Most folks named Carl spell it with a “C.” Two that were especially important to me and my life were Karl’s with a “K:” Karl Otto Lange and Karl Forester. I wanted to share some of my memories about my dear lifelong friend Karl Forester.
The two of us grew up together in Harlan. My earliest memories of Karl involved playing together with him when we were around kindergarten age. We lived on the same block in Harlan, and at that age we liked to ride “scooters.” These were very simple devices that kids at that time usually rode prior to being old enough for bicycles. I recall many times going up to Karl’s home very early in the morning and pecking on his bedroom window to wake him up so that the two of us could ride our scooters all around the neighborhood. As we grew a bit older we “graduated” to bicycles, and had many grand times riding those together.
We played together daily. I still remember his phone number (1443W, my number was 1393) because I called it several times daily to talk. As with all kids, we did have some disagreements. I remember one occasion where we had been playing together and had some kind of disagreement and decided to part company. We were in the alley between Karl’s home and my home, and when we left to go our respective directions Karl had his back to me and I picked up a rock and lobbed it into the air in Karl’s direction. As luck would have it, it hit Karl smack on the top of his head, at which point he let out a shrill scream and started running home to tell his mother. Needless to say, when I reached my home my mother was waiting with a “switch” to give me a good one.
Karl and I also liked to earn money. Karl’s home was located on Clover Street on a corner lot, next to what was then called the “Teacher’s Club,” which was a building owned by the school system but not used for classes. Karl and I would purchase candy wholesale and set up a table at the corner of his house lot and sell the candy bars to those passing on the sidewalk. We actually did pretty good at this, supplementing our spending money.
Karl’s father Bill owned a men’s clothing store in Harlan called “Forester and Spillman.” When we were young kids Forester and Spillman was located in the greyhound bus building across from the post office on 1st street. The business had a storage room in the basement of the building, and Karl and I decided we would “publish” a newspaper called the “Harlan Daily Press.”
To do this we took a portable typewriter to the storage room and pecked out “news” on one sheet of paper with about four carbon copies. Because we did not have duplicating machines, we had to repeat typing the one page “newspaper” with its four carbon copies several times in order to produce the 20 or so copies that we sold on the streets of Harlan for 5 cents each. Of course what we perceived as “news” was little more than family events, and some were a bit embarrassing to family members. One story I recall was when we reported that my Uncle Estil Giles had taken a trip in his new “Buck” (what we meant was “Buick,” but we had lots of spelling failures!).
Karl and I were huge UK football and basketball fans. Of course when we were kids there was no television, and we listened to most every game on the radio. When we reached about our first year in High School, our parents agreed to let us ride the bus the Lexington, to stay in the Phoenix Hotel, and to go to a UK ballgame.
Looking back on this now, it seems impossible that they would have agreed to such a thing, but they did. I recall that Karl and I got our room in the Phoenix Hotel, and then thinking we were such “big stuff” we decided we needed to get a bottled beverage. Since I was a big kid, I was elected to go to the liquor store to get a bottle of wine. I did, and purchased a bottle of Mogen David wine. We put it in ice in our hotel room and decided we would open it to celebrate Kentucky’s victory after the game. When we arrived back in our hotel room after the game we found that the maid had been there and about half our bottle of wine was gone!
Karl and I loved to play games. We had one game that consisted of a rectangular box that had an electric light bulb in it. The game came with a bunch of “plays” that were sheets of thick paper. There were “offensive” and “defensive” plays, and each player would select one, and then these would be placed together and laid on top of the light box and then a slide pulled gradually out to reveal the results of the selected play.
Karl and I had little cards, sort of like baseball cards, that had pro football players on them and we would each have a complete set of these cards for our different teams. We would set out these cards beside the game box and thus supplement the game by having teams and players involved. We played these games for many, many hours on end.
A few years later, when Karl and I had just gotten our driver’s licenses, I remember visiting again with Karl at his Elm Street home. I was driving my 1949 Chevrolet that I had worked one summer to purchase for $300. Unfortunately, Karl and I were always looking for gas money for our cars. This particular day we needed gas money for my car and Karl suggested that we load up his mother’s clothes washer and take it to the junk yard and sell it for scrap for gas money. Keep in mind that this was a perfectly good washing machine! But sell it for scrap we did, and I do remember that Karl was grounded for many weeks thereafter!
One year when we were in high school Karl and I had gotten mad at each other over something and had not spoken to each other for several days. There was a Harlan High School football game in Middlesboro and I drove there with several friends in my 1949 Chevy, and Karl drove there with one of his friends in his parents Plymouth.
After the game, we both left driving back to Harlan. It was raining. I came upon Karl about half way to Pineville. The road between Middlesboro and Pineville was of the “three lane” type, whereby you could pass going uphills. I pulled up beside Karl going up a hill, and when he saw it was me he put his Plymouth accelerator to the floor. And, of course, I put my Chevy accelerator to the floor.
I remember seeing 96 miles per hour on my speedometer as I just passed Karl at the top of a long hill and started to pull in front of him. As I turned I could feel my car starting to slip on the wet road. Coming up the hill right in front of me in the opposite direction was a large gas truck! I barely got my car in front of Karl’s as the gas truck passed by.
