A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 5: Gratitude for Friends

Most of us have friends. Some may be very close and others may just be casual acquaintances. Friends can almost feel like family at times. Over the years I’ve had some very close friends and friends that gave me a feeling of belonging.  But, one thing many say about me…  I have never met a stranger.

Stylishly climbing a tree in 1963 or 1964 at Bluewater Lake in New Mexico

The first friend I can recall was back in Albuquerque around 1964, when I was about eight years old. For about three years I was friends with a boy named Ricky Fetterer. I would walk down to his house every morning and watch cartoons (we liked watching The Mighty Hercules — even today I can recall the theme song).  After that was over, we would walk to school together, about a quarter-mile from his house. He certainly was, at that time, my best friend. One day they moved away to Kansas or Missouri or someplace like that. I was brokenhearted that I had lost my best friend. But, it was not soon thereafter that we too left Albuquerque and headed east to live in Richardson, Texas.

At the playground with Danny and Aaron ca. 1966 in Richardson, Texas

In Richardson, the neighborhood we lived in had a few kids and so I became friends with them and we played football and catch and things like that together, but I never really had the chance to grow close to them as we were only there for about a year and a half. I don’t even recall names or faces. I can recall playing football in the front yard and, as I try to look at the faces, all I see are blurs. In fact, over the years of my youth, I never did have another close friend like Ricky until I got to my senior year in high school.

Joe Kravetz during his Skaggs Days in Denver, CO around 1969

You see, my father worked for Skaggs Drug and we moved quite often. From 1968 through 1974 I attended three different elementary schools, two junior high schools and three different high schools.  During that period we lived in Dallas, Denver, Great Falls, Bozeman and finally Murray, Utah. Did I have some friends? Of course I did. I had friends from band, friends from other clubs, friends from extra-curricular activities. But none were really all that close. And, I think that besides the relative short times in each place, another part of the problem was that I always tried too hard to make friends. I was known for bragging and boasting in an effort to impress. That was one of the downsides of moving so much and thus it led to a lack of self-confidence.

 

Here I am working with some of the Bozeman Yearbook staff in 1973. Sheila, Melody, Sharon and Joyce. I was contacted by one of them a via Facebook a couple of years ago when they came across this photo.

I find it ironic that in this day of social media such as Facebook and Instagram, that I have been able to renew relationships with people from my old high school days. As we correspond and look at each other’s Facebook we have grown closer despite distance. And that has been an interesting and blessed part of life.  I am grateful for how something like Facebook can open up formerly closed doors.

Intramural Basketball team members at Bozeman Senior High back in 1973. I was the player/coach for one of the teams.  That’s me, third from left in back row.

A recent photo of my Bozeman friend Bud, who now lives in Colorado.

Just a few days ago I was contacted by a friend of mine from Bozeman Senior High School named Bud Herzog. That is one person who I still remember from the days of my junior year in high school. We caught up through Instagram and then eventually spoke on the phone for about an hour to reminisce about old times, old friends and acquaintances. It was refreshing to reestablish a long last relationship I had over 40 years ago.

 
As I noted above, I really forged a couple of close relationships with friends during my senior year in high school in Murray, Utah. I guess a number of things led to that opportunity to make those friends. First, having moved into a predominantly LDS/Mormon community, and having a desire to seek more about it because of a chance meeting I had in Bozeman just the previous summer.  A girl from Summit, NJ and her family were there and introduced me to the church and gave me a Book of Mormon. So, while I was registering for my senior year, I decided to take seminary class  (very common in large LDS communities such as Salt Lake City and Mesa, Arizona) and it was through seminary that I met some of the individuals that would eventually become my very close friends. And it turned out that they lived in the same neighborhood that I did. At that time, I didn’t know anything about the church’s boundaries, but, as it turns out, I lived in the same ward boundaries as these guys did. So, it seems that all of the chips fell into the same bowl to create the perfect opportunity to forge new friendships.
 
Obviously, I still had the problems talking about myself and had spoken highly of my previous years in Montana thus leading to my Murray-based nickname of “Monty Montana“ during my senior year of high school. There were a few guys who befriended me and made my life a little better, In fact, a lot better.  But, back then I was always “Monty” to them.
 

Jonathan Jensen as he looked in high school in 1974

I became close friends with five or six of these guys. Perhaps the most prominent of them were the two I grew closest to as friends, namely Jonathan Jensen and Russell Graves. We remain close friends even to this day. Both Jonathan and Russ lived just a couple of blocks from me and I spent a lot of time at their homes, getting to know their families, their parents, etc.  In fact, I was probably at their places more than my own house.  And as I drew near to joining the church, I also became very close to Jonathan‘s father Boyd Jensen, who at the time was the Bishop of the Murray 20th Ward. Bishop Jensen became almost like a second father to me and I so strongly desired to have a family like they had because, as I have noted in previous blog posts, my family situation was not the best.

