Category Archives: Memories

To Sail or Sink,or Drown Trying

August 4th would have been Jennifer’s birthday if cancer had not wiped away that celebration from my life. I still commemorate her by remembering her unstoppable spirit. Jennifer woke up every day and grabbed the bull rope with one hand, threw the other high above her head, and yelled, “Let’s go do life.” For Jennifer, there was only one way to live and that was to ride it to the bell. Jennifer did not become that way after learning she had cancer. She was born that way.

One September night, windows open, wind calm, total silence, I heard two bells: One, two, swift ring, ring. Only twice did it ring, one, two. Whatever was tugging on the bell-rope knew it would be understood. Two rings, loud and clear. I have ears that have always heard even the tufted feet of my Maine Coon cat as he crossed my carpeted floor, but I had never heard this sound before. But now, two bells clean, clear, and near, just outside my window. Once, twice, gone, silence. Earlier that day, we had learned that my wife’s fourteen-year battle against cancer was entering a zone of last chances. “Chemo is not working. We have nothing else to offer you at this time.” Those words will haunt me for the rest of my life, and they ring as clearly as bells in the middle of the night.

The summer of 2010 was her last generally healthy summer, but she was also in phase one trials at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Phase one trials are done with experimental drugs on people when traditional chemo treatments have failed. She took a drug that less than a dozen people had ever tried; I think the actual number was only six people before her. Jennifer would say lab rats had a better life than she did, but she said that with a big smile and a happy heart, feeling much sadder for the lab rat than herself. She also said that she knew it was unlikely that the drugs would save her life but maybe somewhere down the road and just around the bend they would save someone else’s. In this final summer, Jennifer decided against my better judgment to become part of a small crew aboard an all-wooden, 118-foot, totally wind-blown sailing ship with the appropriate name of Raw Faith. Raw Faith ( pictured above) was well known for not being seaworthy, having been rescued several times by the Coast Guard, and had come dreadfully close to descending to the bottom of the Atlantic at least once. She had been built by a man whose heart was bigger than his shipbuilding and sailing abilities, and her purpose was to take handicapped children on seafaring adventures. While I wasn’t sure how far we would make it, surer we would more likely sink than sail, Jennifer was sure we were going sailing and by god then, sail we would, or sink trying.

 

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For What They Bring.

I love old things

For what they bring

Memories of those that touched them

And now are gone.

They loved them long before

My name was known,

Then they touched me

And now are gone.

The pain wounds the heart

But I still love old things

For what they bring.

The Farm

The following is just a small part of a story I started over two years ago called Mountaintop Days. Most of the story is still here on my website but the whole story has never been told. This part popped up on the great wide web and it’s a fond memory, so I am republishing it alone. I hope you like it.

The Farm

Just south of Kane, Pennsylvania, and a little west of Johnsonburg, there was a farm that had existed in some form or other long before the Civil War and had served to hide runaway slaves and those seeking to escape the tyranny of southern plantation owners. It was protected from the east by cliffs and mountains that literally bordered the large creek that ran across the back of the farmland. The front of the farm was cleared so that a small dirt road flanked by large expanses of land led the way to the farmhouse, making it easy to see anyone approaching from the front. To the left of the house stood a barn, open on both ends, and from the back of this barn ran a secret trail that led into 512,998 acres, or 801.6 square miles, of wilderness that was the Allegheny National Forest. It is easy to imagine that anyone could escape forever into that vastness, even a modern-day fugitive, and it would also be easy to imagine that many a runaway slave became a great dinner for a bear or mountain lion, not knowing where they were going or what to be aware of how to survive. I did not intend to become dinner for anyone and especially did not want to test my survival skills. After all, I had only come here to leave West Virginia, my original destination being a warm Virginia Beach, accompanied by a bottle of tequila, a ripe lime, some salt, and a Southern belle whose closest association to a cow was the local hamburger stand. I didn’t drink much, and the Southern belle did not materialize. After all, Emily was still living in my heart. However, after bathing in a running stream or in some hot water heated over a large fireplace, I must say the thought of ocean water and the warmth of my original plan sounded good.

But here I was on a farm probably 300 years old by 1968 that had been a refuge for so many seeking survival, seeking freedom, and seeking peace. It was now welcoming me into the fold of their attempted sanity away from a world rapidly losing its mind.

