Class of 1968: a death, a memory

May 26, 2008

I learned today that a high-school friend died over the weekend. I last saw Jeff Schofield nearly ten years ago at our thirty-year reunion in Florida. He was frail as a twig, victim of personal excesses that claim so many.

The news naturally conjured up memories of Winter Park High, class of 1968. I remembered parties at Jeff’s house, wild by our standards back then. But what came back more urgently was a trip he and I took our senior year.

We both were considering going to the University of Georgia or Mercer University and decided to take a road trip to check out the campuses.

The details are fuzzy after all these years. I’m certain the campus visits ended up brief and perfunctory. We were more enamored with being out on our own in unfamiliar places, sampling what awaited after graduation. We stayed with a young woman (his relative, I think) in Athens. She took us out that night to some college hangout, and people seemed to think we were college kids, too.

What I see as I write is Jeff sprawled behind the wheel of one of his parents’ big-ass cars, grinning in sunglasses and talking — and talking. I liked listening to him ramble on, free of pretense. We bounced over country highways, and the farther we got from home, the more the world opened up to us.

I was in charge of the radio, and Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” played over and over. I can hear it now, and for a moment the sensation that pervaded our trip brushes past.

We felt free.

I doubt we put the feeling to words, even if we understood it. Nor did we know it was a state of grace from which we were destined to fall. No matter. Before Otis starts singing again, I’m sending this memory out to you, Jeff.

UPDATE: A friend of Jeff’s offers a vivid, insightful account of time they spent together in recent years.