I have to smirk, then the delayed laugh, whenever I think back to Martin.

Martin was this German kid my two older brothers befriended in shop class at Benson Tech back in the early 1970s. A devout Tech man with a tuft of blond hair atop his head and really blue eyes, Martin was a happy and carefree sort who never let things bother him much. Some people assumed that Martin was a wise guy because he always had a smile on his face. No matter what the occasion, no matter what the mood, there was always that smile. It wasn’t a smirk. It was much more sincere than that, part of a permanent work. Martin didn't have an overbite or an underbite, just a perpetual smile that no orthodontist would ever want to tamper with. Whatever makes people un-smile, Martin never went that route.

Martin's had a philosophy of life that was quite simple. It was based on what he felt were the five elemental stages of life, all having to do with transport.

First you ride a tricycle. Then you ride a bicycle. Then you drive a car. Then you fly an airplane. And then you fly in a jet pack.

“Some people just never get out of the bicycle stage,” Martin lamented with a smile, or smiled with a lament.

One Saturday afternoon, my brother Jerry was over at Martin's house. Martin was taking him on a tour of the place, the German knickknacks, cowbells and beer steins displayed everywhere like a stroll through the Black Forest. Martin led Jerry down the hallway and pointed out the family photos hanging on the wall. Martin then pointed to his parents’ room and a photo of his father from World War II that hung there. But this World War II photo was different, something my brother Jerry had never seen before. Martin's father was, well, on the other side of that conflict. There he was in full Nazi military uniform.

My brother nervously looked around, up and down the hallway and turned to Martin and quietly asked him where his father was. As with everything, Martin smiled and nonchalantly added, “He isn't here right now. He's visiting some old war buddies down in Argentina.”

My mom told Jerry, “Don't ever mention that to your father.”

And Jerry responded, “Well, I already did.”

“And what did he say?” my mom asked.

“He laughed and asked, ‘So where do you meet all these knuckleheads anyway?’ He also said that he should have sent me to Central Catholic.”

The last time I saw Martin, he put his hand on my shoulder and nonchalantly said to me, “If someday you become a famous artist, don’t worry, I won’t forget you.” And something tells me he really meant it.

Van der Hout, a graduate of All Saints School, lives in Southeast Portland.