He lived just down the gravel road a bit, a mile or two. If you pulled out of our little farm driveway and took a left, you'd motor on past Howard and Lorraine's, Nelson and Grace's, Morris and Dorothy's.

There's where he lived, right up there on the right. That was John and Esther's place there, behind that little grove of trees. Yep, that's where John and Esther and the boys lived back in the day.

They were more than just farmers, they were more than just neighbors. They were friends and in a very real sense, family. We visited warmly and often. John and Esther's boys were boys I grew up with, laughed with, got into a little, uh...mischief with, shared secrets with and maybe even cried with a time or two.

For the 17+ years I lived there, they did too, just down that dusty gravel road. Me and them boys went to the little two-room school in town, then off to that bigger school in that bigger town. We all went to that little church together, every Sunday. We sat right over here, and they sat right over there. It was the same week after week after week.

Growing Up Leota: Mayberry By Another Name

There's a comfort in the sameness of a small town. Call it a rut if you want. I call it family.

And then the years intrude, the clock and calendar comes knocking at the door and sweep us into another age, another decade or five and before you know it, the wrinkles that belonged to my Dad and to John and the others now live on my hands, my face.

And we look around, and they're gone. Dad, Mom, Howard, Lorraine, Nelson, Grace, Morris, Dorothy. All those neighbors....no, friends and family...are gone.

And now, I say goodbye to John. I saw that John passed away, not a young man, but a man that was an important part of my life, my (as they say) formative years. I didn't realize it at the time, but John was a friend of mine, even as he was 'older' and I was just a small town farm kid that played with his kids. I lost a friend, a friend who lived a great life and was loved, not only by his personal family, but by the family that was all of us around Leota and beyond.

So, perhaps selfishly, I think back about John and smile, laugh and remember. I was lucky to have John in my life, and I hope you have a 'John' in your life too.

If you do, you're blessed.

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