I always thought that the very large kid in the center of the back seat of my car was the only thing that kept my car from sliding into the gas truck. Later that year after Karl and I were once again on friendly terms we were talking about this race. I admitted to Karl that my hands and arms were shaking so much that I had to pull over and rest after our race. Karl admitted that he had to do the same.
I fondly recall the summer in high school that I worked for my Uncle Henry Giles in his ready-mixed concrete business. I would work about 12 hours per day… It didn’t get dark in the summer until after 8 p.m. Almost every day after work I would come home, shower, and dress and Karl would come by and pick me up and we would go to the Harlan Drive-In restaurants to visit with the other high school kids. There were five drive-in restaurants in Harlan, and we would go from one to the other visiting with friends at each.
Karl’s father Bill had moved his store from the bus building on First Street to the corner of Central and Main, across the street from Howard Drug. Karl’s dad really took great interest in Karl’s grades in high school. I recall walking into Forester and Spillman one day with Karl when we had just received our report cards. Karl’s dad knew that it was report card day, and as soon as we walked into the store he asked Karl for his report card. Karl showed it to him, reluctantly. Karl had gotten one bad grade. I recall Bill’s face growing very red as he looked at the report card, after which he said to Karl, “This makes my butt crave buttermilk.” I never did know what that meant, but I always thought it was funny. Karl, not so much so.
When it came time to go to college there was never a question about where to go for Karl or for me. UK was the only choice. We had been such big UK sports fans, that the choice of college only meant UK. So in September, 1958 Karl and his father and me and my father loaded up the car and headed for Lexington. Karl and I were roommates in 106 Donovan Hall. I recall so well our parking the car beside the dorm and unloading all our gear into 106.
After our freshman year, we moved together to a rooming house on Linden Walk. And then later, we roomed together in another rooming house on Transylvania Park. One story I recall vividly during this time involved Karl having a date (don’t recall if this was Tracy or before he met her) and wanted to borrow my car, since he did not have one at that time. I agreed, and Karl was out late that night and came in and left the keys on my desk.
I and a couple other guys that were rooming at the house decided we would play a prank on Karl. The car that I had was one of those where you could take the keys out of the ignition and leave the car running (unheard of today). So the next morning we went out and started my car, left the motor running, took the keys out and locked the doors, and went back inside the house and laid the keys back on my desk where Karl had left them.
Karl was still asleep, so we woke him and said we needed to leave shortly for class. Karl got ready and we all walked outside the house and then saw my car parked in front of the house locked with the motor running! I looked at Karl and said, “My Lord Karl, you left the motor running last night when you got in!” Karl got a terrible look on his face and started immediately with the apologies. I don’t think he ever figured out that we had pulled that prank!
Another remembrance I have of Karl about that time was when we were rooming together on Linden Walk the television series “Bonanza” was very popular. It aired on Saturday night, and only one person, a fellow named Don Pierson, had a television. Don was a graduate student in psychology, and looked after the house for the owner. Every Saturday evening Karl and I along with several other of those rooming there would gather in Don’s room to watch the show. It was a special treat that everyone looked forward to each week.
When we were juniors at UK, Karl joined a fraternity. He then moved to live in the frat house and he and I lost close contact with each other for a few years. Karl and Tracy were married about this time, and I can recall visiting them in their apartment on North Broadway.
After graduating from UK with a history major, Karl and Tracy moved to Harlan and Karl started teaching school in Loyall. It was then that Harlan lawyer Gene Goss, one of Karl’s cousins, talked Karl into going back to law school at UK, and then joining him in his practice in Harlan doing a lot of “black lung” litigation. During this period of time I did not have close contact with Karl, just occasionally seeing him and Tracy when I visited Harlan.
I think it was 1988 when Karl was appointed U.S. Federal Judge by President Ronald Reagan, and Karl moved his family back to Lexington. I knew very little of his activities as a federal judge, other than what I read in the papers. Karl and I always got together at least twice a year, once on March 30, my birthday, and again on May 2, Karl’s birthday. Karl would always come over to UK to pick me up and take me out for a birthday luncheon on my birthday, and I would do the same for him on May 2. We did that for many, many years. Other than that, we would often see each other at reunions and various other get-togethers.
On March 29, 2014, I had planned to pick up a lunch for Karl, Tracy and myself and take it to his home to celebrate my birthday tomorrow. My wife Carolyn and I had just gotten back from spending the winter in Florida, and I had called and talked with Karl just about a week ago about the birthday luncheon at his home. I knew, of course, that Karl was suffering from cancer and that he was unable to get out, and wanted to not break our chain of birthday luncheons. Karl readily agreed to the plan, and said he would look forward greatly to seeing me and having our usual birthday lunch.
Tracy called me that morning at about 9 a.m. to say that Karl was non-responsive and therefore would have to cancel our luncheon today. I was so sad to hear the news. Further, she said that they were just waiting for the end. And then, at about 2 p.m. Karl’s good friend Jack Sterling called me to say that a friend of Karl’s in Harlan had called him to say that Karl had passed later that morning.
I will always remember Karl with not only the few sample stories related above, but with hundreds of others that we shared together for 74 years. I will greatly miss Karl.