In the summer of 1956, two boys moved to my hometown of Lebanon, Tennessee.
The father of one became a school principal. The father of the other owned or managed a shoe store.
i met Mike Gannaway and Jim Gamble just before school began at the one-year old Lebanon Junior High, formed when the high school moved to its brand new location on Harding Drive across town.
I actually had met Gannaway earlier that summer when he shut down our second-year all-star team in the first round in the Little League playoffs. He could pitch even then.
The three of us initially got together in the locker room underneath the old basketball gym between the new junior high and Highland Heights Elementary School when Coach Jimmy Allen issued us our ill-fitting football uniforms for early football practice before we went out and knocked heads and pushed blocking dummies around on the northeast side of the “recess playground” bordering East High Street and Lake Avenue.
The three of us played football, basketball, and baseball through six years of junior high and high school. Unlike most of our fellow students after completing the seventh and eighth grades, nine of us went to Castle Heights Military Academy rather than Lebanon High School
There are many stories in this trio’s escapades together. Many will be told here.
But not now. No, not now.
You see, i received word from Jimmy’s youngest son Greg, Jimmy Gamble passed away yesterday (January 6, 2020). Greg sent his text last night. As old men are wont to do, i woke shortly after midnight to the requirements of old men. For some reason, i read my text messages before going back to bed. It is in the dark of the night now because i can’t stop thinking about Jim and me and my friends. i think if i write about it, i may be able to go back to sleep.
i talked to Mike Gannaway just before he died in Atlanta at the turn of the century.
I talked to Jim Gamble the day after this Christmas when i made a two-hour drive and back from our Christmas tradition on Signal Mountain, Tennessee to Huntsville, Alabama, eleven days ago.
Right now, my heart is heavy.
In December when i learned Jim was near the end, suffering from bone cancer, i sent him a message through our mutual friend and teammate Bill Goodner, who also resides in Huntsville and informed me of Jim’s situation.
I think it captures my feelings well:
There have been a passel of Facebook messages, texts, and phone calls flying back and forth across the country for the past several days concerning you, Jimbo.
They were not of the good news variety.
You are someone so many of us consider a lifetime friend.
Eight (modified to nine when Lee Dowdy pointed out i had left out Ted Ezell) guys from Lebanon, a.k.a. town boys, or less complementary “Goobers,” went to Castle Heights Military Academy in 1958 as freshmen. I have lost track of two. I know Ted Ezell is an optometrist in the Nashville area but haven’t had contact with Ted in more than a half century. Of the ones with whom i have kept track, there are three: Lee Dowdy and i are two. You are the other.
This is not encouraging to consider from my perspective.
In 1956, you and Mike Gannaway came to Lebanon and enrolled in the year-old Lebanon Junior High School with me. In addition to attending the same school, the three of us played football, basketball, and baseball together for six years. Lee, although not deeply involved in athletics, was with us through those years.
And then we graduated to take on the world. We spread. Dowdy went to Duke, Gannaway went to Georgia Tech on a baseball scholarship, You went to Tennessee, and i went to Vanderbilt.
We were the bunch in limbo for those four years at Castle Heights, not quite boarding students, not quite a member of the Blue Devil community. We were town boys.
So it gets down to the three of us with that background remaining. Somehow that seems appropriate. Ahh, what to do? Does it mean we need to be more…what? All the rest of this growing old and losing close ones has impacted me only with a weariness of the inevitability of where we are, who we were, how we will go out, and the desire to go with dignity, when it used to be a desire to go without pain, but pain, ahh, all sorts of pain physical, mental, spiritual, real and imagined, are inevitable. Dealing with it brings the dignity part to the foreground.
But you, this guy who had the small, old, tan car (was it a Renault? i ask myself) with you and i riding around in the rain while i stuck my body out the window to use the broken wiper which you had stored in the glove compartment, to wipe you driver’s side of the windshield while we laughed uproariously; this guy who, as a running back, had the prettiest cross-over step on a full run i’ve ever seen; this man who played shortstop between Tommy Vassar at second and me at third to be labeled the pigmy infield (Mac Brown, the first baseman wasn’t included in the grouping) on the Heights team that won the mythical “Mid-South Conference” championship with Gannaway pitching; this guy who had so much enthusiasm for life and the people in your life; this one who made a compact with me to matriculate to Michigan and play Wolverine football in the beginnings of high school, long before reality hit. This one, who had become a mountain of faith and leader of his congregation.
You are more than part of my life: you are part of my being.
i read Warren’s “Holy Writ” before going to sleep last night. i was afraid i might lie awake and think. Robert Penn Warren usually gives me peace. i opened his book, Selected Poems, New and Old, 1923-1966, to no particular spot and landed on “Holy Writ.” Perhaps it was my mood, but it seemed almost prophetic my fingers found that page to open. The reading gave me peace.
Perhaps that is what we should strive for as we move into this realm of eventuality. Peace.
No. Peace is a significant part of it. The other part is love.
But now, we, you and i, deal with the difficulties of life.
Oh these are the times i wish i had moved back home from the Southwest corner to be able to get in the car and drive about half a morning and sit with you for as long as you could stand me, be by your side if needed.
But i am a long way from home. My choice. But i must consider where we are, who we were and how we are going out, and hope you and i and the others will be remembered well.
With you, Jim Gamble, being remembered well will be no problem. One of the nicest guys ever, and, as someone gave the highest compliment to my father, you are a good man. i remain hopeful you will beat this in spite of the odds and know that you have given and received hope and love.
Sleep well, my friend. i will be with you.
Knowing Jim would be leaving us soon, i considered my own mortality. After all, as Gail Marks Byrne pointed out to Judy Lewis Gray and me at the LHS ’62 Class 50th reunion, “We are now survivors.”
My short time with Jim two weeks ago was a good thing. As i told his son Greg, “My visit with him was good for me in that i knew for sure, as two old men reminisce, that underlying our small talk we both recognized he (and me too) was at peace. He deserved peace.”
My overriding thoughts at this moment is Jim Gamble left us in peace and dignity. He was a good man.
I hope i leave half as well. Peace and dignity are good things for a departure.
And Jimbo, i will be with you.
Note: Jimbo pointed out to me his car was a Simca, not a Renault, and was white, not tan.