Getting old is like keeping an antique car running. It’s a
constant effort to replace worn parts, some of which are no longer available,
and tinker with the parts you can’t replace, and put up with the creaking and
inflexibility of the parts you can’t reach. Someone told me this week ankles
are now included in the list of parts that can be replaced. I don’t need one,
but its nice to know, along with shock absorbers (knees) and oil pumps
(hearts), we now can buy new u-joints (ankles).
A few decades ago, when I was in the U.S. Navy, I was a crewmember in a P-3 Orion patrol plane. One of my jobs, it turned out, was to talk with Santa via radio. Let me explain.
Mother often said if you really want to compliment the cook, clean your plate. Don’t just say it was good, then eat only one helping. I am clear proof that I took my filial duties seriously, and complimented her sincerely at every opportunity. Especially at Thanksgiving.
“Every couple of weeks, I get to write about a performance at the playhouse. Plays such as “Driving Miss Daisy” and, this week, “Mamma Mia.”
Classmates wrote in my high school yearbook I was most likely to become a social worker. I don’t why they thought that.
It used to be if the phone rang, which wasn’t often, we answered. That was before Caller ID and telemarketers.
Now the phone rings constantly, especially during dinner and those evening television shows I like to watch. And the only thing Caller ID does is tell me whether to answer the phone or just let it keep ringing. Some calls display numbers beginning with “800-“ while others report titles like “Friendswood, TX” and “Platinum Reward.” One day this week, the phone rang and the display reported “Adams County.” We answered because we live here – to hear a recorded pitch about interest rates.
There was a time when I could go through my detailed phone bill and look up each number I called to find out who I tried to talk with. All I needed was an Internet connection to my phone company, enter the number, and get back the name of the person who owned it. Not anymore.
Now I search the number and get pages of advertisements for companies who report knowing the information, and offering to charge $10 or more to share it.
I wonder where Johnny Tracy is today. He came to mind Sunday when, at the Totem Pole Playhouse production of “I Love a Piano,” there stood an antique upright at the front of the stage, just like the one – or close enough – Johnny Tracy used to play at Roosevelt Grammar School.
That was the two-room schoolhouse where I spent my early years of more or less formal education, from Fourth through Eighth Grade. It was where Emma Hargreaves made hot lunch every day, where I fell in fourth-grade love with a cute red-haired girl who gave no sign she was aware of my existence, smoked my first cigarette (which didn’t work out nearly as well as when other guys did it) and learned to love Rock-and-Roll music, the latter thanks mostly to Johnny Tracy.
The eldest granddaughter graduated from college Saturday, first in her familial generation to be so accomplished. Even the gods were joyful, judging from the graduation eve celebration and fireworks. The rain started Friday evening as the celestial band tuned up, beginning with a soft breeze and a few drops, growing rapidly progressively windier and wetter with each hour. Then suddenly, amid the cloud-to-cloud arcing, the lights went out, as though one of the young gods, overcome with his own revelry, had stumbled into the switch.
Nearly fifty years ago, my son entered our world – screaming, probably because he was not holding a glass of Knob Creek in his fist. He and we survived his growing up, though there were times we wondered whether he or we actually would pull it off.
The thing I remember most about Christmas was Dad waking us kids up with his shooting at Santa:
“Wait! Stop! DON’T GO! My kids want to meet you.”
We met Grady at a doctor’s office in February 2007. He was homeless, effusively friendly, and eager to see us. We invited him home. It doesn’t seem that long ago.
The day we met, the doctor took the stitches out from having surgically removed the collar that had grown into his neck. It was most of a year before he’d not make a puddle on the floor when someone new came to the door.
“The sky is falling!” That’s the cry around my home whenever the rain or snow comes down upon us. Tuesday afternoon, the sky was falling in a great white cloud of snow. Fifteen minutes after it began, it was over, leaving white patches on the still-green grass where the ground was a little colder than other places.
The mini-blizzard lasted long enough for a little girl whose home I passed on the way home to put on her coat with the hood and dash outside. She jumped off the porch to the sidewalk and, tilting her head up with her tongue out as far as it would stretch, started catching snowflakes.
The previous night’s snow had coated the forest with foot-deep powder, silencing the footsteps of the three hunters – my brother and I and our father, in the annual quest for a Christmas tree. It was like being in a sound-proofed studio – that weird, echoless sensation of walking alone in an enchanted world.