 

Murray 20th Ward Young Adult basketball team in 1975 (Dale Simper is front left, next to me)

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort in Utah in 2016

Through my activities in the ward, specifically participating in their sports programs — softball, volleyball and basketball, I grew closer to many of these guys. And as a senior in high school, I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Jonathan and Russell and a few of the other guys were all part of the basketball team and/or the football team. They were all popular in school. And here I was, a virtual nobody — a braggadocious “Monty Montana”, being embraced with friendship buy these guys. That truly helped open the door for other friendships. And for that I have always been very grateful because, honestly, I think that it saved my life.

 
 

Visiting Russ at his home in Murray, Utah in 2016

I spent a lot of time at Jonathan and Russ’s houses. And usually, it wasn’t just me and Russ or me and Jonathan, but all three of us and often times more of our friends including John Janssen, Dale Simper, and a few others.

Jonathan, Russ and also Dale, have remained close friends over the years. Every time I visit the Salt Lake area, we all get together and reminisce of good times and just spend time learning about each other‘s current lives… What is up with all of their children and my children, talk about grandchildren, talk about jobs. These guys have always been there for me and I am so grateful to them. In many respects, they’re almost like family to me.
 

Visiting my friends Russ, Jonathan and Dale in the summer of 2018 in Murray, Utah

Glen Krebs has been a very close friend. He officiated at one of my daughters’ weddings in this photo

Funny thing is that, through them, I was introduced to another Murray grad when I came to Kentucky.  Glen Krebs graduated the year before me and went on his LDS mission to Japan as well.  Most of my friends were either friends with him or knew him well.  When I first came to Kentucky for job interviews, I was able to stay at Glen’s house.  We have since become very close.  I have done work for him.  His wife and mine both went to the same high school in Mesa, Arizona and we even share the same wedding anniversary date of July 15!!  Like Jonathan and Russ, Glen has always been there to help get me through the difficult challenges of life when I needed him to.

 

Glen is also an avid supporter of my writing and books. I signed my most recent copy for him here. (We are also both UK Fans….)

Penny Strong as I knew her in 1976.

Finally, during the time I was trying to get into the church and then make decisions concerning my mission, I had become good friends with a wonderful young lady from Cottonwood High School named Penny Strong (now married with a different last name).  To this day, I can’t recall how we first met, but she was a godsend.  Ours was not a romantic relationship.  It was a true friendship and she was always there to talk and listen. She was like a “my age group” sister to me in the real sense.  Even to this day we stay in touch.  I am, even to this day, grateful for the strong positive influence Penny had in my life.

This is Penny in 2018. Like me, a happy grandparent and she still has that wonderful youthful look. So glad we are still friends.

This was the group I entered the Language Training Mission (LTM) with in Feb. 1976. We all flew to Nagoya together. (Marc White is 4th from the left.  I am on the far right)

Busily engaged as a missionary in 1976

Eventually, we all go our separate ways. Jonathan, Russ, Dale, John and others all left for LDS missions to various parts of the world. I too ended up joining the church and serving an LDS mission. I followed in their footsteps and it was because they were such good examples in helping me to make good decisions.

 
Serving two years as a missionary and being together with a companion for a number of months, it is not usual that some of the missionary companions become good friends. I haven’t kept in contact with many of my former missionary companions or others. But I try to.  Interestingly, while I was in the Language Training Mission in February/March 1975, I had TWO companions and one of them was someone I knew from Murray. His name was Marc White. I did not know Marc very well during high school, but I do know that he was the quarterback of the football team and he was a great leader. During our missionary years, we became very close and he was kind of the cement that kept me strong during my weak times. Since our missions, I have been in touch with him a few times, but we have kind of lost touch over the years. But I’ll never forget how good Marc was in being a good friend and not just a missionary companion and leader to me.
 

One of my favorite mission companions was Lee Richan.  Sadly, he passed away in 2012

Fun with Elder Lee Richan in Fuji, Japan 1978

I have kept in touch with very few of those that I served missionary time with in Japan in the 1970s.  I am friends with a few on Facebook, and keep track of them that way, but we’ve all gone our separate ways. There was one, however, to whom I became very close friends with and had remained friends until he died a few years ago and that is Lee Richan. Much like me, Lee was a convert to the church. He had been a motorcycle rider for many years and had an interesting background. But, as missionary companions,  we achieved our goals together and we had a very fun time together. He was very good about remembering birthdays and would always call me or send me a note on my birthday. Over the years we would talk and communicate and when I could get to Utah,  we would visit with each other.  Sadly, Lee passed away on December 17, 2012.  He was 58.

