“The Indian and the Jew.” Kevin loved saying that about us. This is a man I’ve known since we were 6 or 7 years old, meeting and becoming fast friends in first grade at Ballman Elementary in Fort Smith. That’s in the vicinity of five and a half decades.
I have not seen Kevin in the last four of those decades. He moved away, although not all that far from our hometown. I moved away, not that far, either.
The Facebook tributes to Kevin Dawes, who died on the 17th following a long illness, are uniform in how many of his school buddies and adult friends admired his kindness. The childhood friends in particular haven’t shared large anecdotes, just everyday ones. That is key. Ann related that her first dance date was with Kevin. David noted that he, Kevin and Brian rushed to enjoy off-campus lunches in high school.
My clearest memory is the zillion times he’d walk the three blocks from his house on Wolfe Lane to my house on Valley Lane for us to play h-o-r-s-e using my driveway’s basketball goal. That would be latter grade school and a good chunk of Ramsey Junior High.
We had many conversations, that’s what h-o-r-s-e was great at encouraging. So we discussed a lot about our respective minority statuses. I know we talked seriously about this, beliefs and traditions. Kevin loved going to powwows then and I’m sure since. There were aspects he would keep secret out of respect to the traditions. That I remember.
We did joke around a lot, oh yes, great teachers and temperamental ones and cute girls, I’m sure. We kidded one another how we must’ve looked walking around, with his height and girth contrasting with my shortest-boy-in-class status.
The neighborhood had a carpool for years — Kevin, Dana, Greg, Ceci, me and at times one or two others — our parents took turns driving.
My dad was pretty good friends with Kevin’s dad, Charlie. They saw each other generally at service club lunches.
As things always go, Kevin and I saw each other less as we moved on through high school. He wasn’t in band but did some sports, opposite for me. We had fewer classes together the older we got. There never was any falling away in the friendship or growing apart, we’d always greet one another warmly in the halls etc. It just was the way it was.
After we graduated in spring 1976, I guess we never saw each other again.
Kevin trained as an optometrist and had a practice in southern Kansas and northeast Oklahoma, retiring a year ago. Kevin’s family and tribal (Ottawa) connections were there.
Eventually we found one another on Facebook, thank God. We had a handful of private message exchanges, starting in 2010. Kevin recalled some of my birthday parties — where my folks would treat 4-5 of my buddies to burgers at Sandy’s (now Hardee’s) then tickets to a movie matinee, one year he recalled it was Point Blank. He also remembered that I wrote a silly dramatic version of Rumpelstiltskin that we performed during recess in about fourth grade (I’d forgotten about that) and a little gang we formed in third grade, the Bird Club.
Here’s what Kevin PM’d me in fall 2016:
“HI Ben! I won’t be able to come down for the [40th high school] reunion. I had thought I might this time, but I have some health problems that make it impossible. There is no time frame offered, but I am weakening a little quicker than I had hoped. I’ve had a great life and I am grateful for the happy childhood you and I shared. I enjoy seeing your posts, and I’m so proud of you. Hopefully we can message occasionally. Love you, Ben”