I (the cackler third from the left, above) don’t know if it’s either because you change most during the years of junior high, middle or high school, or simply arrive to the destination of what “you” happens to be, but the friends you have at that time are usually the best ones. Maybe it has something to do with the commiseration of school drudgery through the week, or the expectation of the weekend and its promises of glory. Maybe it has something to do with innocence, its bliss revealing nothing but limitless potential and Good Times Forever. Whatever their cause, those relationships are the most enduring, if only in memory. People who, when simply mentioned, bring an immediate smile to your face, prompted by that time and that place. Do you remember when? Yeah, me too.
It’s not often that you get a chance to revisit those times. Life unfortunately becomes cluttered and complicated, filled with ornate processes and schedules. We become embedded in our own lives. But every once in a while, a hand comes out of the blue and manages to pull you out of that everyday schlump. In my case, that hand was attached to the arm of one Kenneth Dockery (third from the right). He, like every other man you see in the above picture, is without a doubt one of those people I just mentioned. Always a fiercely energetic and genuinely generous guy, Kenny is one of those “go-to guys” who would drop anything he had going to help anyone out in any way he could. And when he asked me to come down to Georgia and spend the weekend with him, I immediately said yes.
Next thing I know, I’m sharing a van with none other than David Roger Hatfield Junior (far right). Yes, I’m going to spell every bit of that out, if even that could do justice to the man. The Sancho Panza to my chaotic Quixote (and often the reverse, depending on the situation), Dave is my best friend of all time. Noone else makes me laugh harder or feel better than the Brother Marquis (or Marquis My Brother, depending on who sees who first). We sojourn from the confines of Seymour to the gracious land of Maryville (pronounced MAR-vul, in the local dialect) Tennessee, and the abode of one Forrest Pittman (second from left). A gregarious and generous soul, Forrest is that guy you often find yourself in awe of — but never jealous of, due to his modest relatability. He’s one of those people whose life is full of stories, simply because he goes beyond the perimeters most of us set up during our lives. Needless to say, the five hour drive to Georgia was eventful with the three of us aboard. I shall say no more, to protect the innocent.
Upon our arrival to Warner Robins, GA and the domicile of Ken-Ye South (as Kenny had been dubbed for the occasion), we met up with two more of our party — Andy Thompson and Jonathan Moral. I first met Andy (center) through Dave and Forrest long ago, and have always admired him for his discipline (Andy is still an accomplished runner, as he was then) and personal drive. And he’s damned funny, too. Jon (far left) has been a constant source of wonder for me, since even from our youth he’s always been the most productive and “together” of us all. A professional photographer, he took the majority of the pics during Kenapalooza II — as the event has since become known — including the one above (with a timer, durr).
Our initial confab covered a myriad of topics, from the goings on of friends not present to the incurring mystery of Bahama Bob’s Mama. But instead of satisfying our collective curiosities and visiting the aforementioned trailer-turned-bar (and the patron’s mother, if possible), we decided it best to pursue another venue for that night’s entertainment. Thus the evening was spent with beers, pool cues and some local band that spent the entire length of a performance tuning up. But none of that was really important. It was like no time had passed for any of us.
The next morning we reassembled under the banner of Ken-Ye South, and followed his lead within the confines of Robins Air Force Base. This was particularly exciting for me, as I had never visited such a place before. While security was certainly maintained, the place seemed quiet and relaxed — it was a Saturday, after all. It wasn’t long before we reached our objective — the Cobra Helicopter Simulator. Imagine that one whole wall of your family den was replaced by a giant projector screen, which curves around your position, and that instead of a meager handheld controller, you’re seated inside of an actual helicopter cockpit, replete with all the controls, meters, panels — and simulated weaponry. Yeah, the whole “whao factor” is pretty much a given at this point. Needless to say, by the end of the afternoon, we had a new respect for the men and women who are able to pilot a real Cobra — not to mention a distinct envy of Ken, who actually gets paid to work with the simulators. But if anyone deserves it, that distinguished Gulf War veteran does.
It wasn’t long after that we were finally joined by that remaining member of the Magnificent Seven, one Jeff Gebhardt (second from left). If I had to describe Jeff in one word (not that I could begin to, or any of our fellow attendees for that matter), I would say earnest, which honestly isn’t something to be taken lightly. While the rest of us tend to blurt out whatever happens to be wriggling our cortices at the time, Jeff has always had a more thoughtful — and dare I say intelligent — mode of expression. Not that he hasn’t had his share of “inspired” moments, it’s just that his tend to stand out more because of their impact. And I’ll be damned if he doesn’t look the exact same as he did in high school. Keanu Reeves has nothing on The Gebhardt.
With our number complete, we returned to Robins for another turn with the Cobra simulator, then later descended upon yet another local bar (still keeping a respectful distance from Bahama Bob and his maternal parent), the description of which had me sold at “Guinness on tap”. After some among us (myself included) made a brief segue at a nearby steak and sushi place, we soon regrouped at Ken-Ye South Central before retiring for the night.
The next morning we gathered and parted ways yet again, but not without many hugs, handshakes and sheepish grins. The road back to Tennessee was calling, but not before giving many thanks to our host. One thing made obvious to me (and to the others, I’m sure) was that nebulous sense of enjoyment we had in each other’s company had been undiminished by the years, and if anything had been fed by the short time we had together. For a while, we were the same bunch of goofy guys we had always been, and to some degree will always be.
We were the Magnificent Seven. And we expect our number to grow in the future.