By the time we were sophomores in high school our old friendship was drifting.Sometime in the 8th or 9th grade Herb had started dipping snuff and switched from listening from Dylan to Ernest Tubbs.He then joined the Future Farmers of America.I had joined the debate team which meant that I had to spend a lot of time after school working and pretending to be smart. I recall walking home from the bus stop one day in tenth grade, after debate and running into Herb and John Phillips walking past in the other direction, both spitting snuff.Even a 16 year old can pick up on that metaphor.We all had chosen our paths, which of us having picked the better way, only God would ever know.
The thing was though, there was never really an oficial parting of the ways,never an argument or fight or petty disagreement.I would run into Herb from time to time and while there was none of the old comradery there had once been, there was always friendship and it is too bad that that was not enough to keep us closer.
Throughout high school, Herb developed a drinking problem. It started when he and John took a job in Fayeteville one summer hauling hay. By the time the summer was over both John and Herb could best be described as serious rednecks. Herb had developed a propensity of drinking a case of beer in one night.One unfortunate night he drank his case before driving home on Texas Highway 71 to Houston from a dance at la Grange. In those days Highway 71 included a dangerous little fork in the road inviting you to go left or right. Herb passsed on both offers and continued straight into an enormous Oak tree. The last time I recall being in Herb's room at his home was right after this while he recovered froma broken collarbone. He assured me that his being drunk had kept him relaxed and saved his life.
After high school I would run into Herb once in a blue moon. He had become a mechanic, and I was told that he was a good one. He had(although I did not know it) obtained a college degree.He had been married at least a couple of times and he had two kids from those marriages.I ran into his mother and father with somewhat more frequency and always maintained very cordial relations with them. Mr Farnsworh always called me his "old second baseman".
One day a couple of years ago I read a story online that Herb had shot and killed his wife.I checked a couple of things and confirmed it.I had a hard time keeping up with the case but finally figured out that Herb had been sentenced to 15 years for manslaughter.Herb, at the time was 55 or 56.
What do you do with information like that ? In hindsight I now know that I should have contacted him. I don't know why this seemed such a hard decision at the time.I have since learned a lot more about this particular dynamic and have come to realize that being emotionally supportive is a truly difficult thing. Especially for men.
As anyone who reads this is likely to know, my life has changed quite a bit over the last year and I see some things, especially regarding emotional support with much more clarity that I ever had in the past.I decided to send Herb a letter and see if he would let me come see him. This is a difficult process in the Texas Criminal Justice system.Indeed,if I were not an attorney I would have not received permission to visit.Even with that, the system threw up a couple of roadblocks that I finally managed to manuver through.I think that probably the vast number of Texas citizens would agree with being tough on the inmates.Here is a guy who killed someone. That's all anyone knows. They don't know and don't care that this inmate and I once had a very wide ranging and productive discussion on how many holes it would take to fill the Royal Albert Hall. That he and I would call up radio stations at the begining of Christmas season and get the DJs to let us sing Jingle Bells on the air. They never sat in the outfield seats at double headers at Colt Stadium and poured water over the top of their heads in an attempt to fight off dehydration. All of these things I did, and more, with Herbie/Herb and if they were not worthwhile, why would I remember them so clearly.
I am not going to talk about Herb's crime or our discussion.Everything he said to me was privleged anyway. That's one thing that the state can't take away from you. They can have a guard stare at you through a window for a couple of hours and make you talk on a phone through glass to your friend and say that it is done for your safety, and frankly, it is.The number of people incarcerated in this state makes it impossible for them to check on all the Royal Albert Hall stories you might tell in mitigation.Still, it hurts so bad. The years slip seemlessly away and you just can't believe that some one is treating your old friend like this.Then you remember how you treated him. How you waited two years before even trying to find out where we was locked up.
Toward the end of our true friendship Herb and I would sometimes get a bag of baseballs and an old bat his father had that was shaped like a fungo bat. It was a Kiki Kyler model.Herb and I would head over to the pony leauge field and he would hit fly balls to me until I was exhausted or darkness feel, whichever was first.I would stand in medium center fieled and he would hit ball after ball to my right, my left,over my head,in front of me. It was great exercise and we only did it at the very tail end of the seaon,late october, early November. When I had caught the last ball I was going to catch, we'd gather up all the equipment and head for home into the cool air that, if we were lucky,might even mean that Houston, Texas would have a fall that year.Sometimes we'd stop at the 7/11 and draw a softdrink out of the big ice tubs that they filled up every day. Most of the ice would be melted and very few of the drinks were left.I'd get a Grapette or a Nehi orange, Herb was a cola man, and we'd lean against those iced tanks and watch the last of the light vanish over the ballfields on Bissonett Blvd. in suburban Houston.We'd stick our empties into the cases ,which held only soft drinks, and walk together down to Herb's house where we'd part company.
There is an inevitability to parting in this life.There are only so many flyballs you can catch.But what I have found out through visiting Herb is that every parting invites a resurrection.Every parting is an opportunity, and every opportunity is a blessing.