Bob Denny: Best friends

Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 5:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 5:28 p.m.

They say that you’re lucky if you have one or two really good friends in your life. I’m lucky. I met my best friend Ralph when we were in high school.

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Ralph emigrated from Honduras with his family, to our little town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We were friends through the 7th and 8th grades at the old brick schoolhouse. In the summertime we swam in the Gulf, or in local motel swimming pools, or in that swampy bayou. When we were Boy Scouts, we went on camping trips, and played hide and seek, or fox and hounds, on the night schoolyard after meetings. We rode our bicycles down country roads, climbed trees, and had lots of adventures.

We went on to play high school football in Gulfport. When I was 14, I bought a 1938 Dodge, for $50. We drove all around the county, highways and dusty back roads. At Three Rivers, we jumped off the girders of the old trestle bridge, and swam in the Biloxi River. We hung out in the downtown Gulfport ice cream parlor, fed ourselves on hamburgers and sodas, and spent some afternoons in the air-conditioned movie theater. We stood on street corners, trying to look “cool” and meet girls. We enjoyed playing football, and went to all the school dances. There were lots of adventures and good times.

Then my dad’s job required a move, all the way across the country, to California. Ralph and I lost touch. When I finished college, I joined the Air Force. By chance, I was sent right back to that Gulf Coast town for basic training. Ralph and I spent a little time together, but I was sent to Germany, and got married. Time and distance had again sent us on different paths. We lost touch for 50 years!

Through the years, I often thought of my friend. After 50 years, computers and the Web provided an easy way to locate people. So I “Googled” Ralph’s name, and found his address easily. I sat fascinated at the computer, reading his 50-year story. I found that Ralph became a Navy Seal after high school, and went off to the Vietnam War. He got married, and spent a 35-year career as an electronic engineer with Northrop. Neither of us knew it, but we both spent a few years working with Northrop, but in different states!

As I read on, I was shocked and saddened to find out that Ralph was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal lung disease! He had received a lung transplant, and after four years of struggling with failing health, Ralph died this last September. After losing touch for half a century, I almost caught up with him, but I was three months too late. I called his widow, and we shared some good old memories of Ralph.

Many of my best friends have passed on, and I won’t see them again in this life. What can you do? Here in Florida, I’ve made some new friends in the last few years. There are some great potential friends are out there, just waiting to be friends. They’re playing golf, teaching, or maybe playing in a band you could join. You can find them wherever you go, and whatever you do. Friends can be a real joy in your life. Don’t wait too late. Make the most you can of your friendships, while you can. They’re a gift!

Bob Denny is a Florida licensed mental health counselor, and teaches psychology at Florida Gateway College. Your comments are welcome at

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