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Remember your friends: It’s a wonderful life

It’s a wonderful life. No, it really is.

Take the weather, for instance. I can’t remember a Florida winter where the temperature was as consistently mild, day to day.

There’s just a touch of cool in the air most days, just enough to make you want to get outside, and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.

Once you get to a certain age, most any day that you’re up, walking around, is a good day. But when there’s a winter like this to enjoy, it’s even better.

A friend called from Baltimore, and said that he and his girlfriend were driving down this weekend and were looking forward to seeing us. Then he allowed that the weather in Maryland had been gray, cold and depressing.

Try wading out into the Chesapeake in your shorts this time of the year.

This week, I also heard that another old friend, unfortunately, had died.

Once you get to a certain age, it seems like that happens a lot.

His name was Lee and he was a classmate of mine at Officer Candidate School at Fort Gordon, Ga.

Later, Lee went to flight school and flew combat missions in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot.

Later still, we were both back at Fort Gordon, this must have been 1971-1972, where we were company commanders in the same training battalion.

There are several color slides at home somewhere that show us leading our companies on the parade field, marching in review. I need to dig those out and make copies for Lee’s wife, Linda. She might like those. She was a good friend to my wife, Kim, when she was a brand-new war bride in this country.

Lee was a quiet, decent, honorable man with a down-to-earth sense of humor. Over the years, he had become a grandfather. When he died, he was only 67. I lost touch with Lee, like so many, but I never forgot him.

Over the holidays, I talked to another old friend, who is the man who gave me my first job in the newspaper business.

He talked with pride about his grandsons, one of whom is returning to Iraq for another tour of duty. The other is a firefighter in DeSoto County.

My friend is 82 now and working part time at one of those giant home hardware stores a couple of counties to the east.

He helps customers with their air conditioning needs.

“Imagine that, they pay me to talk,” he said.

My friend never met a stranger.

It’s a wonderful life, when we are privileged to get to know strangers who become friends that we love.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.

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