When "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" was released I missed it. I was steeped in classical music. But I do remember listening to the Album when I was driving along Route 17 in the Catskills. It was the fall of 1974. The Album opens with "Funeral for a Friend" and includes "Candle in the Wind." It was less than a year since my best friend had been killed in a car crash. Both of these songs tore at my heart and I listened to them over and over.
John Franklin Delelys and I were friends in high school went to The State University of New York at Geneseo together. We graduated together (Rod Serling was our commencement speaker) and started teaching elementary school in 1973 at different schools in the Rush-Henrietta School District... from which we had graduated in 1969.
We were unlikely friends. John was handsome, popular and talented. I was a social misfit, a gay kid in high school 40 years before Glee. We shared a love of theater, but I still am at a loss to know what John saw in me or how we became friends. I know I admired him. He was an idol for me. As we become friends, it stunned me to find out that he was really more shy and insecure than I could ever imagine being.
When John died it was the second great loss in my life. My father had died in January of my senior year.
This Saturday I turned 60 and today John would have been 61. I was feeling a huge sense of loss as I approached this decade. The time that I had been given to live that was denied John was weighing heavily on me. More personal was the realization that my already faulty memory was becoming worse. I really couldn't conjure up much about John.
He and I went camping on Middle Saranac Lake the summer of 1969. I remember the place where we camped. It was so serene. I remember that John was incredibly patient with me when we climbed Mount Ampersand. John ran track, I was a couch potato. But he saw me to the stony top and that incredible view. To this day, given a choice of a sunny beach or a mountain, I will choose the latter. That's just one of the things that I now realize that John gave me.
I took a picture of John there and turned it into a oil painting. This summer I saw John's sister Johanna for the fist time in many. many years. She still has that very primitive work in her house. I connected with John's younger brother on Facebook this summer as well.
But the memories were so dim.
Enter Sharon Manna (then Sharon Davey). Sharon dated John at Geneseo and we both sang with Geneseo Chamber Singers. I have kept in touch with Sharon very occasionally. Our lives went in very different directions and the only common denominator in our lives was our love for John.
Two days before my birthday an email arrived. Sharon sent me some wonderful pictures but more importantly Sharon sent me memories. She reminded me of a Mickey Mouse watch that I gave John. (Last year at Disney World I bought one for myself, without a conscious memory of the gift.) Sharon reminded me that he was much fonder of my mother than I was... and much more.
Sharon reminded me of things I had forgotten and told me of things that I still can't remember.
This year I got and iPad and wonderful dinner, a chance to see Billy Elliot on stage... all wonderful gifts.
But the best gift was the reminder of how wonderful my friendship, cut tragically short, was. The reminders of how lucky I was to have known John Franklin Delelys. Thanks, Sharon. You gave me a gift beyond value.
And thank you, John. God gave me the gift of your friendship. God gave me your example of innocent, unconditional love.
I miss you.
A picture I took of Sharon and John at Geneseo
Sharon Took this of John at Panther Mountain. It reminded me of Ampersand.
Sharon's picture of John rowing. I remember that too.