There has to be a better way to hear of the passing of a dear childhood friend. My son, Jackson, texted me Wednesday night that he had gotten a tweet that "Sky died."
To Jackson and a generation of Athens residents and UGA students, he was Sky. Former Georgia Bulldog and All America tackle. Former NFL lineman. Local icon and bar owner and a fixture at UGA football and basketball games.
To me will always be Craig Hertwig, one of the best buddies I ever had growing up. We were in grade school together and Scouts. We played JV basketball together in high school, before his family moved to Macon during his ninth-grade year.
We built forts and played with army men and got in all kinds of trouble -- and after three years apart in high school, were reunited at UGA when we both moved into McWhorter Hall -- he as a football player and I as a basketball manager.
Craig's mother, Merritt, was our Cub Scout Den Mother. Listening to her talk about politics and her two "daughters with the car," Merry and Willa, was as much fun as learning to make crafts and drink Kool Aid and whatever else we did as Wolf Cubs.
Ironically, Craig was a Georgia Tech fan, because his brother, Ed, had played at Tech before transferring to South Carolina. Craig kept a Tech helmet in his bedroom -- the one his brother had worn against the Georgia Bullpups in the Thanksgiving Day Freshman Classic at Historic Grant Field. Every year Craig and I would bet a "big Co-Cola" on the outcome of the Tech-Georgia varsity game. I bought a lot of Cokes for a while, but then Vince Dooley was hired at Georgia and I was on the drinking end of the soda exchange.
Neatness was never a priority for Craig. He played hard at recess and usually came back to class with his shirt tail out and a little dirt on his face. I remember hearing our fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Betty Robertson, complaining to Craig's mama about his appearance and she told Mrs. Betty, "If you'll just teach him enough math to get in Georgia Tech, I'll worry about how Craig looks and dresses."
Craig had lived in Macon before moving to Porterdale and was the only one in our class who had been taught to say "isn't" instead of "ain't." I was delighted to learn when our paths crossed in college that he had unlearned most of his proper grammar along the way.
During our first Boy Scout encampment, at Bert Adams, Craig and I earned the ire of our Scoutmaster, Boonie Barnes, by putting out the campfire one night the way Tenderfoot Scouts have been putting out campfires for years. We had to run to the lake and back six times.
Porterdale kids were very creative and would find all sorts of ways to make our own fun during the summer. We would play marathon games of Monopoly that would last for weeks and when we would choose up sides and play army some of our battles were as drawn out as the Battle of the Bulge. Usually it was the younger kids -- mine and Craig's age -- against the older kids and we would get trounced, but one day Craig decided that we would get the high ground and win the day. The highest thing in Porterdale was the water tower -- so we climbed it. We did, indeed, win the day. It was worth the whippings we got when our parents found out.
Another time, when Craig's parents were supposedly gone for the day, we wound up in a water balloon fight against the big kids. We ran into Craig's empty house, where we thought we would be safe. Randy Digby and Steve Piper and Phil Shaw followed us right into the house -- all three throwing balloons with both hands. His parents drove up at a most inopportune time. More whippings.
His dad, Big Ed, made it up to us, though, by taking Craig and me to the first baseball game ever played in Atlanta Stadium. It was a night I will never forget.
The last time I saw Craig was in the winter. I was speaking at a church in Hart County and stopped in the Nowhere Bar to say hello. I ordered a Coke and the young bartender looked very nervous. He said, "Mister, Sky doesn't like people to wear ties in here."
"I'm glad you mentioned Sky," I told him. "That's who I'm looking for. I'm here to whip his tail."
The bartender said, "Sir, are you crazy?"
I said, "Get him in here!" So he did.
Craig came flying in the door, looking around to see who his combatant would be. When he saw me at the bar he laughed and had a Coke with me. We talked about Georgia football and old times and if I had known it would be the last time we would be together, I swear I would have thought of something better to say than, "See you soon."
Rest in peace, Craig. See you soon.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.