Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Mourning another classmate

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Greg Peck
Tuesday, October 29, 2013

“This isn't over,” Scott Morrison told me pointedly, repeatedly, in 2010 during a golf outing in Watertown as part of the 35th reunion of the Marshall High School Class of 1975. In other words, he was so happy to see this gathering of old friends from the Dane County village of Marshall that he wanted us to get together more often than every five years.

“Great,” I'd reply each time he said it. “Let's do it.”

That was the last day we spoke.

Scott Morrison died Oct. 18 of cancer in a Fond du Lac hospice. I don't think any of his classmates knew he was dying.

Readers of this blog will recall that two of my classmates, Mark Berghammer and John Bornitzke, died earlier this year, both of apparent heart attacks. Those deaths were reminders that none of us is infallible, that the years pass swiftly and that we should make the most of them and get together more often.

That, as I later wrote, prompted Jeff Verhagen and I to organize a Brewer game outing and tailgate party in July. We invited a bunch of buddies we hung with in high school, and their spouses. Most of the guys played on the varsity basketball team.

Scott Morrison was one of our teammates. Jeff and I had his email address, and we both tried reaching him but got no response. We didn't understand why. We tried searching but couldn't find a phone number. We ordered a ticket to the game for him thinking he would respond late, but he never did.

One of his sons told me at Saturday's memorial service in Fond du Lac that his dad was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago, underwent treatment to supposedly lick it, only to have it return a few months later. He suffered a heart attack in September and spiraled downward from there.

I told my wife, Cheryl, that if I think about the classmates I hung with the most in high school, Scott was one of the six closest. Yet I hadn't seen his two sons since they were preschoolers, and I didn't even know he had been married and divorced not once but twice. Cheryl wondered why Scott and I didn't stay more in touch.

The answer was in Sunday's USA Weekend feature story on the new buddy movie “Last Vegas.”

“Once you start having a family and children, you don't see your friends as often,” actor Michael Douglas told reporter Ann Oldenburg.

“Or you get new friends,” actor Morgan Freeman added.

Life does intervene. You get busy doing jobs in different communities, some far away. You're raising kids and focusing on your family. You do establish other friendships and new hobbies that gobble time.

Cheryl thought I was angry that Scott didn't let us know he was suffering from cancer. No, I told her. Instead, I was only disappointed and uncertain whether Scott thought we wouldn't care enough to visit and help him cope, or whether he didn't want the sympathy and had no desire or strength to deal with a “death march” parade of friends paying their last respects.

Whichever the case, he chose to die without us. I and Scott's other high school buddies will never know why.

A memorial service card titled “To those I love” began: “When I am gone, just release me, let me go—so I can move into my afterglow. You mustn't tie me down with your tears; let's be happy we had so many years.”

Scott might have been looking down and smiling as five of his classmates left Saturday's service with an invitation to the Fond du Lac home of Steve and Mary Millin. Steve, too, played basketball. He and I were the starting guards. There, we toasted Scott and reflected on our high school days.

In the late 1970s, I became friends with guys on my floor while living in a UW-Oshkosh dormitory for two years and then joined several buddies in renting a home off campus my final two years. Yet it has been decades since I've seen any of those guys.

Childhood friends, like the characters in “Last Vegas,” are those who really know you best, that story in USA Weekend continued. “'Those friendships are irreplaceable, said friend expert Irene Levine, a New York University professor. 'The childhood friends knew our parents, knew where we grew up and knew our first girlfriends. They are markers for their lives.'”

It reminds me of that final line in one of my favorite movies, “Stand By Me,” when central character Gordie Lachance types: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?”

That sums up my thoughts about my high school buddies. Our time and lives really are slipping away too quickly, and now one more of us is gone. We do need to get together more often.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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