Thurman P. Woodfork

OLD FRIENDS

I’m driving down the road toward the town of Cutbank, cruising along about seventy. My buddy, Rat, is seated beside me weaving a fantastic fable about a daredevil stunt bird named Charlie who is chasing my car and recklessly diving in front of it to the warning shrieks and cries of his feathered buddies who are watching this whole improbable event from aloft.

I’m laughing so hard at Rat’s imaginative fabrications that I’m in serious jeopardy of having an accident myself. Finally, to frantically chirped cries of, “Pull up, Charlie! Pull Up!” the inevitable happens and Charlie dives to close to my hurtling grill. There’s a muted “Thump!” and poor Charlie goes the way of the dinosaur. He’s performed his last avian stunt. All this came about because a bird actually did fly in front of my speeding car, setting Rat’s imagination off and running…

I slowly come back to myself; instead of sitting behind the wheel of my brand new ‘63 Ford Galaxy 500 cruising down a lonely Montana highway, it’s 1966 and I’m perched on some sandbags looking toward a horizon where flashes of light in the muggy night sky gives evidence of a distant firefight. I’ve been ‘watching the war’. There’s a different Charlie performing tonight, and Rat isn’t around to make light of his activities.

This time the guy sitting beside me is named Richard “Larry” Moore, not Rat, but in his own way, he’s just as talented as Curtis “Rat” Mallory. Larry plays the guitar and sings, and he’s pretty good at both. Larry and I would sometimes sit for what seemed like hours on the sandbags surrounding a mortar pit near the radar shack. We talked about everything and nothing. Rat had made the isolation of the remote Montana radar site bearable. Larry was now doing the same thing here in Vietnam.

Well, back to the present: It’s been many years since I saw either man, right around forty for Larry, a year or so longer for Curtis, but I have never forgotten them. Each, in his own way, touched my life at a time when a friend was very much needed, whether I admitted it or not. They made me smile when times were not the brightest, and when they went on their ways out of my life they took a little bit of the light with them.

Rat made me laugh at times when I truly felt like killing some really shoddy people. Larry set my heart at ease at a time when somebody had it in mind to kill me. Totally different men with different personalities and outlooks on life; but they were just what I needed at the time I met them. Curtis was Air Force, a telephone/teletype repairman gifted with a Richard Pryor-like, ribald wit; Larry was an Army Green Beret and a talented musician. They were nothing alike: I mostly listened while Curtis talked; with Larry, I did a lot of the talking.

I never told them so, but I am forever grateful that God saw fit to allow them to intersect my life at those different times for the brief months that we were together. I hope they both knew that I loved them; though I doubt it I ever showed them much evidence of it. I hope they got as much out of our friendships as I did, although I suspect that they did not, as I am rather reserved and they were both outgoing. I wish I could tell them now how grateful I am for having had the opportunity to know them.