My Friend from Across the Alley
By Eddie O'Neill
On a hot August day in 1982, the moving van pulled into our new house in the 6600 block of Kingsbury. University City MO. We had arrived from Virginia. I was ten years old. It didn't take long before someone had given my parents the "there are a couple of boys in the neighborhood that your kids could play with report." The list as I recall ended at two. There was Eddie Fairchild a few houses down on Kingsbury and Erik Rogers who live behind us just across the alley in the 6600 block of Waterman.
Eddie Fairchild didn't cut the mustard. I remember he came over once and I thought he was a little strange bordering on nerdy. However, Erik Rogers was okay. Our connection was sports - he liked sports; I liked sports. And thus began my close to thirty year friendship with my pal who lived just across the alley.
Some of those early memories of Erik and I being together consisted of going to St. Louis Steamer indoor soccer games outings organized by our dads. There was underlying tension of sorts in those early years due to the fact that I went St. Roch's grade school and he went to the public junior high, Britney Woods. Neither of us knew where the other was coming from. He probably thought that we Catholic schoolers had our rosaries in our hands and were on our knees in prayer for most of the day. At the same, I had no idea what kind of raucous activities went on at public junior high.
Sometime during those first few years in St. Louis, Erik's Dad installed a basketball hoop on the back of the family garage. When I heard the ball a bouncing after school I would usually head out back. We spent a fair amount of time together playing horse or tips or a variety of other games that we would fit the small confines of the 6600 block alley. Conjuring up strange sports with bizarre rules would be a reoccurring pastime for me and my U City cronies throughout much of me formative years.
Another connection that Erik and I had was music. I took up the trumpet as a freshman in high school and he played the saxophone. He was much better than me at his instrument. In short he took practice much more seriously. There were a number of times on warm summer evenings with our windows opened when we practice together trading riffs from house to house. I can recall him introducing me to something called the Jazz Fakebook - a thick tattered, worn spiral bound book that had the transcriptions to every imaginable jazz classic you could imagine. And he knew just about every one of them.
Erik was a man who sought authenticity and truth. He would have much rather listen to the sounds of John Coltrane than the new saccharine jazz of Kenny G. He was a man of convictions and he knew what he wanted and was willing to do what it takes to reach those goals. Second place wasn't an option for him.
He was a gentleman who liked to have things clean and in order. He wore his shirts tucked in. He was never one to put you down because you weren't as good at something such as athletics or music. He respected you for where you were at.
As I reflect on those teen and college years, I cherish those memories. I am so grateful for all my U City neighborhood pals. As I look at my own family situation, I'm not sure my two boys will have an Erik Rogers to pal around with. These days real friends have been replaced with an endless list of Facebook friends. And Wii baseball in the comforts of one's living room has taken the spot of backyard whiffle ball on freshly cut grass.
While we grew up and went our separate ways, Erik and I kept in touch here and there, always picking up from the last stale sarcastic joke where we left off.
I was shocked when I got the news that Erik was unresponsive in a hospital in Kansas City. These things aren't supposed to happen. Thirty something dads with two little precious girls aren't supposed to die while trimming trees on a Sunday. Why Lord? What are you doing here? This doesn't make sense.
And as I shook my fist at the heavens angry and in disbelief, two silver linings have come to mind. First, I was touched by the fact that he has given new life to a number of people who have his organs. Someone can now see clearer or get off dialysis because of Erik. Death has brought new life.
As well his accident and his death are a wakeup call of sorts for us that life is so, so precious and it can be taken away in the snap of finger. It is a reminder to us what's really important such as family and friends.
I haven't been back to the old neighborhood in a while. I suspect that the old basketball hoop on the Rogers garage has long since been taken down. But the memories of my first U City pal, Eric Rogers won't go away I just wish they didn't have to end so abruptly.
Thanks Erik we sure do miss you!
July 24, 2011