The Right Choice for My Friend Carl

That’s Carl, back row right with the gorgeous and truly nice Perry sisters and somebody I don’t recognize. I apologize for the quality of the photo, but it’s the only one I could find.

I talked to my old friend Carl Waycaster for about 45 minutes on the phone yesterday and I will say without reservations that some friendships have their own momentum and never slow down.

I haven’t seen Carl since high school, about 55 years ago, but you’d have thought we had lunch last week judging from the conversation.

I met Carl, a dark, curly-haired, good-looking full Cherokee, during my senior year at Cranberry High School in far mountains of North Carolina. We began as football teammates and I was in awe of Carl, who to this day remains my favorite defensive football player, even though he weighed just 165 pounds and played in the middle of the line. He was tough, fast, smart, instinctive, and found his sport to be pure joy. He laughed and yelled and encouraged (teammates and opponents, whom he often picked up after leveling them) and so thoroughly enjoyed every minute he spent on the field that it had a great impact on us all.

This is me at the time Carl and I first met.

Carl had and still has a deep speech defect that made him hard to understand until you’d been around him for a while and began to speak his language. It took me a while because he talks so fast, but I adjusted and found one of God’s best people behind that speech pattern. My mother adored Carl and they were so relaxed together that she was comfortable enough to make jokes about the way he talked. Carl loved it and those two were fast friends.

I had gone into my senior year at a new school, knowing almost nobody and raising suspicion among many of the country boys as an outsider from a “big city” (Asheville, which is hardly big, but compared to Cranberry–population 62 families–was a metropolis). One guy in particular, Jackie Buchanan, detested me from Day 1 and when he found out I had a bad knee, he took a couple of shots at it one day in practice.

I watched Carl pull Jackie over to the side and have a conversation with him during practice. Carl said yesterday, “I tole him, if he ever hit you like that again, I break his neck and he know I would.” Jackie never went after my knee again, though I didn’t know why at the time.

This is Joyce. The eyes are still big and blue half a century later and she’s still the sweet, warm, kind woman she was then.

I discovered during our phone conversation that Carl had a crush on the same girl who attracted me, Joyce Watson, but she was taken by the self-same Jackie Buchanan and Carl and I kept our crushes to ourselves. Joyce told me a few years ago at a high school reunion that she felt the same way about me and I was floored. We would have been a great couple.

Carl had some tough teen years, working a 350-acre farm through long, sweaty days, but his step-father threw him out of the house when Carl was a junior and he had to live hand to mouth. He found a barn to live in and people who would occasionally put him up, but he made it through and still managed to be an All-Conference and All-Western North Carolina football player.

His life after high school sounds pretty ordinary, but ordinary is great when you face all the obstacles this good guy faced. Want a learning moment? Talk to Carl for a while and discover just how fortunate you are and just how important an indomitable attitude is.

Carl is a man whose life has revolved around the joy he found amid the difficulty. It was his choice and he made the right ones.

By admin

Dan Smith is an award-winning journalist in Roanoke, Va., and a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. He is an author, photographer, essayist, father and grandfather. Co-founder of Valley Business FRONT magazine and founder of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. On Advisory Board of New River Voice.