Lee Richan as I knew him around 2010

Lee was not the first of my friends who had passed away at early age. But, his passing was certainly the most impactful that had experienced up to that time. There were two or three former missionaries and there were a couple of people from two of my different high schools that I had received notification that they had passed. It is always sad when someone you know passes away. But I was really brokenhearted when Lee passed away. His friendship was a valuable jewel to me.

Our first photo together ca. 1978

After my mission, I attended BYU and actually became roommates with Jonathan Jensen there. He and a couple of others had pitched in to buy a house.  There were a couple of others in the house I knew and then I became friends with the other roommates that were there with me. But, I was too engaged in trying to find a “eternal companion,“ to be very involved with my friends most of the time. And once I had found my sweetheart, Julianne, my friendships took a back burner a long time even though I did stay in contact.

 
Time came and went. Jobs came and went. Julianne and I ultimately moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, to take us closer to her home yet keep us away from the dreaded heat. While in Flagstaff, I would attend college at Northern Arizona University and it was there today forged my next close friendship with now lifelong friend Charles Snow. Both of us had some Jewish of bringing in our family and we both were converts and we both had a lot of things in common. Eventually, Charles and I worked at the same places are a couple of times and that was always fun. As things would go, we moved onto Arizona State University and Charles and Michelle moved on in other directions. He currently lives in North Carolina and I have been able to visit him there.
 

Visiting with Charles Snow in North Carolina in 2016

Like me, Charles was always fond of telling jokes and having fun. I’m grateful that we remain close to this day and that when we do talk, which is not often, it is like we were just with each other the day before like me, Charles was always find of telling jokes and having fun. I’m grateful that we remain close to this day and that when we do talk, which is not often, it is like we were just with each other the day before.
 

Family in Japan in 1987

By 1987, my family eventually went to Japan for a few years.  We made a few friends in Japan, chiefly people that would help us through that experience. But nobody really became too close per se. Life was too busy with children and everything else going on.
 

With Ron (aka Antsy McClain)  ca. 1998

It wasn’t until we returned back from Japan in 1991 that I was blessed with a new lifelong friendship.  I could not locate work in Arizona and ultimately was hired as a contract Japanese interpreter for an auto parts plant in Shelbyville, Kentucky in 1992.  I shared a table with another interpreter, named Ron Bell, who was originally from Ohio but was living in Kentucky at the time. Ron was always good for a joke. During his days in college at BYU, Ron was an editorial cartoonist and has also become quite the artist. We always talked of collaborating some day on something or other. There were evenings as well that I would go over to his place and listen to him play his guitar and sing his songs. He eventually left the company and went on to other things. But we stayed in touch as he lived locally in the Lexington area and we remained friends. He later formed a partnership with another guy and as musicians, they called themselves the “Trailer Park Troubadours.” As part of their schtick, Ron had given himself a pseudonym of Antsy McClain, which he still uses to this day.

Working with Antsy McClain

Singing with Antsy McClain at Woodflock 2015

The Trailer Park Troubadours eventually landed a recording contract and had a website that they were not happy with.  Ron, knowing that I could do web work, asked me to start managing his website, which I have done continuously for nearly 25 years.

 
Over those years, I have not just been a business associate doing his website. We have become very close friends and like brothers. We have seen each other struggle through life’s challenges. We have celebrated each other’s good times. Antsy (which is what I typically call him now) helped me to fulfill one of my dreams of being in a band and touring as I was able to participate with the group, not as a musician, but now with logistics and other things. I have always been his biggest cheerleader.
 

Visiting with Antsy McClain (and gawking at his grandchild pix) just before a show in Ohio in 2016

We have actually seen each other‘s children grow up and become parents.  Antsy has joined the grandparent club and now he and I both share the blessing of being grandparents. This has been a joyful relationship for me and hopefully for Ron. I am heartfully grateful for this long 25 year friendship.
 

On tour with Antsy McClain in San Francisco in the early 2000s.  Getting to live a dream thanks to a good friend

 

Having BBQ with my old friend and fellow Troubs’ fan Michael Fisher in Georgetown, TX  We first met through Facebook

As I mentioned early on, Julianne has always said that I have never met a stranger. And that is true. I am always friendly and outgoing and social. That has helped me to develop other friendships over the years. Facebook has opened up doors for me to  develop virtual friendships that I would’ve never expected. I have become friends with people through Facebook and eventually, in some cases, have been able to visit them and get to know them better. Some of these friendships came as a result of Trailer Park Troubadours associations (such as Michael Fisher in photo). Others came as a result of my travel blogging. But in each case these are friendships that I value. There are others that I become friends with on Facebook they have yet to meet in person but we share things in common. To me, that has become a unique form of friendship making.

