Maybe it’s the fact I have more days in the rearview mirror than I have ahead of me, but at this special time of year I am more aware than ever of the gift of friendships.
Friendships are always the correct size, the right color and don’t require a set of instructions on how to operate them. They are truly the gift that keeps on giving.
Friends won’t walk away from you when others will. They are with you in good times and bad. Friends don’t care about the size of your bank account, your sphere of influence or the plaques on your wall. Friends care about you. Have you ever wondered why friends put up with our ingratitudes, attitudes and vicissitudes? It is one of God’s miracles.
This seems an appropriate time and place to tell you about my friend, Dr. J. Derrell Clark, a retired faculty member of the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine and currently a gentleman farmer in the metropolis of Bogart, just outside of Athens. Ours has been one of the longest and most enduring of friendships. It also has been one of the most unusual.
Derrell (I will leave “Dr. Clark” to his academic associates) and I grew up in East Point with only a vacant lot separating our backyards. I don’t recall many days when we were not together, playing ball — he was always the better athlete — or playing cowboys and Indians.
My memory is a little hazy on the details of that latter exercise but I am positive that I was always Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys. There is no way I would have ceded that role to anyone, not even to my best friend.
In the third grade, my family moved away only to move back to East Point several years later. When we returned, I discovered that in the interim Derrell Clark and his family had moved to Barrow County.
That should have been the end of a beautiful friendship, but it wasn’t. A decade passed. I was a junior at the University of Georgia. A vaguely familiar guy walked up one evening as I sat in the lobby of my dormitory and asked if I might be Richard Yarbrough from East Point. It was my boyhood pal, Derrell. We renewed our friendship and stayed in touch for the rest of our time at UGA.
After graduation, we headed our separate ways, raising families and focusing on our careers. But this was one friendship that wasn’t going away. Fast forward some 25 years.
Through my activities at the University of Georgia my picture appeared on some occasion in our alumni magazine. One Sunday afternoon, my phone rang and it was Derrell, calling to say he had read about my UGA activities and wanting to catch up on what had been going on in our respective lives since we had last seen each other. It was as though we had never been out of touch. And since that day, we haven’t.
I’m not sure why he deemed me worth the effort. I could have reached out to him just as easily as he did to me. But I didn’t. Some friend I was. But he was a better one and for that I am grateful. All is well that ends well and this friendship remains wide and deep.
We are two different personalities. Derrell is quiet, thoughtful and as precise as you would expect an academician to be. Me? Impatient, opinionated, combative — and those are my positive traits. The one thing we do have in common is pride in what the other has accomplished since our time as playmates and pals in East Point.
We don’t see each other that often these days, but that’s OK. We know we are there for each other if and when needed. Besides, a friendship isn’t measured by quantity. It is measured by quality. And our relationship is like fine wine. It gets better with age.
It has been a long road from the backyards of East Point to the classrooms at the University of Georgia to the moment in which I write these words. How much longer we will be able to continue on this road together is in God’s hands, not ours. But it has been a wonderful journey and this is a tribute that is long overdue.
Thank you, Dr. J. Derrell Clark, DVM, of Bogart for the gift of being my friend.