Mike Ward where are you?

This past summer I read Ray Bradbury’s novel Dandelion Wine, after hearing Bill Kaufman recommend it. I was never into Science Fiction, and the few Bradbury stories I had to read in High School English Class, never did much for me. (Although “All Summer in a Day” is still the saddest story I have ever read) So I was surprised and somewhat blown away at the novel. It is one of the most elegiac, and melancholy books I have read in some time. For those that haven’t read it, Bradbury writes of his youth growing up in Waukegan, Illinois, evoking what it was like to be a 12 year old boy, caught between childhood, and a coming adulthood, realizing for the first time that he is simultaneously alive, and mortal. Hard to believe I could enjoy a bittersweet tale like that 😉

In one heart wrenching chapter he tells of his best friend, John Huff, moving to far away Racine, Wisconsin, and the pain and loss he felt. I think most of us have experienced something similar in life. That first time when they come to realize that loss of a friend, and the first of many changes in life as they grow and move on. In my own past on 20 Prospect it was Mike Ward, and not John Huff that moved away.

Mike moved onto Prospect Avenue when I was in about 4th or 5th Grade. He lived in an upstairs apartment across the street with his Mom and Stepdad. Like all new kids on the block, at first he was teased by the local kids. Being an only child, he played alone at first, and didn’t reach out to us right away. One day, after he went inside from playing matchbox cars in his driveway, we ran across the street and messed up the little roads he had made in the driveway gravel. He saw us and came running out of the house chasing us. Being the youngest and slowest kid, he caught me as I leapt over the pricker bushes into my yard, horse collaring me, as the rest got away. Him being 3 years older than me, he thankfully didn’t give me the pounding I deserved.

For reasons I won’t get into here, I had a falling out with the kids down the street, and not long after that day Mike and I became fast friends the way that only pre-teen boys can. He had been born in Baltimore, and moved to Batavia not long before I met him. He was into sports more than any other kid I knew, and he was the reason I began to follow sports with a religious zeal.

Being an only kid, he had some awesome toys, and many days were spent playing with his AFX slot car racetrack, his Electric Football, Coleco Rod Hockey, and Mattel Intellivision, but don’t think we spent all our time indoors. We played wiffle ball in the yard, football and street hockey in the street in front of our house. We organized our own little leagues, and wore different caps, and jerseys as we played out seasons and playoffs. We kept track of wins and losses, and made little championship trophies. Being 3 years older, he usually won, but I can still remember the thrill of hitting a grand slam over the hedges in his front yard, onto Mr. Jankowski’s front porch, and hitting their cat. I finished the running the bases before Mr. Jankowski, whom I would later work with at Graham Mfg. one summer in college, came out, and shouted over the hedges in his polish accent. We would mimic him for years “All right boyz. I tink dats enuf, boyz!”

Tudor Electric Football

Mattel Intellivision

Old Time Table Hockey

By the time I was in 6th Grade, Mike had moved. His folks had bought a place over on Soccio Street. His moving was every bit as sad a day for me, as Bradbury describes losing John Huff. While he was only a mile away, at our age it may as well have been a different city. We still got together on occasion to play, but it didn’t last long. The bigger move came in the fall when he moved up from the Junior High into the Senior High. Now the 3 year gap between us became a chasm. A 10th grader, and a 7th grader move in entirely different worlds. By the time I went off to Notre Dame, he was already a Senior at BHS and was preparing for college. I saw him once or twice more during my High School years, as he was attending St. John Fisher to study Computer Science, but aside from some short, awkward conversation, our friendship was over.

I have often wondered what became of him. Perhaps he still lives in Batavia, just around the corner. Or maybe life took him far away, like it did to me. I like to think he’s out there somewhere, with a family of his own, and a son that loves sports as much as we did, living a parallel existence to my own. Time is a funny thing. It changes us in so many ways, and yet in others we remain forever the kid we were at 12. I think that is what Bradbury was feeling when he wrote Dandelion Wine. I know it’s what I’m feeling as I write these memories.

4 thoughts on “Mike Ward where are you?

  1. Great story…came over from FPR. I had that hockey game, we modified the ‘nets” and played it for hours. Whoever designed it was a genius.

  2. Tommy,

    I am right here (in the Rochester, NY area) and very touched. However, you forgot to mention the part where we used to get our Moms to bring home the remnants from the three hole punch from where they worked, so we could sprinkle them on our electric football fields for snow games.

    My parents (who are still in Batavia) sent me the link to your blog some weeks ago and I have read it a few times. Tonight before going to bed I thought I would check it out and low and behold there’s my name.

    I think you have a tremendous talent for writing and conveying your thoughts. I have loved reading your observations and the memories they have brought to the forefront. I look back on those days with great fondness and how they helped mold me as a person. I have always valued your friendship.

    Your right about my family, girl and boy, just like you. You are also right that he is into sports. I still have the AFX Race Track (it still works) and they love to play with it.

    By the way, I still use that voice occasionally when talking to my parents.

    Please right back whenever you get a chance. I would love to catch up with you.

    All the best to you and your family,

    • What a great well written story! I just found the story now, September 2016. I lived on the same dormitory floor of Murphy Hall at St John Fisher my junior year (1984-85) as your old friend Mike Ward. I remember Mike as being a diehard Colts fan from Batavia. He had a Colts pennant on the wall (or was it the door) of his dorm room. He was a great guy in college – fun, kind, thoughtful and almost always a gentleman. I saw his reply to you he wrote in 2009, it was nice to read he is alive and well; I have not heard from him since 1986. I am sure he is a great dad. If you speak to Mike please tell him there was a guy from Fisher who lives in Ocala, FL with his wife and two kids that was also wondering where he is.

      I am looking forward to reading more at 20 Prospect! Great stuff.

  3. Hey, if you really want to get in touch again, there’s always Facebook. It’s sad to lose friends, but in today’s world you can always reconnect with other people due to the wonders of technology. Seeing that your friend studied computer science, it’s doubtful that he doesn’t have a Facebook account. Good luck!

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