By Sean Dietrich

He was unknown to you. But not to me. We were friends. Sort of.
Ours wasn’t a long lasting friendship, but we rode the school bus together. So I guess that made us friends.
He would save a seat for me; I would board the bus, walk the aisle, and plop on the cushion beside him.
He was funny. We laughed a lot. Some kids are just born to be funny.
He kept a journal of sketches. They were good. He could draw anything. And I remember when he trusted me enough to let me look through his journal. Inside were dozens of bald eagles.
“Why do you draw so many eagles?” I asked.
“‘Cause they’re cool, why else?”
He didn’t have many friends because he was shy, and shy people are like that. I was the same way.
Between the two of us, we were so timid we squeaked. And if ever we saw each other outside the confines of the bus, we were even shy around each other.
When he got a part in the school play, nobody was sure how it would go. The kid was so quiet he wouldn’t even raise a hand in class.
He was afraid to play football, he didn’t like baseball. He liked to read and draw instead.
Yet here he was playing Mayor Shinn in the Music Man.
I was in the musical, too. In fact, I played one of the guys in the barbershop quartet. Our quartet sang a song named “Sincere.”
I still remember the lyrics:
“How can there be any sin in sincere?
“Where is the good in goodbye?
“Your apprehensions confuse me dear,
“Puzzle and mystify…”
There are some things you don’t forget.
I was the bass singer for the group. Not because I actually sang bass, but because I was chubby. Chubby children were expected to sing bass come hell or high water.
He had a speaking part. And when he took the stage, he brought the house down as Mayor Shinn. Mayor Shinn had all the funny lines.
I was proud of him on that stage, wearing his lambchop sideburns and three-piece suit. I don’t know why I was proud, but I was.
We lost touch a long time ago. He probably wouldn’t have been able to pick the adult-me out of a crowd. I’m certain I would have never recognized him.
He joined the military. And when he finished his years of service, he considered going to art school, but never did.
He designed a few posters for local bands, illustrated ads for businesses, but that was it.
It was welding that interested him. He found that he could make good money welding. He found it to be satisfying work. Welding is an art. I know this because I am the son of a lifetime union welder.
But I understand the military helped him get over his shyness. As an adult, he was the main attraction at any party. Good with a joke. Entertaining. Call it his inner Mayor Shinn coming out.
He was half-Mexican, half-Irish, all American. Determined, but easygoing. Fair. Honest. Liked soccer. Golf. And books.
He was a music freak. He loved the the band Phish. And they say in his free time, he would sketch pictures of his children, and portraits of his wife.
We had gone our own ways in life. We had different interests, different worlds. I’ve never been overseas; he toured the entire earth.
But I still remember the kid in the musical. And I still smile when I remember how he would stand backstage, stick his tongue out, and see if he could make me laugh during my song “Sincere.”
Years ago, an SUV hit his truck, head on. It was nobody’s fault. He was on his way home from work. It was dark.
“These things just happen,” his wife told me. “You just have to look at it like that, or it’ll mess with your mind.”
She tells me he was a funny, happy man. He had the smile of a good ole boy, and the laugh of a kid.
On the right side of his chest, he had a tattoo. One he had designed himself. He had another on his shoulder. A bald eagle.
Today, upon his mantle are his favorite three colors, folded into a tight triangle, placed beside the photograph of a smiling soldier who remains forever young.
This holiday belongs to him and his millions of brothers.
I only hope they have musicals in Heaven. Because God is going to love the guy who plays Mayor Shinn.
I know I sure did.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, the Tallahassee Democrat, Southern Magazine, Yellowhammer News, the Bitter Southerner, the Mobile Press Register and he has authored seven books.