Although in his retirement years he would always chide me with “Call me Milt, “ to me— for the fifty years that I knew him, he was always “Mr. Fenton.”
It was 1955— the last day of June, and our family was Movin’ On Up to South Euclid as part of the urban flight. Suburbia.
That summer night the Fentons, living two doors away, came by to welcome us to the neighborhood. It took less than an hour for my brother and I to become embroiled in what ultimately was recorded as our only fist fights…ever. For reasons long since forgotten we took on the Fenton boys.
In the midst of that fight, Mr. Fenton intervened.
“Hey, if you kids stop fighting…tomorrow you can come over and swim in our pool!, “ he urged. Grabbing my elbow, he pulled me out of the scrum.
That was all we needed to hear. (We weren’t much as fighters anyhow).
Gladly, we made up with our new friends, and went to sleep that night in anticipation of seeing their house and its swimming pool. The suburbs were just fine for us.
The next day our Mom helped us cross the street, walk two doors, and venture into the backyard. There we found not the concrete Olympic pool we’d imagined, but an eight-foot square rubber wading pool.
“C’mon in!”” he urged with exuberance.
The next decades would see the friendships of the families meld for a lifetime. The strongest link was between Stuart and myself. I thought we were the same age, (both born in 1949), but he would always remind me that he was born mid-August and was therefore older and wiser.
Through it all, like so many families in the ‘50’s, the fathers were dominant; indeed, most families were just getting their second cars in the garage.
We saw Mr. Fenton mostly on weekends as he travailed in retail. Still, what I remember most about him from those days was his big set of golf clubs in the garage, his love for his native Detroit Lions, and the smile. Always the smile.
I had a lot of friends back then, and they all had fathers.
But Mr. Fenton was always special.
When we got to Junior High, he developed a British accent. He also changed his name. I remember with warmth how he’d introduce himself to the Bar Mitzvah carpool as “James, your chauffeur.”
And then we got older. All of us. And at the right time, Mr. Fenton retired to Florida, golf clubs and all.
I remember once in the ‘80s I was visiting a friend in Inverrary, and chose to drive down to Pembroke Pines,where Stuart’s parents were. I dropped in unannounced. Still, the fifteen years that had slid away in the interim evaporated in the glow of Mr. Fenton”s…….smile.
His hair was now white, but the smile was the smile. Even the years couldn’t cause it to fade.
The last time I spoke with Mr. Fenton was the morning of May 13, 2006. I was in a gym at Kent State University awaiting my baby’s march with her diploma; he was in a hospital bed and had been handed the phone by his son.
He said he was glad to hear from me, and “When am I going to see you?”
He sounded weak, said GoodBye, and handed the phone back to Stuart.
Within the day he was gone.

We all meet thousands, (maybe more), people in our youth. How many of this multitude create a friendship that is truly the “Gift that keeps on giving?”

Mr. Fenton would have had another birthday this week, and perhaps that is why I am thinking about him today.

I miss you, Milt.

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