"Nice job," the voice from behind me huffed, as I bent over, desperately trying to catch my breath. It was fall football camp, and I had just finished my qualifying mile run before pads were issued. I didn't know the kid from whom the comment had come, in fact I didn't know anybody having just moved in a week previous, and to tell the truth, I didn't want to. The big kid belonging to the voice moved along side again, and repeated his greeting. He looked nearly my same size and build, but he had monstrous calves and paint spattered cleats which I found myself unwittingly staring at while I fought back rising nausea from our strenuous run.
"Thanks," I replied, moving forward a few steps thinking that would end the unwanted conversation. But Ken wasn't your ordinary jock, ...for some reason he had it in his head to befriend me, and refusing to be shaken from his objective by my rudeness, he again moved to my side.
"I'm Ken," he drawled in an easy Utah twang, extending his big hand toward me. I was a seventeen year old senior with an attitude large enough to cover several zip codes having just been forced to leave my friends and former school against my will, but when I took his hand and looked up to meet his wide, friendly smile, I found his sincere kindness impossible to resist. "...how bout a milk shake? ...I'm buyin" he added, still gripping my hand.
A lot can happen in the time it takes to suck down a large strawberry/pineapple shake, especially when someone with such extraordinary character as Ken had sits on the stool across the table. We were instant friends, finding numerous commonalities between us as the cold, sweet/tart refreshment slid smoothly down our parched throats towards the ravenous voids in our stomachs. He asked if I wanted a job, and then proceeded to tell me about the car painting business he and a friend had started, which explained the multi colored splatters on his cleats.
"We can use another guy," he offered, "...if you want."
The next morning, I met Brad Simons, a tall blond kid with a slight build who from our first introduction gave off an air of "In Charge". They say three's a crowd, but it never seemed to be with us. Brad was in charge alright, but also every bit the "Take care of a brother" sort that Ken was and together, they made sure my unwelcomed changing of worlds, was something that even an issue riddled kid like me could overcome.
In the thirty years since, not hardly a day goes by that I don't think of what their friendship meant to me back then, and continues to mean even now. I thank God for sending them my way.
Today is Brad's birthday, so here's to you Brad, ...and Ken, ...and anybody with the guts to be like you guys, I'll forever be in your debt.