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Keeper of the Memories

Note: I recently received a touching and thoughtful email from Dr. Rod Skager of Monterey, CA, in response to my articles about aging and friendship.


A year ago in March I lost my two closest, lifelong friends within two weeks of each other (Ralph Montee, a college roommate and Sy Simon, a graduate school buddy). They are irreplaceable. So is something else that goes along with close friendships—the experiences that close friends share together.

The other day I was reminiscing about the summer between our sophomore and junior college years when several of us, including Ralph, worked at the infamous potash plant in sweltering Trona, California, only 30 miles or so from Death Valley. There were vivid experiences on that job, things we talked about during the rest of our many get-togethers over the years. We had lots of laughs going over how miserable it was and even shared the stories with our families.

There was the insidious rash that developed while running centrifugals extracting potash from a caustic chemical stew the company pumped out of Searles dry lake. The most hilarious memory (in retrospect) was both the best and worst experience we had together: shoveling potash dust from an elevator pit in 110 degree plus heat. We took turns, one on top hauling up the bucket and the other down in the knee-deep dust. We joked about it at the time and for the rest of our lives. It was an unforgettable achievement and we did it together.

Thinking about the guys I shared that time with, I realize that I am now the only survivor of the six fellow University of Redlands students who worked in Trona that summer. I’m the keeper of the memories of events, friends, and the experiences we shared—of “the way we were” in those days. 

I am grateful to be the survivor, especially because four years ago I had good reason to expect that I would not still be around in September of 2008. This is something that aging assigns to us—a sense of responsibility to remember and thereby do homage to people one cared about so very much.

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