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Entry date: 11-7-2022 - Happy Birthday, Ben - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

Today is my cousin Ben’s birthday so he is on my mind. In a lot of ways, Ben is much more than just my cousin. He was my first best friend and the closest thing I had to a brother growing up. My brother, Matt, didn’t come along until I was about 26, so when it came to a feeling of having a sibling, at least for me, that feeling is one I most closely associate with Ben.

A little over a year younger than me, I have no recollection of a life without Ben. When I think of being a young dude, many of my best memories include him. As I write this, I can see his incredible smile that he has kept all these years. When something truly entertains Ben, he can’t keep it a secret and I love that about him.

I’ve written about some of our exploits in earlier blogs and there have been many over the years. Ben is responsible for much of my early musical taste as he was often getting cool records from his Uncle Paul. In the last decade or so, I feel very fortunate that Paul has become sort of an adopted uncle to me, as well, as we have a lot of music in common and he’s been cool enough to come out and see my bands play when we have visited California in the past.

Thanks to Paul, Ben and I discovered DEVO early on and used to watch their early videos at Ben’s grandparents’ house on Sells. I loved it when I got to go over there and hang out with Ben since Connie and Harry, his grandparents, were really wonderful people and always treated me as if I was their own, as well. They were Ben’s father’s parents, my Uncle Harry, and I loved him, too. Sadly, they are no longer with us.

After high school, Ben lived with them for a while, and I was always a bit jealous of the relationship they had. There was something pure and full of love there that was admirable, and I could see that a lot of Ben’s best qualities came from them. His steadfast loyalty, the reserved yet open way he cares for others, and his even-keeled approach to the world are all qualities that I saw in Connie and Harry, too.

He got me into skateboarding, too. He had become friends with Mark, who I’ve written a lot about, after he started at Camelback in the fall of 1985. Mark was, and still is, very much into skating and he rubbed off on Ben and I in that way. I think we rubbed off on him in other ways, so we all benefited from what became a pretty great group friendship.

Skating came a little easier to Ben at first, but I caught on and it gave us something fun to do for the latter half of the 80s and the early 90s. We spent a lot of time finding places to skate and most of our skate adventures were together. Ben was there when I broke my wrist in a pool across from our friend Teresa’s house and there for most of my other “skatastrophes,” too.

One of my favorite places that we skated was this little drainage ditch that was just off the 51 and Glendale. It was small and fun and we hit it a lot while we still could. It was shaped like a small rectangle and there was a big grate on one side of it that you could ride across is you were going north/south. We added a roll-in and some stuff to grind on and had a blast coming up with more and more elaborate runs in the ditch. It really did seem like our spot.

In the early 90s, Ben got into music in much the same way that I did. He had a band called Sugar Daddy with his friend, Bo, who went to high school with us. They had a pretty cool thing for a bit, but if I can remember correctly, they had a hard time keeping their rhythm section focused. We talk about playing together but haven’t ever really spent the kind of time that I would like to spend doing so. Maybe now that I am a free agent, musically, we can get something going.

I also miss playing golf with him. We used to hit the links quite often in the 90s. Our grandfather, Tom, would give us pointers in the front yard of the house my mom and stepdad now live in and we would put them to work on the course. We’d play with our Uncle Joe a lot, too. That another thing we need to do more of before we get too old and forget how much fun we had.

Life has a way of getting in the middle of things. We’ve both grown up and had families, gone through divorces, and come out on the other side happier and healthier. Over the past couple of decades, we haven’t spent a ton of time together, but its not because I haven’t wanted to do so. I’m very glad to see him happy and doing his thing, though.

Growing up, we were shown a lot of ways to become unhappy. I’m glad we were both able to overcome those things, though, and do our lives the way we want to do them. There is a lot to be said for survival and growth and it has been a pleasure to watch Ben grow, even if it has been from some distance more recently.

As I think about him on his birthday today, I think about some of the things that make me smile the most when it comes to Ben. We went to see a lot of movies growing up and I remember how in scary ones, he would always have to go to the bathroom during the intense scenes.

We went to see Friday the 13th part 3 in 3D at the outdoor theaters at Christown and it was pretty intense. At one point, he got up to go to the bathroom and was gone for a bit, so I turned around and looked up the aisle to see if he was coming back and there he was standing in front of the door. I don’t know why that tickles me so much to this day, but it does. Life is hard to look at sometimes, but it is a lot easier when you have someone by your side who will ride out the tough moments with you.

Ben’s been that person for me more times than I can count. Happy birthday! I love you.

See you tomorrow.

Ben and Uncle Joe in New Orleans. 1997.

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