As I was growing up in a small New Jersey bedroom community, just 20 miles from Manhatten, I spent the majority of my time enjoying the County Park, which was located not far from my home. From about the age of 7, and up through age 18, it was my home away from home. It had a lake, with streams running both into and out of it, and was stocked with fish.
I got to know all the best places to catch the different species, at different times of the year, and enjoyed doing just that.
I don't remember the exact day I met Albert, or how we came to talk to one another, other than it was in regard to my knowledge of the local fishery. I do know I was quite young, probably 8 or 9, and that Albert was probably in his mid to late thirties.
The differences between us did not stop at age, either. I was a local resident, He came from Newark. I fished for fun, he fished to suppliment his families food. He was African American(Negro, at that time), I was of German-Irish descent.
But we had just as much in common. A love for fishing and of enjoying Nature. And most importantly, a Love of Humanity. We became friends, much to the consternation of my parents, who actually never met Albert, and who were of the most negative opinions concerning the "Dark Races". Even then, I KNEW, it was based on Fear, unfounded of course, of the unknown, because they believed what they had been taught by their parents, who had been taught by their parents, that Human Beings of different skin color were somehow, deviant.
In any event, Albert and I would meet as the occasion arose, nothing planned, just happenstance, and I would give whatever I caught to him, to help feed his family. And we would talk, about what I thought or had questions about, and what he thought or had questions about, but as with most True friends, alot of the time was spent in silent companionship, just enjoying each others company, and the moment.
As I grew older, and my interests widened to include young ladies, our meetings became less and less frequent. The turmoil of the late sixties, caused Albert to be less able to travel to the park. But almost as if there was silent communication, those few and far between times, I would find him and we would talk like we had seen each other the day before.
In my 18th year, I was drawn to the park once again. I sat down on a park bench and waited.
I saw two African American young ladies walking towards me, arm in arm, and they seemed to be crying. They approached me, and asked, "Is your name Mark?" I said yes. They then both broke out in the most brilliant smiles I had ever seen. The one on the left said" I'm Althea and this is my sister Vanessa, I believe you knew our Daddy, his name was Albert."
Well, I'm not ashamed to say that my eyes welled up with tears, hearing the past tense being used, and I said, "Yes, He is my friend". Althea then said, "Yes, that's what Daddy always said, He'd say "Me and my friend Mark, caught us a mess of fish, we're eating good tonight!" Then she said, "Daddy had a Heart Attack and died last week, but before he passed, he made us promise to come say good-bye to you and tell you, "Thanks for the fish and the friendship", so here we are." I don't remember too much else about that meeting, other than we did talk for quite awhile and they left smiling, and talking to each other.
I remained, sitting on the bench, as the sun set, and twilight turned to darkness. Remembering and smiling, and as the lightning bugs started flickering all around, I got up, went over to the waters edge, looked down into the reflection of the stars and my silhouette in the water and saw I wasn't alone. Then I remember saying out loud, "Thank You, Albert, for the Friendship"
My Friend Albert, may have passed on, low, those many years ago, but he has never left my Heart, and neither have the lessons learned by his side.