Hanging out with Texas travel blogger, author and photographer Tui Snider in Azle, TX whom I first met through Facebook.

One of these Facebook friends is Tui Snider. She is a Texas author whom I first met as a result of her book about offbeat attractions in Texas. She has authored a number of books since that time. We quickly became friends via Facebook and, as she lives very close to my sister in Texas, one trip I went out to visit with her and her husband Larry. We have hit it off and are now good friends. I relish her great success in writing, selling books and her numerous speaking engagements. Thankfully, she has been a great mentor to me and was instrumental in helping me to get my first two books out and on the market.

Bobby Cochran performing with Steppenwolf in 1975. I took this at the show.

One of the more interesting friendship stories is that of guitarist Bobby Cochran. I became friends with the former Steppenwolf guitarist when he joined and played lead guitar for Antsy for many years. I actually roomed with Bobby a couple of times on the road and we have taken many trips together and talked about everything…music, religion, politics.  Funny thing about Bobby is that I saw him perform with Steppenwolf in 1975 (see the photo).  Who’d have thought that 25 years later we would be friends and traveling together.

Enjoying time with guitarist Bobby Cochran in Bardstown, KY around 2012

I also count myself fortunate to be friends with a number of other very talented musicians that I was introduced to through Antsy McClain.  These would include guitarists, multi-instrumentalists and others.

Hanging with friend Edgar Cruz…a guitarist from Oklahoma
Visiting with Anthony Snape, Nashville-based singer/songwriter from Australia.  I first met him in Bardstown and have kept in touch throughout the years.
With Bruce Wandmayer in 2016 at Woodflock.  Bruce has been with Antsy McClain as his saxophone and slide guitar player for over 20 years.
With a number of photographer friends watching for Bald Eagles at Taylorsville Lake in 2017
Watching for birds at Jacobson Park with Eddie Flinchum

Over the past 2 to 3 years, I have become very engaged in photography. It has always been a passion of mine, but with a nicer camera and a lovely park with a lake nearby, it has become a daily activity. Jacobson Park is nearby and has a large lake and lots of wildlife and lots of beauty. I visit almost daily and practice my art of photography there whether it be on birds, plants or nature such as sunrises and sunsets. Through this activity I’ve also developed friendships with other photographers and these too are unique and fun friendships. We talk about birds and we talk about other things. A couple of these photographers were Vietnam vets and we talk about their time in the service. I have learned about a couple of their families and their family life as they have about mine. It is nice to have these friends and some of them I see almost on a daily basis.

I see Jerome Keeler almost daily. This guy has an eagle eye for ALL birds

David Marler is another of my photographer friends who is out at Jacobson Park almost daily. Great guy and excellent photographer.
Next door neighbor Mike Lemaster

Of course, I would be remiss if I neglected to add some comment about a couple of my neighbors.  Mike Lemaster has been next door to us for nearly 20 years.  He and Lauren have become good friends and we have watched each other’s children grow up and watched grandkids come along.  Next door to him is another amazing neighbor in Steve Ward. He and his wife Chris are overly generous and always giving.

Both of these neighbors have always been gracious with their time and provide advice.  We have had cookouts together and other fun activities.  Mike keeps an immaculate yard and that is the only thing he does to make me feel bad!  As for Steve, there have been numerous instances where he has come over to help, without being asked. He is the kind of neighbor everybody dreams about having…except for us…it is a reality.

Neighbor Steve Ward. He has become a very good friend and is an amazing neighbor.

I have been blessed to have many many other friends from all walks of life.  Many of you who I count as my friends will read this and likely wonder where you are.  You are in my mind, but not enough space to add any more.  I am grateful for all of my many friends.  My life is truly rich and blessed with friendships.  Way more than I am truly worthy of.  Thanks to ALL of you!!

A Tale of Two Friends: Jonathan and Russ

Last week (July 14-16, 2015) I had a sudden opportunity to go to Utah for a quick work project for former Navy SEAL and Author Rob Roy.  It was a good opportunity for me to return “home” and to also visit with two of my life’s most influential and long lasting friends, namely Jonathan Jensen and Russ Graves. I was blessed to spend a couple of hours with each of them (I will detail more at the end of this post).

It all started in the late summer of 1973 as my step-father was transferred from Bozeman, Montana to Salt Lake City, more specifically, Murray, Utah. At that time I would attend my third different high school in three years as I started as a senior at Murray High School.

David ca. 1973 - I looked this way my Senior Year too.

David ca. 1973 – I looked this way my Senior Year too.

We had moved to the heart of Mormon country and I was not Mormon.  But, as a fairly religious 16 year old, I decided to learn more about this church by also choosing to attend seminary, which in those days was held in a building just off of the high school campus and could be attended during school hours.

