I feel strongly that the Lord had a hand in guiding my parents to where they ended up in their move from Tooele to Salt Lake when I was 6 years old. I had the great opportunity to be a part of a neighborhood and ward that had enough kids to form a good group of friends but not too many to get lost in a huge crowd. Our neighborhood was also just barely inside the southern boundaries to attend Granite High, which in my teenage years became the environment for the greatest blessings of my life, aside from my home. That may sound silly, but the unique circumstances of that setting, and the incredible people and experiences found therein, could likely not have been duplicated elsewhere. The friends found in these places have had profound impacts on my development.
One of my first memories after moving into our home in West Valley was of Dorothy Gunderson bringing over coolers with some food inside. We must not have yet had a fridge hooked up and this was a kind and welcoming gesture from a neighbor. I don't recall how or when I actually met her son Brian, but he was a friend from the beginning. I have very fond memories of time spent at the Gundersons and around the neighborhood with Brian. We did get into our fair share of mischief, including frequent doorbell ditching, launching of various items from behind the safety of the cinderblock wall onto 4100 South at passing cars, and prank phone calls. But, overall, we were pretty good kids. At the end of junior high and then again at the end of high school we drifted apart some, I have great regrets about that, but thankfully we exchanged some letters during the mission and spent time together in the same student ward after we got home.
Brian is a man of many talents. I have never known a person closely who is as naturally gifted in his talents as he is. Just about anything I know about camping, fishing, and scouting I learned from Brian and his dad. He has a seemingly inborn gift to design and create. I still have a dream catcher that he made for me in junior high that could knock the socks off of any Native. He and his family do the most amazing carpentry you will ever see. In addition to this he plays the banjo with remarkable skill. What's more amazing is that it seems like he learned it over night. One day no one in our little group had even heard of Brian playing the banjo and the next he was literally a professional! What's more than all of this is Brian's kindness toward me. I do not ever recall a time when Brian was mean or cruel to me, not ever. For one who was sometimes teased, and within myself perceived unacceptance from others (probably mistakenly) for not being very athletic, this was a a friendship of comfort and safety for me.
Julie Memmott was my very first friend in the new neighborhood. My immediate next door neighbor and one of the youngest of 9 children, she became a hang out partner from the very first day we moved in. Swimming, jumping on the trampoline, playing Super Mario, making up crazy songs ("Dick Mano, Dick Mano, Dick Mano is the best softball coach"), and doing the Boot Scootin' Boogie in the driveway were some of the activities I remember most. Julie even took me to a girl's choice dance our sophomore year. We had many talks over the years on summer evenings in the front yard. Julie went through some tough times in the later years of high school. She made one of the most loving and difficult decisions any woman ever has to make. For that she merits praise for eternity!
Justin Rasmussen did not live in the neighborhood but I met him during my first or second year at Granger Elementary. At the time he was the dinosaur fanatic and the school bookworm. He became a good friend through the years as we advanced to junior high and high school together. We also both served our missions in Italy. Justin is very logical and practical but also quickly finds humor in life's circumstances. He was a great sounding board for me as more of an emotional thinker, especially in my youth. I also remember greatly appreciating the fact that information shared with Justin always stayed with him. He is a loyal friend.
I met Christine Tang in an "access" program (whatever that means) in junior high. Somehow we just connected, though I think it would be fair to say that our life experiences and personalities were quite different. Despite significant hardship, Christine was full of life. She is both very intelligent and fun. Junior high is a rough time, it certainly was for me anyway. But it was Christine, among others, who ultimately made the experience a positive one for me. She provided much needed support and advice relative to the opposite sex. She was also the first person to show me, without most likely ever knowing it, the extraordinary strength and resilience of the human spirit in our crazy world! I recently made contact with her again through Facebook and discovered that she has continued to be a strong and capable woman.
I have saved Justin for last. I met Justin Bradley shortly after our move. He lived just around the corner. We quickly became best friends and remained largely connected at the hip for the next 13 years until our missions. I dare say that no single person has played more of a role in my life outside of my family. I suspect I have spent more time with him, again outside of family, than any other person on the planet. He is more like a brother than a friend. The memories are countless. From Garfield's Christmas to swingset forts, and Jackson Hole to Lake Powell, we literally spent much of our childhood together. We played in the houses being constructed where Justin split his shin open and needed stitches, we biked the "rolos", we listened to 90's music on the radio and sang along to Billy Joel. He kicked my trash at basketball, we read scriptures together, we had sleepovers, we went to movies and restaurants, we played games and went fishing. As far as I know, there was nothing that I didn't know about him and nothing that he didn't know about me. Later, we did homework together, sang together, did Madrigals and All in the Voice, made BBC runs, and went to dances and on dates in the same group. We even worked at OfficeMax together. We did baptisms in the temple in the early hours of the morning before school, always hoping to catch a glimpse of the apostles as they went to their morning meeting. We talked and talked and talked, often into the late hours of the night in the old Camry or "The Baum". We shared many formative experiences.
In our youth we were competitive and we did have a few tumultuous periods, but as we matured the competition died away and we loved one another without condition and genuinely cheered each other on. I never could be upset with him long. In high school during a very brief conflict (my fault) I literally broke out in hives that went away as soon as things resolved. We also shared many sacred experiences together, which I continue to cherish. I will never forget a time in high school when I was experiencing difficulty. I don't even remember what it was, and I'm sure if I did I would be embarrassed that it was a big deal, but at the time apparently it was. Justin wrote me a letter expressing his friendship and offering me encouragement. I still have that letter in my things and have read it a few times over the years as I have moved or been organizing. It is a reminder of very happy memories and of a faithful friend. There were no two people in the world more excited than us to receive mission calls, at least that's how I felt. We got them on the same day and opened them together. Later, we received our endowment during the same session and left for our service just a week apart. Between the time of our calls and our departure we went to the temple together weekly. After our return home I was honored to be the best man at his wedding.
Justin has many gifts and talents, among them his musical ability, his kind heart, and not the least of them is his determination. He has always had the ability to put his mind to something and to do it. He has excelled at everything he has ever put his hand to. Of the many things I could highlight about Justin, I think one of the most admirable traits he possesses is honesty. I always remember him being truthful to others. Even when he had done something wrong, he was quick to confess. He does not have a mind to deceive. To him, I offer my praise and gratitude for being a friend for so many years despite all of my shortcomings.
There are many other friends from this time period that had an impact on my life that all deserve mention, though time and space will not allow it. I began to list them but came to the conclusion that to do so here would be dangerous, as I would surely leave someone out. Someday, I hope they too will see how they have touched or taught me.
In the gospel we speak of eternal families, bound together forever to inherit Celestial glory. I like to think that we also have eternal friends, though I cannot say with any certainty that that is doctrine. Although we are not sealed together through the priesthood, we do know that "the same sociality" exists in the world beyond that exists in our world today. I hope that we will have the opportunity to associate with the people we have come to love on the earth. Time has passed and I am no longer particularly close to most of the people mentioned here, but I still love them. I still admire them and acknowledge their contributions to my life. I know that I am a little bit on the sappy side, but I'm okay with that. I've embraced it! I like to think that one day we will all see each other in our true light. Others will be blessed to see clearly the small and large ways that they have touched our lives. We in turn will be able to thank them and praise them, without the barriers that so easily prevent us from doing so fully in mortality. It seems to me that some relationships and shared experiences transcend time, even if in time there is length and drifting apart. Some bonds never die, nor does the love which created them, even if they get buried by the changing circumstances of life.
To the friends of my youth, I offer my sincere praise.