Monday, April 8, 2013

Last Thoughts About JD

JD Sparks, my friend of 30 years, passed away a few weeks ago. Last weekend was his memorial. Everyone got a chance to share some stories. I was especially grateful to meet many of JD's family and other friends, and hear what they had to say.

Here are a few stories about my friend.

I met JD in 9th grade, in a shop class of all places. Back then, he went by Jay. He, Monte (the other kid I met in shop class who liked D&D) and I spent a lot of time in class not paying attention. Instead, we goofed off and played games, like one called Global Thermonuclear Destruction on a map JD had drawn on graph paper. We used the 6 sides of No. 2 Lead Pencils for our dice, possibly also JD’s invention. A much better way to pass the hour than listening to our teacher explain how to sand wood and rivet leather.

The three of us soon moved on to the good stuff--Dungeons & Dragons! In one of our first games (played in my parent’s basement of course), JD’s character gained a –1 penalty to his attacks. He decided that meant that he should act unpredictably. At a bridge over an endless abyss, his character pushed mine over the edge, exclaiming, "I'm cursed!" Though JD went on to become one of the strongest gamemasters I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with, the “I’m cursed!” story remains one of my favorites.

Our group of goof-off D&D players soon grew to include myself, JD, Monte Cook, Richard Bue, Bob Baxter, and Bret Holien. We called ourselves the Hong Kong Cavaliers (and still do). Back in high school when we weren’t playing D&D or some other RPG, spending quarters at the arcade, or reading comic books, we were doing a school-sponsored forensic activity. That meant debate, and for JD and myself, Oratory.

Oratory required that you write an 8 minute speech each year, memorize it, then practice it so well that you could give it like a pro. By our senior year, JD and I traded top places across South Dakota and western Minnesota each weekend. JD could recite from memory the beginning few paragraphs of all our strongest competitors’ orations. And he could still do so TO THIS DAY.

(Bob Baxter and I were debate partners, and we ended up winning the SD state debate tournament our senior year, but that's another story.)

We Hong Kong Cavaliers remained friends all this time, and in the 30 years since I became friends with JD, I’ve gotten to hang out with him several times even though we've never lived in the same state since High School. Last year I organized a semi-regular D&D game with JD and the rest of the Hong Kong Cavaliers thanks to the magic of Google Hangouts. We all got to laugh as, once more, as JD “put up his defenses!” This time around, though, I was the gamemaster, so JD didn’t get a chance to push my character off any high ledges.

Even more often than we played D&D, JD, Torah Cottrill, and I played online video games over the last several years, especially City of Heroes and Guild Wars 2. JD loved those games, and sometimes we ended up in one of those imaginary lands two or even three times a week. If you had a question about how to craft a sword, where to find the best quests, or where the toughest levels were, JD knew it. And he also was such a gracious friend that he got joy out of stocking the guild vault with goodies that the rest of us could use.

JD was a giving, loving, and talented man. I haven’t even touched on his amazing artistic talent, though Torah and I have several of his pieces framed in our home. Whenever I see them, I think of him. He made the world a better place for the 45 years he was part of it. He touched all of us with his art, his humor and wit, and the way he managed to keep a positive attitude when all the world sometimes seemed against him.

He will be missed more than I can say.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It's amazing that so many of the Hong Kong Cavaliers were able to turn their childhood love of games and D&D in particular into careers.

What wonderful memories all of you must share. I'm sorry for your loss, Bruce.