The farm was now home to an artists’ commune composed of writers, musicians, painters, and all manner of less-than-mainstream-conformist pacifists, a few inhabitants having been there since its inception in the early 1950’s. Legend has it that Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac had actually stayed there, Kerouac just before On the Road was published in 1951. Imagine what a heady experience it was for a young man like me to be there, on the road and out to change the world, with hopes of becoming not the next Jack Kerouac, but more, oh so much more. Jack had shown the way, and I was going to find new roads and bring the world to a new place. Yes, I was!

My days on this farm would be short but colored beautifully and forever by the changing leaves and the mountains ablaze with the kaleidoscope of fall and by a woman named Alice. Alice was an intensely gifted artist who made the mountains come alive on canvas and who had a talking parrot that loved to repeat only the words her ex-husband had taught it just before he left her: “Fuck you, Alice.”

 

People Like You, Country Music Fans.

A lot of you already know I am a songs lyric person, it could be country, country rock, rock and on an on, I love lyrics so I had to look up Hailey Whitters to see who she is after listening to this song that someone suggested I should hear, so I did and I really like the lyrics, still not sure why someone wanted me to hear it 😉. I don’t listen to a lot of radio anymore, I’ll not go into all the reasons why, but I don’t. However, I probably miss a little and some of you may already be aware of this song and Hailey. There isn’t much I have found in my research so far, but country music fans will find this interesting Whitters released her debut full-length album in 2015 titled Black Sheep. Whitters co-wrote Little Big Town’s song “Happy People”, from their 2017 album The Breaker. Song, “People Like You”

 

 

Memories

I’ve had a theory for a long time that as years pass and we look back on our personal history and at the people and events that have come and gone in our lives, we develop something I call compressed remembrance. It’s a feeling that something that occurred many years before happened only yesterday. Time collapses and years become weeks, weeks become days, and days seem like only hours.

On Friday, November 22, 1963, I was in history class, and it seems surreal that I would have been in history class on a date that will be read about for hundreds of years. I have no idea what I was thinking about before the news was delivered to the classroom. I probably had my mind on the upcoming Thanksgiving football game and practice after class. I’m sure I was not listening to Mrs. Loffler drone on about the Magna Carta or the Louisiana Purchase. I don’t remember the names of most of my high school teachers and fewer names of my college professors, but I remember Mrs. Loffler because she was there that day. That was the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  I can still hear how her voice changed as she gave some brief explanation and told us that school would be ending early.  I remember feeling very detached from whatever new reality was taking place and annoyed that whatever this event was had suddenly disrupted my well-planned afternoon and weekend.

Quickly now it’s 21 years later, November 23, 1984. I’m no longer living on Staten Island, a naive teenager dreaming of gridiron glory. I’ve resisted a war, lived in the mountains of West Virginia, and been to prison. I’m back in radio and living in Boston. The Boston College Eagles are playing the University of Miami. There are 28 seconds left in the game, and Miami is leading 45 to 40 when some too-small-to-play quarterback guy named Doug Flutie dropped back and let what became known as the “Hail Mary” touchdown pass take flight. It traveled 48 yards, taking what seemed like forever to go that distance and reach its target, Gerard Phelan, and gave the football Eagles a 47-45 victory. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Fast forward. It’s now 2017, and I am watching what will be remembered as the greatest Super Bowl ever played. My granddaughter is about to become the same age I was on November 22, 1962: Sixteen, a magical age full of hopes and dreams but also fear. She was born into a time when the world seems to teeter constantly on the brink of disaster. I’m watching a man named Tom Brady who is leading the New England Patriots to a mind-blowing come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons. No team in history has ever come from 21 points behind to win a Super Bowl, but in the last quarter New England tied the game and went on to win in the first Super Bowl overtime in history. I saw people laughing and cheering and watched, even if only for a twinkling, the cares and troubles of their everyday lives dissolve away. I was proud of my city of Boston as they danced in the streets, not one-act of violence and no arrests. I have a few more years to keep that memory.

We live in a world where smiles and good times are difficult to come by, and we don’t have many years in a lifetime to make memories. I read somewhere that someday we will only be a memory to someone, and we should do our best to make sure it’s a good one. Trust me, I’m dancing as fast as I can.