Through seminary I had the opportunity to meet new people and this was where I first met Jonathan and Russ.  It turned out that I lived in their neighborhood (and also their Church Ward).

Jonathan and Russ were part of the “in crowd” at Murray.  They were popular, they were on the football team and had lots of friends.  I was fortunate to become acquainted with them as one residing in their ward. I was often invited to participate in church youth activities with them, which I relished. I really felt lucky.

Having lived in Montana for three years (and loving it!), I spoke a lot about the state and thus received the nickname “Monty Montana” from Jonathan. I didn’t mind the nickname and it stuck through my senior year and beyond.  Everyone at Murray knew me as “Monty.” Even to this day I chuckle about that nickname, the only other one I really had besides my now well known “Sumoflam.”

David K in 1976

David in early 1976

As I pondered this early friendship the last couple of days, I was struck by the selfless and caring nature that Jonathan, Russ and a few other choice souls, mainly from the Murray 20th Ward, befriended this sort of braggish kid from Montana.  I had come from a fairly dysfunctional family, wasn’t Mormon and was starting all over again in trying to make friends as a senior in high school while still trying to find myself.  Ultimately, these friends, and especially Jonathan and Russ, changed my life direction for ever and for good.

As the school year progressed I visited Jonathan’s house often.  He lived about a block away.  His father Boyd was the Bishop of the Ward and ultimately became like a second father to me as I attended church and eventually became a member in 1975. I spent a lot of time at Jonathan’s house because there was so much contention in my home.  I wasn’t happy there, but I felt loved and accepted at the Jensen house.

The same could be said for Russ.  He and I got on very well.  We were both jokers and experts at the art of the pun. He lived a couple of blocks away and I visited his home often as well.  In fact, his mother Doris became like a second mother to me. Unlike Jonathan, Russ grew up in more modest circumstances.  His father had died a number of years before and his mother was a single mother raising a large family. I think that Russ and I appreciated each other because neither of us had much.  But, the one thing I loved about Russ’s home was the love I felt whenever I visited.  Not the love for me…but the love in the household. And I loved going there.

Jonathan Jensen in 1976

Jonathan Jensen in 1976

As I mentioned above, I eventually joined the church in January 1975 and Jonathan was the one that baptized me.  I was grateful for this.  You see, I was kicked out of the house for wanting to do this.

I need to note here that these guys were not interested in me as a “potential member” of the church.  They were interested in me as a person, as an individual and as a friend. They were really the first true friends I had ever had in my short 17 years of life.  I relished this friendship and it was the love and unselfishness nature of these guys that ultimately made me feel that I was where I was supposed to be,

In fact, I am certain that my kind Heavenly Father placed them in my path and facilitated the way for us to become long lasting friends. And these two, Jonathan and Russ, have continued to be close friends through the years, despite any distance or length of time without communication.

On my mission in Japan in 1976

On my mission in Japan in 1976 – that’s me in the middle in the back

They left on their LDS Missions in 1975, Jonathan to Sweden and Russ to Canada.  I was fortunate to still have other friends from the ward, but I really missed them.  I had a fairly good job for an 18 year old and in December 1975 I too received a call to serve a mission to Nagoya Japan.  Just the day before I had been offered a big job opportunity for an 18 year old and I had to spend a weekend stewing whether to serve a mission or to take this high paying job.  In the end, and unbeknownst to either Jonathan or Russ, I chose the mission and it was due to their excellent examples and their unfettered and unselfish friendship for me that led me to make this correct decision.

Jonathan on far right on my wedding day in Mesa, Arizona in July 1979

Jonathan on far right on my wedding day in Mesa, Arizona in July 1979

After returning home from my mission I spent many fun times with these guys.  I went to see Marx Brothers movies with Russ many times.  I ultimately moved into a house in Provo with Jonathan as I attended BYU.  The friendship continued.  When I married my sweetheart Julianne, Jonathan came to the wedding in Arizona. I was honored and grateful that my “brother” would take the time to come down from Utah for my special day.

Russ and David in Memphis in January 2004

Russ and David in Memphis in January 2004

Through the years since the 1970s, our paths diverted as I went to Japan and they got busy.  We rarely stayed in touch, but in those times when we did get together, it was as if there had never been a separation in time.  It was like old times. In 2004, Russ and one of his sons made the trip to Kentucky to visit and then we ventured to Memphis to attend the Liberty Bowl as BYU played Louisville. It was a fun time for us.  Louisville beat BYU, but that was not the memory I cherished.  It was time with my good friend Russ Graves that I valued and cherished.

