My oldest childhood friend is David Carter Christian, or “Chris” as he is still known by his sister Dale and me.
Our moms worked together at the AAA of Maryland Insurance Agency, and we were eventually down the street neighbors. We lived at 302 Thackery Avenue in Catonsville and the Christians lived at 308. Chris is six months older than me and so I guess I don’t remember a day in my early life when Chris wasn’t there.
When I was a toddler, my dad built a play enclosure in our backyard, so my mom didn’t have to have eyeballs on me every second. It was built with heavy duty wire and had a locked gate that I did not know how to manipulate. Chris’s mom, who I always called “Aunt Beck”, was not always attentive to Chris’s whereabouts and he would wander down the street to see me. Being a tad older and a natural climber, Chris would scramble up the wire and jump down into my play space. My mom would look out the window, see us both in the sand box and call Aunt Beck to tell her Chris was at our house. Beck would laugh, and say, “I thought he was outback, hah!”
Being a clever lad, it did not take Chris long to figure out the lock and instead of climbing in, he would just open the gate and walk in, usually locking the gate behind him. On occasion, he would just come down the street and let me out. We would wander the neighborhood until my mother realized I was absent or one of the neighbors reported the jail break. We had the safest of neighborhoods (Hayden always said I grew up on Beaver Cleaver’s Street) so there was little danger and the mom’s worked well together as a search and rescue team.
One day when Chris and I were in our 5th year of life, this pattern broke down a bit and our wanderings took us about 300 yards from home into the back yard of the Hilton Estate on Montrose Avenue. My dad always called our little street of cape cods and bungalows the “alley to Montrose Avenue” and the Hilton’s had one of the biggest properties on that wide boulevard. In addition to several acres of land, a large house, a big, detached garage, and a garden house, the back of the property had an old, abandoned chicken coop in the woods. I don’t remember what attracted Chris and me to that little brown structure or who threw the first rock to break windows, but I do remember we were having a great time until a Baltimore County Police Officer came walking through the woods. Clearly a neighbor had either heard or seen our little contest and had called the cops.
In what was a typical contrast between our behaviors, Chris took off running like a jack rabbit and I froze like a statue. I don’t remember being put into the police car, but I do remember being in the back seat as the officer drove me around the neighborhood begging me to tell him where I lived. I wasn’t as fast as Chris, but I WAS smart enough to know that when I got home there would be nothing but trouble awaiting my arrival. As we drove past my house for the third or fourth time, my grandmother (still panting after frantic loops around the neighborhood) looked out the window and saw my fat little head in the back seat of the black and white, 1955 Ford Fairlane. She and my mom streaked out of the house and flagged down the car right in front of Chris’s house. Aunt Beck hurried out her front door, and I emerged from the backseat to join the 4-person grand jury on the sidewalk. After our caper was quickly summarized by the police officer, Aunt Beck ran around to the back of the house to Chris’s favorite “I’m in trouble” hiding place and emerged guiding him by one ear, just like in the movies. Our confession was full and tearful, and the officer suggested to our mom’s that they get in touch with the Hiltons to see if they needed any restitution for our hijinks. I don’t remember what my father said that night or what the punishment was, but I also don’t remember seeing Chris for the next few days.
Later (maybe years later) Chris asked me why the heck I didn’t run. I told him, “All I could see was that gun on the cop’s hip and I couldn’t move.”
There are a thousand stories of our youth, adolescence, and young adulthood. We shared a lot… learned to do the Twist with his sister, played baseball in the backyard, football at the Stegman’s house, rode our bikes to the Village and to All Saint’s Convent, had hours of play in the stream at McCurley Avenue with tadpoles, crawfish, and wet shoes memories.
However, while we fell out of regular touch after heading off to college(me to William and Mary, and Chris to East Carolina), and only saw each other at funerals through the years, I stayed with Chris and his wife Meg when I returned to Catonsville for our 50th high school reunion in 2018. I re-learned something about friendship that weekend. When you have shared18 years of your life with someone, the years quickly slip away and the stories, jokes, stupid voices, and memories flow like a never-ending stream. We were back on McCurley Avenue looking for tadpoles.