When my freshman year at Conroe High began in August 1974, I’d turned 13 just six months earlier — really young for a kid starting high school, especially one as nerdy, naive and introverted as I was. Thanks to my adoptive parents and Mr. Schaefer, the principal at St. Matthew Lutheran School in Houston — who decided weeks after I started kindergarten in 1966 that I didn’t need to waste a year taking naps and learning basics I already knew — I’d been bumped to first grade at age 5.
As a result, I went through school being a year or more younger than all of my friends and classmates, but it never really felt that way. Most of my friends thought I was mature for “our age” and never even knew I was younger than they were. And although I gradually came out of my shell in high school, I was still a pretty quiet kid.
I don’t remember exactly when I met Mark Stevens, but it may have been the first day of freshman year. This was 48 years ago, so forgive my feeble memory, but it seems like if you got to school early, you were supposed to go to the cafeteria and wait for the bell to ring to go to homeroom. The Conroe High freshmen were exiled to an annex across the street from the main campus.
After our family moved from Houston to Oak Ridge North in southern Montgomery County halfway through my sixth-grade year in December 1971, my seventh-grade brother Isaac and I became public-school students for the first time. Let’s just say that because of the shy, bookish kid I was, my experience at Booker T. Washington Jr. High wasn’t the most memorable. I was bullied — a lot. But I made some friends along the way and didn’t arrive at high school not knowing anyone.
But I remember Mark, whose family had just moved to Conroe from Louisiana, being the first new friend I made at CHS. I’m almost sure we met in one of those loud early-morning cafeteria gatherings, and there was another kid named Steve Hammack whom we hung out with too. The three of us were similarly nerdish — meaning we all liked Star Trek, sci-fi in general, and had a hard time getting words out around girls.
Mark and I became fast friends, although it was confined to school because my strict, abusive mother Olga didn’t allow Isaac and me to do anything social. If memory serves, Mark and I only had a couple of classes together in high school — I remember Trigonometry our senior year and, I believe, Biology our sophomore year. Maybe there was another, Mark?
After we graduated in 1978, Mark and another CHS friend, Mike Vaughn, went to Texas A&M and were roomies in a mobile home park in Bryan. I’d also hoped to go to A&M that year, but Mom thought (wrongly) that, since I’d just turned 17 three months before graduation, I was too young to go away to college.
So I spent a year at North Harris County College and worked as a stocker/sacker at Rice Food Market not far from home, then made my way in fall 1979 to A&M, where I lived in a dorm, Moore Hall, all four years. Mark and I got together on occasion to go to movies — including, of course, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” when it came out in early December ’79.
Not long after I arrived at A&M, at a showing of the “Superman” movie with Christopher Reeve on campus, Mark introduced me to Beverly Hughes, a good friend of his who was a senior at Bryan High and lived in the same mobile home park with her mother and stepfather. That was a fortuitous meeting, because Beverly is still a dear friend of mine all these years later.
And 48 years after we met in the fall of ’74 — although we haven’t managed to see each other in person in a little over 30, despite trying mightily to arrange a get-together — Mark and I are also still inseparable friends. He has a wonderful wife, Carole, whom he met at A&M, and they have three grown kids.
Two days before Thanksgiving, we finally cast eyes on each other when we visited on a 40-minute Zoom call. We had a fantastic time catching up on each other’s families, livelihoods, health and other topics. It was so cool to see him after so long.
One thing about Mark: He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. He’s adept at cracking wise, making jokes and loves a good pun. His Facebook posts, many of which feature plays on words, are often epic. He’s the king of meme-posting.
Mark is also incredibly smart and creative, and in more recent years, he’s been putting one of his many talents to great use: Painting. Whenever I see one of his pieces, I’m overwhelmingly impressed. He’s a remarkable painter, as you can see from a couple of his works that I’m including with this post.
At A&M, Mark and Carole met while members of a group called Cepheid Variable, devoted to all things science fiction, fantasy, horror, science, and technology (straight from the A&M website). They were also involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international group that studies and engages in re-creations of medieval-era culture. I remember Mark and Carole taking me to an SCA party once — let’s just say I felt a bit out of place, lol. They love going to Renaissance festivals.
I don’t have another friend like Mark, and I wouldn’t trade his friendship for anything. Thanks for the 48 years, Mark — let’s shoot for another, say, 30 or so? But let’s definitely get together sooner than another 30 years. 😄