Hanging with Jonathan in October 2007 at his house in bountiful, UT

Hanging with Jonathan in October 2007 at his house in bountiful, UT

In October 2007 I had the opportunity to attend a huge missionary reunion in Bountiful, Utah, which is where Jonathan lives to this day.  As the true selfless individual he was, he offered me a place to stay at his home during the visit. It was great to see all of those with whom I served on my mission with, but the real treat was spending some time with Jonathan and his family. I attended a football game, I visited with his Dad and we spent some quality time together.  I was amazed at how he made sure he had time to spend with me in the short three days I was there.  It was great to get to know his children.  He also took me into Murray to meet with Russ. We had a great time together.

Over the years, I have been able to call Jonathan for consoling, advice or to just fill him in on life.  He too has called me.  We don’t communicate often.  He has a huge family and is a busy attorney.  My conversations with Russ are even fewer.  Russ has about 15 children and has done well as a software developer.

And now, in 2015, all of us are in our late 50s (and will all be in our 60s before 2016 is over). All of three of us are grandparents.  All of us have had children serve missions.  But, the lasting, unselfish friendships still remain.  And last week’s events were a testament to this.

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort, July 2015

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort, July 2015

My flight to Salt Lake City last Tuesday had some unexpected schedule changes and this caused Rob Roy’s staff some challenges in trying to get me picked up at the airport.  I had already let Jonathan know I was coming in and that I had hoped we could meet up, even for a few minutes.

As I arrived in Salt Lake, I received a text message from Rob Roy’s staff that they were going to have trouble getting me picked up.  So, I called Jonathan to see what his schedule was like.  Fortunately for me, he had enough flexibility to come out and pick me up, even on the spur of the moment. This is the same place that he picked me up in April 1978 as I returned home from my mission.  It was not my parents…it was my best friend Jonathan Jensen.  And here he was 37 years later again picking me up.  We went for a drive south to have something to eat (and in typical Jonathan fashion he treated me).  I had let him know about the schedule mess up and Jonathan said he would take me to Sundance resort.  Bottom line, he literally dropped everything to accommodate me…the same selflessness he had shown me in 1973 as he became a new friend to a lost and lonely soul in high school. I was overwhelmed.

The LDS Draper Temple

The LDS Draper, UT Temple

We took a fabulous drive past the Draper Temple and saw a spectacular view of the Salt Lake Valley.  From there, he took me back behind the mountain and into Alpine, UT (which, ironically, is where my father in law Maurice Bateman grew up).  We took the beautifully scenic Alpine Loop up and over into the approach to Provo Canyon and ultimately Sundance Resort.

With Jonathan at Sundance Resort

With Jonathan at Sundance Resort

Jonathan could have easily said he was too busy to take me to Sundance and I would have totally understood.  But, he took me up there and then spent time talking.  We reminisced, as we always do, but we also talked about his father, who passed away in 2014, we talked about his children and their missions, their marriages and then we talked about his grandchildren. I got my stuff together and we walked and sat on a bench with a great view of the lovely Mt. Timpanogos. I was at home in the Utah Mountains and spending time with one of my all time heroes. And he made the time to do so.  We parted ways finally as he needed to return.  However, he got into Lehi and discovered I had left my wallet in the car.  Despite his schedule, being tired, etc., he turned around and brought it all the way back up to Sundance.  And that is ALWAYS how Jonathan has been…selfless, caring and loving. I am so indebted to this guy I will never be able to repay him.

With Russ Graves in Murray, UT July 2015

With Russ Graves in Murray, UT July 2015

While I was with Jonathan, we called Russ.  We were all friends of course, and have gotten together in the past.  Unfortunately, Russ couldn’t make it, but he did offer to pick me up on Thursday morning.  I was staying in a hotel in Orem, UT and Russ showed up to get me early.  Once again, like Jonathan, he moved his schedule around on the spur of the moment to do this. We enjoyed a nice breakfast, had conversations about family, talked Marx Brothers and Russ whipped off his puns as always.  He told me about his dear mother, who is now in her 80s and in a nursing home. We visited his lovely (and huge) home in Murray, where I go to see the family missionary wall, the grandchildren wall and experience the joy and warmth of his home.  I got to chat with his sweet wife Gayle, whom I still recall as the young sweet girl from Wyoming I knew in the late 1970s as she and Russ were married. Then, like Jonathan, Russ exhibited his unselfishness and loving nature and took me into the Salt Lake airport for my flight back to Kentucky.

Over the years I have developed dozens of good friendships.  Many of them will be eternal friendships.  But, of all the friends and acquaintances I have, there are none to rival the bonds that have developed over the years with Jonathan Jensen and Russ Graves.  Indeed, I owe my very life’s course to them.  They changed my life forever (and for better) and for this, I will always treasure the friendship.  They have taught me over and over what true friends are.

