COLUMN: ‘A deserved tribute to my best friend’

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By John Lapp

Today’s column will be different than any you have read over the past nearly two years. Yet, today’s may be one of the most valuable ones ever written, especially as it relates to how a lifetime of a friendship can and should get better and last forever.
At 18 years old, this basically shy, but fairly nice, young man had a lot of friends, especially those that played on the many baseball teams he was on, along with those of his church and his neighborhood. But, all of these friends were guys. Now, since you are now aware that I was the 18-year-old, let me explain. I was one of four brothers, one older and two younger, and lived next door to a family with three male children, and across the street from a family with three male children and down the street lived a family of four, with all but the oldest, being guys. Now, do you get the picture?
Don’t get some erroneous idea that I didn’t know that girls existed, because I did indeed know they were there, but not in my life. I had never dated, but took a chance to invite a girl from my church to “go with me” to a group lake party. She said yes, and we went together. However, if this was a date, well, while we were there, she made a serious play to be with another guy and basically ignored my presence.
The aforementioned three boys casually stated to me one day: “Johnny, you need to have a girlfriend some day,” and proceeded to eventually hand me a slip of paper with the name “Jacquelyn, nickname ‘Lynn,’” along with a telephone number.
Lynn was the only child of one of Mrs. Ryan’s cousins and she had told the cousin about me, and had gained permission for me to call Lynn. Well now, how is a shy (around girls only) guy going to get up the courage to call a stranger who may not even know that I may be calling her, and worse than that — what am I supposed to say since I had never had a conversation with a girl?
The conversation didn’t last very long, because I found out later that she had never had a one-on-one conversation with a boy.
I had already graduated and she was now going into her junior year in the same high school, so we had some of the same teachers, and if it weren’t for that, the conversation would have been much shorter. I called her again that week, and she accepted my invitation for a date the next Saturday night, exactly two weeks after her 16th birthday. But, I panicked when I suddenly realized I was going to be with her for about four or five hours, and thought, “now what are we going to talk about during that lengthy stretch?”
Then, I got an idea. She revealed that she had a best friend named Beverly, and I had a best friend named Bill. I called him and asked if he would go on a date with Beverly that Saturday and he jumped at the idea.
Problem solved, and how much better could it be: Bill dates Beverly, John dates Jacquelyn. B with B, J with J. Sorta cute, don’t you think? So here we go, two couples on a double-blind date — what an adventure.
Bill had dated several times before so he was a “pro,” but Beverly had never dated before. We went to Niagara Falls, about a 30-minute drive from our hometown of Kenmore, N.Y. It was a very romantic place to go on a date. Bill and Beverly conversed regularly while Lynn and I enjoyed listening to the radio and had some casual talk. During our walk, I noticed Bill and Beverly walking while holding hands. I thought, “Hey, that looks neat, maybe we should do that, too.” When I reached down to take her hand, Lynn abruptly pulled it away from me.
Well, my first “date” wanted to be with another guy, and now this one wouldn’t even let me hold her hand. I thought that I had again struck out. So much for dates.
Eventually, of course, after we got to know each other better and had developed a nice relationship, I was able to walk with my arm around her and hers around me. She had been taught by her foster parents, where she had spent the first 12 years of her life, to always act properly and hand holding was okay once you got to know each other better and longer. Of course, along that way and in time, hugging and kissing were added, much to my pleasure.
Now to continue on with this tribute, I speed up to 39 months later, when we married while I was enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. We moved to North Carolina where we spent the next 28 months before I was released from active duty. Almost to the day, two years after marriage, we had our first child, Steven, who is now nearly 54 years old.
To continue this wonderful lifetime we have enjoyed with each other, a very important part of building and maintaining a lifelong relationship has to do with the practice of selflessness, not selfishness.
Three years after discharge, one day Lynn asked if I had thought about going to college. I thought to myself, is she serious? I had a horrible academic standard in high school which I maintained throughout, and the thought of college was laughable. She was able to convince me that high school was high school, and that ended 10 years ago. So, I enrolled at a small Christian college, while also maintaining a full-time job. Also our second child, Rebecca, was born during that first year, so we had two children, I was enrolled full-time in college, and I had a full-time 50-plus hour work schedule.
Five years later I graduated with my first degree, and I maintained a high enough grade point average, even making the “dean’s list” several times. I guess this could have happened in high school if I had applied myself, or maybe, if I had already met my “best friend” who helped me develop confidence, which then, helped produce the many years that followed, along with establishing private practices for more than three decades in Florida, and now in Kentucky, since 2007. Oh, and, I am no longer shy.
God brought this wonderful person into my life to do for me at a time when I was realistically unable to do many things for myself. Completing the many years of college (11) and years in private practice (45-plus), with my “best friend” as the office manager and receptionist for more than 30 years during that time (after the children became adults), has been a God-send.
We still have a lot of fun with each other, although most of those who know us are aware that Lynn has muscular dystrophy and is now more than ever, physically dependent on me and our daughter. This now takes more of our personal time, but will never interfere with the lifelong love and commitment we have for her.
Now, it’s my time and my turn to do for her what she is unable to do for herself. Love is not a feeling only, although we have a lot of that in our marriage, but it is a commitment and goes on and should keep getting better. “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part” — this is a serious marital vow that we took before God. I am 77 and she will be 75 on Sunday. Happy Birthday, Lynn, God’s special, yet undeserved gift to me! God knew we needed one another for our whole lives.