Probably my most enduring relationship has been with country fried potatoes, peanut butter and cherry pie. But the most important relationships are those with friends.
My earliest and most vivid meaning of friendship is from a plaque that hung on my parents’ living room wall when I was very young. It was black and white with a drawing of a little Scotty dog. It contained these wise words:
A friend is not a feller who’s taken in by sham
He is one who knows our faults and doesn’t give a damn
This has been like a Bible quotation to me but I’m afraid that I haven’t always lived up to its message.
We make many friends in a lifetime but most relationships fade because of neglect by either or both persons involved. This neglect can be the result of many reasons such as the change of location or jobs, new interests, family pressures or the acquisition of many new relationships.
I have several long lasting and great friendships but the closest and longest has been with Bob and Billie Suchsland.
In 1955, I was working in the Duncan, Oklahoma office of Stanolind Oil and Gas Company when Bob was transferred there from Louisiana. Bob had recently been married but his wife, Billie, had temporarily stayed in Shreveport to fulfill an employment obligation of one month’s notice.
Being without his bride and living in an unfamiliar location, Bob was at loose ends. I was single so Bob and I found a few things to do together and became good friends immediately. In addition to working for the same company, we both were reared in small towns in farming communities, and had graduated from our state universities, he from Kansas State and me from Oklahoma. Also we both were long time Methodists.
Since our backgrounds were so similar, there was not reason for us to question each other or get involved conversations about thoughts and beliefs.
We seemed to know what the other was thinking.
It was not long before Billie arrived and they became a part of the couples’ social circles. Bob’s and my relationship was relegated to the office.
In the early fall, the Stephens County Fair was high on the social list of things to do. I enjoyed exploring every corner of the fairgrounds and checking out all of the animals, especially if cotton candy was available. While wondering around in the swine pens, I ran on to Bob and his wife. That is where I met Billie. I still remind her of where we met.
On April 27, 1956, Robert Gene Suchsland,Jr. was born. The hospital was next door to our office so I met little Robbie when he was only a few hours old.
In a couple years I was transferred to Oklahoma City. Soon the Suchslands were transferred there also. For two years or so, we lived two blocks apart. My everyday activities took me by their home often and I never failed to honk my horn as I drove by. Often, I would be invited to join in their family activities. Friends are there for us when they are needed. They were there for me when I was lonely. Sometimes I would bring a girlfriend along to join in our pursuits. Robbie and I became great buddies.
One particular time I planned on being there for them. Bob’s job had been changed to that of a traveling auditor. This could present at problem since Billie was again pregnant. As the delivery time became near, the plan was that I would substitute for Bob if he were gone and take Billie to the hospital about six blocks away. Another friend, Ruth Henderson, would be called to stay with Robbie.
One November morning, Bob did not show up for work and word got around that the Suchsland’s baby boy had been born in their car on the way to the hospital. HALLELUJAH, Bob was home. If I would have been driving, I’m sure that all three of us would have been killed.
The new son, Michael, had been born in the front seat of their Buick upon Billie’s second pain while they were still in the driveway. The doctor arrived early and saw them coming down the wrong side of a divided highway to the hospital. God was definitely with them and with me. I called Michael by the name of Speedy until he later objected.
In 1966, the Oklahoma City office was closed. Bob was moved to Tulsa and I was transferred to Fort Worth. One time when they came to Fort Worth, I introduced them to my girlfriend, Jean Sargent. They gave their approval. Jean and I had already started our wedding plans. My family did not meet Jean until a couple of days before the wedding.
To avoid the complications that occur when many people get involved, Jean and I kept our wedding plans and date a secret from everybody except family. The only attendees at the ceremony in the chapel of the University Baptist Church were the very immediate family members.
As usual, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I told the details to Bob and Billie. Which was a mistake. On our wedding night, we had not been our hotel room in Houston but a few minutes and the telephone rang. I answered and could hear Billie’s giggle in the background and Bob’s asking “Have you done it yet?” I don’t remember my reply but the conversation was extremely short.
For several years, we all were involved with work and children so we visited less often. Jean and I moved to Denver and got involved in foreign travel. We talked the Suchslands into accompanying us on a cruise embarking at Athens and disembarking at Venice with many island stops in between. It was fun and they were hooked.
After that, we traveled extensively together. Billie was quick to show her excitement or displeasure. Bob tended to be more reserved and quiet. He rarely showed displeasure but we could tell if he was a little unhappy by a grimace on his face. The grimace was always accompanied by a smile on his lips. For some reason several times we were asked if we were brothers.
It was easy to see the excitement on all of our faces when we saw the elephants, hippos and lions in Africa and the blue footed boobies and other animals in the Galapagos Islands. We all were excited but a bit chilly as we rode over the tops of the giant Andes Mountains on the top of a train.
We all would have a grimace on our faces but also slight smiles when our six-passenger plane would buzz the grass landing fields in Africa to frighten the animals away before landing. A high point on our visit to the Okavango Delta in Botswana was to find great Bloody Marys in our encampment.
One of Bob’s and my proudest moments was when we were in Paris. We told our wives to put on their best clothes for we were going out on the town for our last night there. We kept the café’s name a secret until we arrived. That afternoon, we had been prowling around the Champs – E’lysee’s and discovered the restaurant tucked away in an obscure corner. The girls let out a scream when the saw the familiar CHILI’S sign. Also, it was happy hour so we all got two Margaritas with our favorite food. The night before, I had eaten a steak that later I decided that its proper name must have been Filet of Filly. It was good to have food that I we knew what is was.
In 1998, the four of us visited Philadelphia and surrounding areas. It was obvious that Bob’s enthusiasm had diminished and that he was in pain. He did not complain but he needed rest often.
Bob and Billie battled his stomach cancer for a couple of years before the end came. At his services, I joined their two sons with tributes to Bob’s life. He was truly an honorable, lovable and gentle man.
Since then, Billie has joined us on more exciting trips. The most memorable one was on a sailing vessel that ended in Southern France where we remained for a few days. We were scheduled to fly home on September 12, 2001 but because of the events of 9-11, we were refugees for a week before we made it home. We have never been so happy to see the USA.
We keep in touch with Billie and Rob. She spends some time with us when she visits him and his family in Colorado Springs a couple of times a year. My relationship with the Suchslands has not waivered since I met Bob in 1955.