Thank you Jonathan and Russ.

Facebook is 10 and I have lots of Friends

FacebookFacebook turned 10 years old this week. In celebration, they provided a look back video for all Facebook users that wanted one. Here’s a link to mind if you’re interested in seeing it.

The bigger story to me, is how Facebook has been a catalyst for the creation of new relationships. Anyone that uses Facebook knows that when you hook up with someone on Facebook you have “friended” them on Facebook. Currently I have 1468 friends on Facebook. I don’t say that to brag or to boast or for any other reason but to say that I have all of these “relationships”. It causes me to reflect on what the meaning of “friend” is now that we have Social Media.

FacebookLikeWhen I was in high school in the 1970s I moved three different times and went to three different high schools. I didn’t have an opportunity to make what I would call “long term” friendships. But, in each of my three high schools (Charles M Russell in Great Falls,  MT; Bozeeman Senior in Bozeman, MT; and Murray High in Murray, Utah), I was able to garner some good friendships. I was always an anti-clique friend to many, taking pride in the fact that I was able to cross numerous thresholds to become friends with members of the band, athletes and members of other groups and clubs in school. Nevertheless, each of my friends typically had something in common with me whether it was being a band member, or a cross-country team member, or a member of the journalism club, we always had something in common.

FriendsCurrently I really have very few relationships with individuals from my first two high schools in Great Falls and Bozeman, but I have a lot of good relationships with many from my Murray high school days. I’m not sure what the difference was since I spent the same amount of time at each school, but perhaps it was that I graduated from Murray High and that I joined the LDS (Mormon) church in Murray that many of my friends, most of whom were Mormons, probably deepened the relationships that I had. To this day some of them are still very close friends.

David and friends

David hanging with Brett and Scott in 1976

Back then our main means of communication was meeting and doing things together and talking on the phone. Very few of us wrote letters, and indeed, I was not a very good letter writer either. When I went to Japan to serve as a missionary for the LDS church, I did write a lot of letters and receive a lot of letters but most of them were from family members and not my friends. When I returned home in 1978, I once again hooked up with friends and we would go to movies, rock concerts and out to eat and other things that young twentysomethings did back then.

Writing Letters home in 1977

Writing Letters home in 1977

With the birth of America Online and appearance of email, the opportunity to hook up with friends via electronic communication became appealing to many of us. It was easier to start catching up with people and doing it via email. And, of course, in those days, we’re talking the 1990s, email was hip.

GotMailBut then about 10 years ago this new Internet thing called Facebook was born. It was the birth of social networking as we know it today. Initially it was college students and high school kids that caught on and started using Facebook. Adults like me, then in my 40s, just didn’t get it yet. But, responsible parents started checking in on their children’s Internet activities which included Facebook. We then wondered about ourselves participating in Facebook. At the same time, there were other groups trying to do the same thing. MySpace was born, and MySpace ended up being for musicians and it still is out there but nothing like Facebook. Others tried as well, but Facebook always seem to be the one to get the thumbs up from everyone.

MySpaceSo, on June 12, 2007 I joined Facebook (as you can see from my video).  I didn’t really begin posting much until around December of that year when my son Seth got married and I began using it as a photo news site.  Since that time I have posted 1000s of photos on Facebook, including 100s of “selfies” that I have taken from my road trips.  Many photos are with my friends.

Sumoflam with friend Antsy McClain

Sumoflam with friend Antsy McClain – 2013

More importantly though, Facebook has seemingly brought about a new definition of “friend.” A search on Google defines friend as “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.” My definition of friend is close “a person with a common interest and one with a mutual affectionate relationship.” By affectionate I am not referring to the Touchy Feely kind of affection, but rather a relationship where you see someone or do something with them quite often. But, ironically, for many, some Facebook “friends” may be actually be people we have never met in person. Can you really become a friend with someone you have never met? That is the real gist of this post.

NoStrangersWell, much like my days in high school where I had friends across different spectrums of groups and organizations, I believe that I have been able to do the same thing through social networking whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Google+ or other forms of social networking. Indeed, I have what I would call different layers of friends on Facebook and these other social networks.

FriendPyramidTo be sure, I have a plethora of “friends” from all walks of life….Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Gays, Atheists, Right Wing Tea Party activists and left-leaning politocos, athletes, musicians, artists, photographers, vegans, food junkies, videographers, sports writers, authors, publishers, movie producers, truck drivers, computer nerds.

