December 17, 2010

Division Avenue High lunchroom buddies, separated for decades, reunite in sunny California

Don Davidson and Frank Barning in front of the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas


About a dozen years ago, Stephen Zwerling emailed me to ask if I remembered our Division Avenue High School classmate Don Davidson. He wrote that Don lived in the San Diego area and that maybe we lived near each other.

Of course I remembered Don, but memories had faded. There was the caption in the football section of the 1960 yearbook that stated, "We lost to undefeated Herricks, 12-6, with our touchdown coming as lineman Don Davidson picked up a fumble and rambled into paydirt." I had written that.

Through the years after high school, Don's name occasionally flashed before my eyes, but in an odd form. There was a baseball executive, primarily with the Atlanta Braves, named Donald Davidson. He was often quoted, but most stories mentioned that the man was four foot-one inches tall. No one who rambled for a touchdown was that size.

I was living in San Diego and was experiencing very little face-to-face contact with people from my high school days. Frankly, I yearned for it. So thanks to Zwerling, the first person my age who I met when we moved to Levittown in 1954, I grabbed a phone book. There were two or three Donald Davidsons listed.

The first Donald Davidson gave a negative answer to my question, "Are you from Levittown, New York?" I hit pay dirt with the second call, received an enthusiastic response from the real Don Davidson. "Sure I remember you, Frank. We usually sat together in the lunchroom in high school." In my yearbook, he has referred to me as "our beloved sports editor."

Within 24 hours we were reunited, meeting for breakfast. And we both knew, within minutes, that we had found something special. Here we were, 3,000 miles from Levittown, with nearly 40 years passing since we last met, and it seemed like we were back in the school cafeteria.

There was so much to talk about that we got together a few days later and then met as often as Don's busy travel schedule permitted. It did not take long to realize that we were now each other's best friend. He was the brother I never had. We not only shared being from the same town and high school. Our interests were compatible. He was also a huge sports fan, and we were on the same page politically. Also, my son and one of Don's three sons had graduated from the same high school, a year apart. I felt badly that we did not know about each other being in Southern California earlier, had lost several years of what became a great friendship.

In 2005, the Barnings moved to Las Vegas, which is about a five-hour drive from the San Diego area. My biggest regret in relocating is that Don and I were separated by distance. No more breakfasts in La Jolla down the hill from his house, no more San Diego Chargers or Padres games together, no more driving around in his slick Mercedes sports car with the top down and the Beach Boys blasting from his tape deck.

Don and I liked to cruise the coast highway which overlooks the Pacific Ocean for many of its miles in San Diego County. Nearly 25 years earlier, both of us had been captivated by the Beach Boys' songs that made California so inviting. And here we were cruising the coast that they had immortalized. Nothing said it better than Brian Wilson when he wrote:

"All over La Jolla
At Waimea Bay
Everybody's gone surfin'
Surfin' U.S.A."

Maybe we were too old to take up surfing, but two Levittown guys were living the dream promised by Wilson's lyrics. It was a heady time for Don and me. Now we get together a half dozen times a year. He loves Vegas and has been a frequent visitor. Vivian and I spent our summer vacation this year in San Diego, renting a place about 10 minutes from Don's house. Of course we chat on the phone a couple of times each week, solving the problems of the world and our favorite teams.

Our plan is to drive the coast highway all the way from San Diego, which borders on Mexico, to Canada. When we do, the Beach Boys will provide the sound track.


RoAnne said...

Very heartwarming story! Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

aahh...a mere "six degrees of separation"...I, too, was listening to the Beach Boys and dreaming of a life on a California beach! guys actually lived the life! Here's to friendship!