In the projector that is my memory, I see a flickering, old time lapse image.
When my family moved to Woodchuck Way, in 1975, it was, essentially, the end of civilization. It was a new development. Major roads like Wasatch Boulevard and Highland Drive, just petered out, into dirt roads. There were no trees. There were very few houses. My world was about three streets wide.
The image I see is a sepia shot, gradually changing to the faded, sun washed colors of the late 70's and early 80's. Houses rise and spread like blooming sunflowers. Trees appear where saplings were planted. Streets snake out like suburban rivers, following the contours of the land, with rhyme, but no reason.
From my room on the second floor, the one with the green shag carpet, I look out and see the embryo of a neighborhood grow into a vibrant, living, breathing organism, fueled by the sun, held in place by the mountains and teeming with life, like an urban rainforest.
I don't remember when everyone moved in, but early on some of the major players (if I may use such bold term) on Woodchuck were established: Across the street were the Quinteros. Next door was a family of girls, the Jordans. To the east were the Luschers, the Martins and the Crapos (honorary Woodchuckers, because I think technically they lived on Peacock). To the west, the Hacketts and the Ives.
And, down at the end of the road, in a red brick house lived a genuine force of nature. Even as a kid, Aaron Ball could suck the oxygen out of any room he walked into. I mean that as a compliment.
Aaron was undeniable.
Aaron would have made a great super villain, but luckily enough for the rest of us, he used his powers for good. Mostly.
I don't actually remember meeting Aaron. It seems I have known him forever, but somewhere in the hazy past, the red headed ball of energy and the shy kid who, looked like Charlie Brown, came together, and to both of our benefit, never looked back.
As more of you know than just me, being Aaron's friend might get you hurt. It might get you in trouble (not the serious, go to jail kind of trouble, more of the you're grounded -- again -- kind of trouble). But, you were guaranteed a good time.
We had a very good time.
And the truth is, Aaron's willingness to go first into any new situation meant that if he got hurt, you knew not to venture any further. Aaron had most of the scars -- though I have one of my own, but that story comes later...
And Aaron's natural magnetism meant that, correctly or not, when there was trouble, most of the attention was focused on him. (I'll be honest, I feel a little bit guilty about this now... A little.)
Of all the things that I learned, growing up in Sandy, among these kids who roamed the paved streets and dirt hills with me, the most long lasting, and important lesson I took away was the value of friendship.
The word friend sometimes infers a secondary, less important relationship. Someone who matters less. Someone who may be an afterthought.
I don't see it that way. I can't. I was privileged to come to know some of the finest people who have ever walked this planet, and to call you friends. Everyone who is reading this, who knows these streets, and shared the classrooms, and the playgrounds, went to the sleep overs, played the ball games, and danced the vibrant dance of life with me -- each one of you planted a seed of friendship in my heart, and it's still there. It grows and blossoms when I think of you.
And my best friend, Aaron, more than a brother...(how do you explain one soul?)...for close to forty years now, has shown me that a friend is to be treasured above all other relationships. In my world, you can be nothing greater to me than a friend.
He is the Han Solo to my Luke Skywalker. The Bill to my Ted. The Hawkeye to my BJ.
And this story, when it's finally written, with its comedy and tragedy, it's drama and it's adventure, will be the tale of the enduring nature and uplifting power of friendship.