GoodFriendsNot counting my family “friends” on Facebook, perhaps my first and biggest layer of friends are those individuals with whom I have day to day and/or week to week interpersonal relationships, whether they be through business, church, or other activities that I participate in at this point. These are people that I physically know, that I have seen, that I have shaken hands with or given a hug to.  They may be work associates or friends from booster clubs and other organizations. These are my “close friends.”  I can recall letting work associates that, in many respects, we were like family.  They may have scoffed, but, in reality, we have forged relationships that go deeper than the job.

A "selfie" with my former work colleague and continued friend Colin

A “selfie” with my former work colleague and continued Facebook friend Colin

Visiting with my friend Keith in Idaho.  We served an LDS mission together in Japan and are now Facebook friends nearly 40 years later

Visiting with my friend Keith in Idaho. We served an LDS mission together in Japan and are now Facebook friends nearly 40 years later

Visiting with my friend Froilan from Cebu, Philippines.  We worked together in from 2005-2007 and visited with each other in Lexington in 2013. We are still Facebook friends

Visiting with my friend Froilan from Cebu, Philippines. We worked together in from 2005-2007 and visited with each other in Lexington in 2013. We are still Facebook friends

The next layer is what I would call my “long lost friends.” Hereafter,  I may use first names of many of these individuals, and these will be their real first names. Let’s take Sue for instance. I first met Sue in person in 1973 in Bozeman, MT. She was with her family visiting from New Jersey for a large Airstream Rally. I hung around with Sue and her sister and her family for the few days that they were in town because I was doing a article about the Airstream rally for my high school paper. After they left, we did not have any communication per se. But in 1975, I joined the LDS (Mormon) church and a year later left for my mission to Japan. After I returned from my mission in 1978, I moved to Provo, UT and, on my first weekend in church in Provo, lo and behold, I ran into Sue. It was obviously a shock to her as well because, at the time I met her in Bozeman, I knew nothing about the Mormon church. But she and her family had told me a lot about it because they were very devout members. Needless to say, she had a profound impact on my life and she didn’t even know it. After many years of searching, I finally found her and contacted her via Facebook, in a private message. And we have since become Facebook “friends.” Like me, she has since been married, had children and even had grandchildren. Today we rarely, if at all, communicate, even through Facebook. But Facebook offered us both something that other friendship opportunities may not offer. We get to be a “fly on the wall” of our friends and keep up with them, even when they don’t know it. That is, the opportunity to “lurk” on someone else’s life via their Facebook page.

FlyOnWallLurkingNo the word lurk is an unusual word. In computerese it basically means “to read or observe an ongoing discussion without participating in it.” In the past it seems to have referred to something a little bit on the shady side, something that was a bit secretive. But for a site like Facebook many friends do their lurking via the now well known “News Feed.”

NewsfeedI have a lot of “friends” and not a lot of time to read all of their posts.  So, occasionally I “drop in” on them and see what is going on.  If I like a post or a photo I will add a thumbs up so that they know I had dropped in.  I see many of those as well from “lurkers’ to my Facebook page.

ThumbsUpBack to my friends….  Indeed, I have rekindled friendships from the past such as with Pat and Sam from Bozeman, Maggie and Penny from Salt Lake, John and JP from Cebu, Gerhard (from Germany but now lives in Singapore) and Mark (from Lexington but now in Singapore), friends from Japan, Puerto Rico, China, Ireland, Australia and more.  It is fun to keep up with all of them.

Social Media Friends

Social Media Friends

I then have that thick layer…general acquaintances…friends of my children, people I have met along the way like Samantha and Lindsey from Camp 31 BBQ in Paris, Ontario or Lori from the March Madness Marching Band in Lexington (after I shared dozens of photos from parades in Lexington) high school coaches I met through an employer, people that want to share a part of their lives.

AcquaintancesThen comes the most interesting layer of all…the “Social Media” friends.  These are people I have met online or have become acquainted with through other common friends or interests.  Some of them I eventually met, like my friend Mari, a struggling author in Lexington; Dan, a Lexington photographer; or Ione from California (another Trailer Park Troubadours fan whom I met on a Troubs’ cruise).  Others I have become good friends with and communicate with at least weekly, such as Ed in California (who came to me through Antsy McClain and has since discovered our myriad joint interests), Michael from Georgetown, TX (another Troubs fan) or Tui from Dallas who writes a travel blog about quirky places and is currently publishing a book or even Doug (from Somewhereville, USA) who runs the Roadside America website.  And there are dozens more that have “friended” me for one reason or another.

The World is Smaller

The World is Smaller

So, on the week of Facebook’s 10th birthday, we can thank Mark Zuckerburg and his friends for their ingenious way of making the world smaller and having (in general) a profoundly positive impact on the world.  I know that Facebook (and my other Social Media sites) have really provided me with a richer outlook on life and the world I live in.

And to thank you for being a friend I am going to use one of my favorite musicians from 40 years ago – Andrew Gold

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