I lost a childhood friend yesterday after a 3 -year battle with ALS. One of the ways I mourn loss is to write about it. I hope you’ll indulge me the opportunity to share about my friend…
An Open-Letter Tribute from Dan Weedin
That was your name when we first met in grade school at Olympic View Elementary. My earliest recollections of you were in 2nd or 3rd grade, but the first time we were actual classmates was in Mr. Algier’s class. You were one of the tallest guys in school and with the big, blond wild hair flying all over the place, you were a little intimidating!
Somewhere around that time, we discovered a similar passion for playing basketball. We’d play with all the other kids on the 8-foot baskets at school and soon you’d start finding your way over to my house to shoot at my hoop. As it would turn out, we’d be teammates for the next 8 years – 2 years as Olympic View Intruders; 3 years as North Whidbey Junior High Cougars; 2 years as Oak Harbor Wildcats; and then finally after coming to the stark realization our high school careers had hit it’s ceiling, we formed our intramural team as seniors on The Supreme Court. There’s one thing I know from years of playing and coaching sports, there’s a tremendous bond when teammates experience victory and defeat; joy and sadness; and going to battle every day together. In our 8 years as teammates, you and I shared an undefeated team, playing “jam ball” years later on those 8-foot baskets, and our “retirement” together.
Do you remember we went to our very first R-rated movie together in 7th grade? Your dad took us to the old theater in Oak Harbor to watch Animal House. I think he even bought me some Junior Mints. Both my mom and dad passed away without me ever telling them! Even when Mom had dementia, I didn’t have the guts to tell her! One of our childhood “secrets,” which may not be so secret anymore.
I remember the day in junior high that your father died in the Anacortes oil refinery explosion. We were in 8th grade and I had no idea what to say. What was poignant to me was that you kept on going during the day. In the face of pain, you were resilient. This certainly would be a necessary characteristic for you later in life.
One of my most fun memories of our friendship was our love of Spanish. I think we must have tracked our learning from Ms. Walters at NW all the way though Señora Ingram at OHHS. We both got pretty good. Do you remember that we would be playing Monopoly at my house with Alex V. and speak only in Spanish to tick him off because he didn’t speak it. He would get so angry and threaten to leave if we didn’t stop. We eventually did – and then re-started over and over again!
Not only were we teammates on the basketball court, but also teammates in our Catholic faith. We went through over a decade of CCD, First Communion, and then Confirmation together. This bond and commitment to our faith would continue on long after Billy turned to Bill and into adulthood. I remember for a time you contemplated the priesthood. I think I fully “supported” you by telling you that you were crazy! In your normal style, you smiled and laughed.
Maybe the most lasting of my memories of our friendship was the summer before our junior year. You were a cross-country athlete and I wanted to start preparing for basketball season. I thought running with you would help me improve my overall fitness level and put me in a position to be more competitive. I also toyed with the thought of going our for cross-country and used you as a benchmark.
We would start our 9-10 mile run at my house. We did that because I think you were holding me accountable knowing that if we started from your house, I might not show up! We would always start off running together, which gave us a chance to talk about sports, school, and girls. That’s how I originally thought the run would go, until you started “separating.” Your smooth and long strides and desire to push your level of training began to stretch out your distance from me. I’m sure you did it to push me, too.
I remember vividly turning the remaining 8-9 miles into a game. My goal was to always keep you in “birds eye” view. In those days, there was no iPhone music with ear buds sticking in my ears. The only words in my head were mine and those words exhorted me to keep you in sight. While there were some long stretches of road, I always seemed challenged when you made that turn and I had to speed up. Eventually, you’d make it back to my house well before me, and always greeted me with encouragement and a smile.
Well Billy, now you’ve raced ahead again.
What you leave me behind thinking of now are the flood of memories we shared together growing up as kids in Oak Harbor. While we remained friends as adults, we just never were able to see each other as much as we wanted. Thank goodness Facebook allowed us to stay in more contact the last few years. With that in mind, I know that although I called you “Bill” for half of our lives, you will always be Billy to me. Just like that summer in 1981, you sped ahead and got to the destination before me. I know at some point in time, somewhere down the line, I will come straggling home and once again you will be there to greet me with a smile and encouragement. Until that time…
Gracias por tu amistad. Va a ser para siempre a Billy a mí. Te quiero mucho amigo.
Billy was #42 and I am #12 on the undefeated 12-o North Whidbey JH Cougars in 1980