Roger Nelson was my best friend, in school, when I needed a friend the most. His folks were founders and stalwarts of the Winnetka Bible Church which my dad was hired to pastor in 1951. We lived in the parsonage next door to the church; Nelsons lived hardly a block away, and they were my salvation here on earth.
Everybody has a childhood and most of us had both good times and bad. The move to Winnetka was a bad time for me. Fifth grade. That probably explains everything. By then, by age ten, the elementary school pecking orders are well established, the norms, the assumptions, the nicknames. I moved to Winnetka in the middle of the year and was dropped into fifth grade on what might as well have been, given what I was used to, the moon. Roger, who was cool, was in one of the higher pecks, and Roger saved me. At what social cost I cannot imagine, he sat with me at lunch, explained the rules, reassured me, taught me.
I don’t know that I ever did anything nearly good enough to pay him back. He hung out with me on weekends and took me home to his house for countless meals.
Our friendship continued thru high school where I finally scrapped together a tiny bit of cool for myself. Still, Roger was always better looking, always the better student, always better at sports, always the friend who had my back.
In his life Roger was a missionary and actor, traveling with one-man shows of John Wesley and St. Patrick. I saw his show a couple of times, but he did it, they tell me, for years, 1600 times. That’s epic. From the website you can tell he touched many deeply. And he touched me.
With fortune, one has friends like that in life, at least a few. I don’t think I understood that, and how important those few are, until, well, late. If Roger Nelson did not know how much he did for me, I’m sorry.