with it, how to respond. Like many children, the only response I could muster was to just run around in circles right in front of Mr. Beal. He’d laugh out loud at my excitement.

He gave us vegetables from his backyard garden, toys, sweets — anything he picked up. He even let me think I was helping him work his garden on occasion.

I wanted to take Mr. Beal with me when we moved to Wellons Street. But life doesn’t work that way. I had to grow up, and he had to grow older. Both processes tend to take people away from each other.

Mr. Beal died one day, and soon they tore his house down to put up a duplex. Nice looking building. But not as nice as Mr. Beal’s house. For a long time it was difficult to return to Elly Court. Standing near the fence was even harder.

I miss that old man almost as much as I miss Grandma Edwards. Once I asked my mom why Mr. Beal and Grandma couldn’t get married. She smiled as the thought washed over her, then kept wiping dishes. I knew he was married. But at that age of 3 I saw nothing wrong with him having an extra wife.

In later years it occurs to me his love was cut from a different emotional cloth, the fabric of which is woven with a timeless adoration passed down by unseen souls, understanding developed over generations, an evolutionary hope that their sacrifices would make life easier for us, that we could go where they couldn’t.

And with their blessing, we did. In the shadow of any success we have are people like Mr. Beal and Grandma Edwards, the faces of love and kindness who usher us through.

Isn’t it amazing how the Lord strategically weaves pivotal souls into essential life stages, like childhood. They aren’t meant to stay long. We have to leave them behind. Yet somehow they linger in us through a lifetime.

Should I be fortunate enough to make it to Heaven, the first person I’ll look for will be Grandma. Who knows, maybe Mr. Beal will be tending his garden near by. Two of my favorite people in one place. How convenient!

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at dennisredwards@verizon.net.