noun \ˈfrend\
: a person who you like and enjoy being with

This is the definition of a friend according to Merriam-Webster and I find it hard to argue with it. I would probably add a little more to it though. A real friend is someone who you may have long gaps between seeing or talking with – yet when you reconnect it feels as if no time has passed and you instantly pick up where you left off.

Don with Paul and I when he visited us in Seattle in 1992.
Don with Paul and I when he visited us in Seattle in 1992.

Today I want to wish a very (belated) Happy Birthday to my friend Don – he is someone who definitely fits both of the above definitions. And its crazy to think that he and I have actually known each other since we were in Kindergarten – more than four decades!

While Don and I knew each other through elementary school it really wasn’t until grades 6 and 7 when we became good friends and hung out together. Back then kids didn’t get rides to school unless it was absolutely pouring rain – so we would ride our bikes to school together and hang out after school at each other’s homes. Our intermediate school was about 2 miles from our homes so we had plenty of time to talk during our rides back and forth. Sometimes Don would juggle his cassette recorder on his handlebars and we’d listen to tapes he made of the previous weekend’s American Top 40 (I remember lots of Hall and Oates in those days).

When you have a friendship that is as long and strong as the one Don and I share, its hard to pick just a few highlights of the times we’ve shared together. Was it organizing a team in the city youth baseball league in high school and practicing together – only to see our team lose every (yes every) game over two summer seasons? Hmm – probably not. But that did happen. And in spite of the pain and agony of losing games every which way imaginable, we did manage to find fun in these games and learned how to both persevere – and laugh at ourselves – through the experience.

I think Don would agree that one of our best memories of high school was Halloween during our sophomore year. He and I decided to go all-out in decorating our two-story home for the holiday and erected a few pieces of plywood that featured life-sized witches and ghosts over the doorway. We were quite proud of our work until riding to school one day a classmate (and notorious local bully) told us that he and some friends were going to “mess up” the decorations on our house. Why? We had no idea – this was just the kind of kid he was.

We weren’t really sure what to do about it initially but a sudden teacher’s strike at the high school on Halloween day gave us the full day to prepare. We hatched a plan where we would hide in waiting on the roof of the house, wait for the bully and his gang to strike, and then counter attack with water balloons and eggs. We went to the local five-and-dime store and bought our supplies. One of us had the bright idea to add sugar to the water in the balloons to make them extra sticky.

When we got home we shared the situation and plans with my older brother and sister. They both wanted to get in on the operation to help defend the house against the bullies. Lynette and her boyfriend were handing out candy to trick-or-treaters so we stocked them with two buckets of balloons for a ground attack. Don took his position behind the plywood above the doorway and I hid on the garage roof – which was perpendicular to the walkway leading up to our house. And we waited – but not for long.

Soon we heard and saw the gang approaching our house and they were yelling and taunting us. “I thought you were going to protect your house Kaufer!” They hurled a few eggs at our garage door and approached the house. As they got closer Don stood up and cocked his arm – and I initially froze. But soon he launched a water balloon and the assault was on. I grabbed my eggs and balloons and started chucking them as fast as I could. Our front door flew open and Lynette and her boyfriend emerged with their collection of balloons and eggs. These guys had no idea what hit them. The leader saw me on the garage and attacked the fence attached to it and tried to climb it. I peered over him and continued to nail him from point blank range until he backed off.

Finally they retreated in defeat and sulked off into the night. Our job was complete. And Don’s reputation as a loyal (and brave) friend was secured – and remains to this day.

Even though Don has lived in Southern California since our college days and I’ve relocated to the Northwest, we still manage to get together and have great talks – and times – together. I’m lucky in that all of my friends have amazing senses of humor but if you were to ask Renee, her vote is for Don as my absolute funniest friend. And I don’t think my Mom would disagree. She still laughs remembering Don hanging out at our home and talking about the giant oil tankers he saw on Lake Tahoe or answering our door when we had a delivery and yelling “Mom – its for you!” (in those days the idea of an Asian-American teen with a white mom in Walnut Creek raised more than a few eyebrows among the UPS drivers).

Probably the biggest compliment you can give any friend is to say that if you need them for any reason – they will be there for you no matter the situation, day or or time. I can truly say this about Don. I’ve visited Southern California on dozens of occasions over the past 25+ years for both business and Oregon Ducks games and no matter how inconvenient or far away I’ve stayed, Don always takes time to fight through Southern California traffic to spend time together.

Don also was responsible for helping one of my lifetime dreams come true: watching my San Francisco Giants play in the World Series in 1989. At the time I was living in Portland and he called me and said he had gotten ahold of tickets for the rescheduled (after the Bay Area earthquake) Game 3. The only catch was the game was the next night – I would have to drive all night from Portland to get there in time. After securing time off from work, I quickly packed a duffel bag and hit I-5 for the overnight drive. Along the way I ran out of gas, received a speeding ticket and gave myself welts from pinching myself to stay awake – but I did make it…only to watch the Giants get crushed by the A’s. But I didn’t really care about the outcome – the earthquake put the game and series into perspective. For me it was all about being at Candlestick Park for the experience and opportunity to see my favorite team compete for a championship – with one of my closest friends.

There is so much more I can say or write about Don but by now I think its clear that he’s a pretty great guy whose friendship I truly treasure. And so even though this post will technically miss his birthday by a few hours (it’s February 6th) I will still wish him a very happy day. Don: here’s to a fun-filled year ahead and I hope we have an opportunity to create more memories together.

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