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Opinion: Saying goodbye to old friends

I lost a dear friend last week. Gary Espinoza, 68, died on April 23, 2019.

I met Gary when I was a freshman and he was a senior at Madera High School. We met at a football game.

Even though we didn’t have a really strong football program in 1969, the crowd I ran with were faithful Coyotes. While part of it was school spirit the rest of it came because we were 14 years old and too young to date.

The student segment of the bleachers was known as the “White Section.” Coyote colors are blue and white and we all wore white shirts on game night. Looking at our rooting section from across the field the opponents saw a sea of white cheering on the home team.

Gary lived a block from the high school and could be counted on to attend every home game. The varsity game was followed by an after-game dance in the boy’s gym. Occasionally there would be a live band but the music played was mostly records played really loud.

My first year of high school was not a good one. My brothers were serving in the army — Rocky in Vietnam and Brian in Korea.

When my brothers were in high school they both played football. I don’t know how many hours I spent in Memorial Stadium but my family never missed a game. On Thursday afternoon my mom’s football ulcer would flare up. Just the thought of her sons getting hurt playing tackle football was enough to give her a stomach ache that lasted until the game was over on Friday night.

Her football ulcer hurt the entire time the boys were overseas. I once asked her which of her children she loved the most. I had reason to believe it wasn’t I.

She said the one that is sick until they are well, the one who is hungry until they are fed and the one who is gone until they come home. Pretty fancy footsteps in that particular dance.

I got to know Gary at the football games and even though I was a lowly freshman it didn’t seem to matter to him. Our crowd hung out during lunch-hour on a bench near the corner of the administration building. Gary and I once played catch, with a Baby Ruth bar in the rain. I was running for class president at the time. Steve Sherrod won the election.

After his graduation Gary and three of his friends Melvin Joines, Doug Haywood and Sid Parkey enlisted in the U.S. Navy. I wrote letters to him while he was in boot camp and shared them with my friends.

I wrote a lot of letters to my brothers the three years they were in the service. Writing to him was just another chore keeping him apprised of the local gossip.

Mostly it was who was dating whom, who got married and who had kids.

I remember laughing at one of his letters when he talked about boot camp. His handwriting made the B in boot camp look like a F. One of my friends read it and thought that after boot camp the sailors went to foot camp. I’m not sure I ever convinced her it was sloppy cursive that made the bottom of the b dip below the line making it look like foot camp.

I’ll never forget the going away party held at Gary’s parents’ house the weekend before the boys left for San Diego. Iron Butterfly had a hit with the song “In a Gadda Da Vida.” The tune was more than 17 minutes long.

At his going away party we danced to that silly song three times. When I think of him I will always remember how we danced and how we laughed.

Visitation for Gary Espinoza is on Monday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Jay Chapel. The Rosary and mass of Christian burial will begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday at St. Joachim Church. Interment will follow at Calvary Cemetery.

My deepest condolences to his wife of 46 years, Veronica Espinoza and their children.

Gary, keep that record player warmed up old friend and one day we will dance to Iron Butterfly again.

Long days and pleasant nights, have a great weekend.

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Readers may contact Tami Jo Nix by emailing or following @TamiJoNix on Twitter.

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