“Look at this one, Daddy,” my brother exclaimed.
“Shake the snow off it and let’s see,” the elder replied.
The day I quit tobacco was sunny and warm. Beyond that, I remember only that it was the summer that Travel Partner No. 2 and I were still dating.
I tried cigarettes when I was in about seventh or eighth grade. I swiped some from Dad’s supply. A few of us slipped off down a trail behind the two-room school house and tried to impress each other with our hoped-for manhood. If inhaling Dad’s Marlboros was a ticket to manhood, I was doomed to stay with Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.
A few years later, I was in the Navy. Cigars – especially big, fat, Bering Plazas, seemed cool and, along with my mustache, they made me look older. Sandy, a.k.a. Travel Partner No. 1, was two years older than I, and would become visibly unhappy when she got carded in some nice wine-and-dine establishments, while I, at 19, was never questioned.
Gettysburg, in west-central Adams County, Pa. takes pride in being “the most famous small town in the world.” It is slightly more than one and-a-half square miles, and has 16 traffic lights within its boundary.[pullquote]“Then she looked up.
At the green light.”[/pullquote]
There are a few more traffic lights in the county, most to the east of the borough, a couple to the north – but none to the west (not counting the light on U.S.30 northwest of the borough. That is about to change. A traffic light is planned for installation in Hamiltonban Township, barely across the town line at the west edge of the tiny borough of Fairfield.
Granddaughter Kass has a school project involving me supplying pictures from experiences of my younger self. One image she chose was my first wife and a 1954 Ford Ranch Wagon.
[pullquote]His test, his rules. My second try was a success.[/pullquote]That station wagon was pretty terrific. It had a three-on-the-tree shifter, and ran fine if one didn’t count that it burned more oil than gasoline. We and that car went places, many of which were night runs to the Ponte Vedra dunes south of Jacksonville Beach – before people with money bought up the land and erected Don’t Even Think About Walking On Our Sand signs.
Fishing season opened this weekend past. I did not go, for several reasons unnecessary to list here, but the day did pull out images of fishing seasons of my youth.
Being a boy with little patience for sitting still for long hours, I spent most of my fishing time alone with a homemade spooning rig or a spinning rod and reel set and store-bought lures. Dad, was more into dragging a two-inch piece of silver metal wrapped partially around a strip of mother-of-pearl.
He would go out for hours, trolling – the 5.5 hp Chris Craft Challenger outboard barely ticking over, keeping the boat moving just fast enough to steer as he navigated the triangular circuit, from our house to a curve in the far southern shore, to the island at the north end of the lake and back nearly home.
Part of Granddaughter Kass’s assignment for her World War Two class was I had to write a short memoir about an experience from my Navy career. (Remind me sometime to explain how MY assignment for HER class …)
It is sometimes difficult to sort the dissonance of which my Navy career memories are woven – separating the fun I had traveling the world from the events that made such travels possible. Without war, I likely would not have seen Hong Kong or Japan or the beaches of Nice and Torremolinos … or Bangkok or U-Tapao, Thailand.
Several years ago, a friend with whom I often went wandering called me to meet her behind Lake Auburn. She said she had found something in which she thought I’d be interested.
[pullquote]When that trapper’s nearest neighbor was miles downstream, his sewer arrangement worked.[/pullquote]At the appointed day and time, we met and headed into the woods. About a half-mile, more or less, into the woods, she stopped and pointed. There beside a swiftly running stream was a rock foundation, the remains of the home of some long ago settler. It clearly was a two-room abode, built beside a stream. The log sides and roof were long gone.
We talked some of how many people could have lived in the structure, and why they chose that spot to live. We decided the resident likely was a trapper, who selected the site for its proximity to running water.
“What’s that about,” my friend asked of the smaller room.
I am sitting in the living room, reading a book and watching the news, when the doorbell rings. Almost immediately, the door swings in, followed closely by an excited little girl.
“Papa John! Papa John!”
Right here in the story I could leave the reader with the notion that Papa John’s the most important person, but actually I was just the first person in view. And when you’re excited and have to tell a grownup something important …
“Papa John,” she cried out.. “I can ride my bike-without-training-wheels! Come see me ride my bike-without-training-wheels.” Continue reading