In high school, I knew a tall drink of water named Earl Reisel. Earl and I were part of a group of about 10 or 11 kids who were absolutely inseparable. In those days, students were "grouped," or separated according to ability, so that in all of our academic classes -- English, math, science and history -- we spent day after day, for four whole years, with the same close-knit group. We were closer than brothers and sisters.
Earl stood out in the group because of three things. To begin with, he was 6-foot-4-inches tall at a time when the average height was about 5-9.
Secondly, he had an inquiring mind.
And third, Earl Reisel saw life as a great adventure, one he could hardly wait to begin.
I've never seen anyone dive into things the way Earl did. First there was fishing, then there was ham radio, then came long distance hiking, then something else.
It just seemed as though he could not get enough of life; he lived every day to the fullest.
I don't honestly know when he slept.
Earl's folks lived right on the Niantic River, and he owned a 21-foot sailboat that he had named the Karakal after the mountain in James Hilton's wonderful book "Lost Horizon."
He used to dream of going to India, Nepal and Tibet. Sometimes he talked of nothing else. I think my own wanderlust, which I spent 21 years in the Air Force satisfying, was born listening to Earl.
He and I, and others in our group, used to sail the Karakal up and down the Niantic River, out into the bay, and along the coast.
The days we spent on that little craft, sailing before a stiff breeze, with salt spray splashing over the bow and bright sunlight flashing off the deep blue waters of the Atlantic were some of the best I've ever known.
After we graduated from high school, Earl went off -- as we all knew he would -- on a full scholarship to Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The next summer we got together. (It was the last summer I spent at home for a few years because the Korean War came along and my Air National Guard squadron was called up.)
As always, all 6-foot-4 inches of Earl were just bubbling over with enthusiasm, partly for what he was learning in school, and partly because he was hot on the prospect of buying, refitting, and sailing around the world on a 57-foot steel-hulled sailing vessel.
Then, for me, came three years of military life during which I didn't see Earl or hear from him, and being a typical young man in his 20s, I went about living my life in the unconcerned way that young men do. At the end of those three years, I came home and got in contact with as many of the old gang as I could. But not with Earl.
I met John Sharp, another of the old gang, and he told me a story that still puzzles and troubles me.
He said that Earl had dropped out of school in his third year and literally disappeared off the face of the earth.
Then, by some accident I don't recall, and just about the time I was spending a year in Iceland, John discovered that Earl was in Chicago.
We were all close enough so that he grabbed a train and went straight out there to find him. Earl was washing dishes in a restaurant and living in a flophouse.
He was dressed in filthy rags, refused to give any explanation for what was going on, and would not leave Chicago, though John argued long and mightily for him to come home.
Our 50th school reunion occurred a while back. I couldn't go, but I did use the opportunity to contact as many of the old crowd as I could.
One thing I did was to query an old friend who was in charge of the reunion committee.
I asked him what he knew about Earl.
Here's his reply: "His family asks that if you find out anything about what happened to Earl, please let them know."
What sadness a few words can convey.
What a terrible sense of loss. How can a story that had such a bright, promising, wonder-filled beginning have no end?
Worse still, how many stories like that are out there walking the back alleys of this old world of ours? Too many, I'll bet. Too doggone many.