Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

August 11, 2002


What good fun it is to share childhood memories with old friends


            Several of my childhood friends reached retirement a few years ahead of me. When they got together for a meal I was usually absent.

            I enjoyed letting them know that I was still working. Maybe later I told them. Well later has arrived. I have the time now.

            So once a week this summer my friend Grady Rowell and I have met for lunch. No agenda. We just reminisce. I find myself enjoying this sharing of memories. It’s fun.

            Doing lunch with Grady is not hard on the budget. He probably weighs 130 pounds soaking wet. He eats like a bird, a small bird. Well maybe more than a humming bird.

            I am embarrassed to eat a lot while he munches on crackers and pickles, so my meals have been dainty too. If I ate with Grady every meal for a week or so I could probably lose the hundred pounds I need to shed. Not that I want to, mind you.

            What is obvious is that we meet for lunch not to eat but to talk. And talking with an old friend who cares about you is better than prime rib anyway.

            We decided at our first lunch that we would meet at a different place each time. That has been fun too, checking out different eateries, some of which we have never tried before.

            Grady’s family moved to Wetumpka when he was sophomore in high school. We became instant friends. Quickly Grady was accepted into the gang of 12 to 15 of us who were closely bonded in those formative years.

            We partied together. We went to movies together. We played games at our homes, always under the watchful eyes of our parents.

            Grady’s favorite game was “spin the bottle.” He practiced all the time, until he became the best spinner of us all. He knew just how much to spin that Coke bottle so that when it stopped, it was pointing at the prettiest girl in our group.

            You remember, I suppose, that you got to walk out in the yard, and if you were real lucky, around the block, with the girl toward whom the bottle was pointing when it stopped spinning. Back then there was nothing more exciting than holding hands with a pretty girl while walking in the moonlight.

            I envied Grady a lot. He could pound a piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. He could not read music but he had that precious gift of being able to play by ear. The girls all loved to hear Grady play.

            I thought the girls were mean. They never asked me to sing, but they asked Grady to play. I must remember to ask him if he still enjoys playing the piano. I bet his wife likes it if he does.

            When we finished high school Grady and I headed off to Auburn together. We roomed with our friend Bill Parks, whose sister Jane was in our group. Sadly, Jane died of cancer not many years later.

Grady and I still remember the house on East Magnolia where we shared an apartment. It is not easy to find the spot now; so many of those old homes have been torn down and replaced with student housing units, motels, and restaurants.

Even as a freshman I was toying with the idea of preaching. Grady enjoyed singing. So the two of us teamed up to lead a few weekend youth revivals in area churches.

None of the churches ever invited us back, so we decided we had better not count on preaching and singing for a living.

Though we began college together we did not finish together. Grady joined the Navy rather than be drafted into the Army. That decision separated us for many, many years.

I remained at Auburn and finished in 1954, then headed to seminary to prepare for the ministry. Grady served his time in the Navy and returned to Auburn to finish his degree in engineering some years later. His career included several years working in California.

After being separated for more than 20 years, Grady initiated the restoration of our friendship. By now he was living near Titus, Alabama, while I was living in Nashville, Tennessee, and working in evangelism.

Grady called me one night and, at his pastor’s request, asked me to come preach a revival in his church. I agreed on one condition: that Grady would sing a solo in one of the services.

I had to twist his arm, but he did sing, and both of us were in tears that night as he sang about the deepening of his faith over those 20 years. Since then we have remained in touch with each other on a casual basis.

Now as I listen to Grady share memories of our high school days, I am amazed at the extent of his memory. He remembers things that I have forgotten and much that I do recall.

He showed me last week the spot at the barn below my old home place where he built his first electric motor. He said I helped him, but I am sure that I mainly watched him.

We both remember harvesting oats in the summertime on the farm and how wonderful a bath felt at the end of the day. We recalled cutting our hands badly trying to change the rings in an old John Deere tractor.

What tickled me the most was Grady recalling the times we had a “rat killing” outside daddy’s old hay barn. We are both convinced that you have not really lived until you have heated up a rifle at a rat killing.

Sharing memories with an old friend is fun. We may be dead before long but right now we are sharing some good laughs together.

I can hardly wait until next week to have another of those miniature lunches with my old friend Grady.