Homecoming

 

 

 

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Homecoming, graphite and colored pencil (in progress).

 

1989

I took a trip to visit a gallery in Wilmington, Delaware to show my dealer new work and discuss an upcoming show.  I sidetracked to visit a grad school friend and didn’t return home until sunset.  My wife Judy and daughter Annie happened to be outside when I pulled in.  Annie was about 18 months old.

She had fine golden brown hair, and the setting sun crowned her with a shimmering halo as she ran to greet me.  I knelt down, swept her into my arms and carried her back to Judy.

Judy always said that our girl was happy when she was with either of her parents, but loved having all three of us together.  Then all was well in her world.

Alan came along in 1990.  He was a happy baby who smiled and cooed when he woke up from a nap.  He began to explore as soon as he could crawl.  We would put him on the carpet in the living room while we ate supper, and after five or ten minutes I’d get up to find him in the bathroom.  He liked to lay under the sink and stare up at the shiny pipes.

1992

We bought a house in Winter Park in a working class neighborhood.  We’d been living in a tiny rental house in an iffy neighborhood on the south side of Orlando.  Judy and I gave the kids a tour, showed them their bedroom and an addition at the back designated as their play room.  They both looked excited as if they had discovered possibilities for new adventures, and Alan began to run from one end of the house to the other.  He had so much more space now and wanted to extend himself back and forth across it.

A few years later we took Annie and Alan out for a treat. Annie had recently turned six and had just performed in her first dance recital.  A drug store near an Italian ice stand sold toys, so we bought the kids ice cream and little stuffed animals.  Alan chose a panda bear,  and that night he held it tightly in his hand as he fell asleep.

1991

Judy and I slumped exhausted after a long day.  Annie chattered and chased fire flies. Alan, who was teething at the time, sat on a blanket on our front lawn.  He kept crawling to the edge to search for something to stick in his mouth, and I kept vigilant watch to prevent him from gnawing on a twig or a stray piece of gravel.

A fiftyish woman and her husband passed by on their evening stroll. We didn’t know them and exchanged perfunctory greetings.  Folks in the neighborhood held back from getting acquainted as the four of us lived in a rental in a college town–we wouldn’t be there for long.  The couple nearly reached the next yard, but the woman turned back to study our little family.  Her expression turned rueful, perhaps bitter, and she said, “Some day you’re going to look back and realize that these are the best days of your lives.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Those Were The Days

 

When I was a kid in the early seventies a song came out called, “Those Were the Days, My Friend”, a nostalgic tune about the passing of youth set to a gypsy arrangement.  My sister Carla and I loved it even though we were too young to have any clue about how it felt to look back and remember the good old days.

I’m old enough now.

I’m also old enough to remember that the 70s were tough for our family.  My Dad got laid off from a manufacturing job in 1975 around Thanksgiving.  Our town went rust belt within a few years, unemployment surged, and the downtown area slowly died as businesses and shops closed.  Folks looked further afield for jobs, and many moved to Texas and Florida.

But I sometimes long to spend one more Friday night at home in 1972, a few years before the economic tsunami hit.  My Dad and Mom would sometimes throw a fish fry, Dad deep-frying perch, bluegills and crappies in pancake batter, Mom making a huge skillet of fried potatoes and onions.  The Hoelschers, my Dad’s sister’s family, might come over for the meal, and it would turn into a celebration.  Dad and Uncle Louie would guzzle beers, Mom and Aunt Mary would gossip about family, and the kids would trade stories about school and play touch football in the front yard.

DSC_0242 (2) Fishing with Jim and Johnny Hoelscher.

Or maybe my family would eat a simple meal of scrambled eggs, potatoes and salad–no visitors.  After washing the dishes, we kids would sit on the living room rug and watch “The Rockford Files” and “The Carol Burnett Show”.  First we’d learn about the evil adults could perpetrate on each other (Con artists and corporations conspired to bilk innocent young women.  A cynical, but warm-hearted detective solved their problems by getting beat up once or twice and driving around town in a muscle car.). And then we’d laugh at silly spoofs (“Jaws” became a skit about plumbers; Carol flushed the Tidy Bowl man when he tried to sing to her from a rowboat floating in a toilet tank).  Mom would make popcorn, and we’d ask for a glass of Coke if the weekly supply, one six-pack, hadn’t already run too low.

Sometimes I spent the evening in my bedroom reading books such as “The Northwest Passage” by Kenneth Roberts.  My sister would play her 45s on her monophonic record player she’d gotten as a discard from our Uncle Bill.  Or she’d snap on her handy transistor radio and listen to Simon and Garfunkel, Bobby Sherman (Julie, Julie), the Beatles, Jim Croce (If I Could Save Time in a Bottle), Jim Stafford (I Don’t like Spiders and Snakes).

If my Dad had some extra cash, we might drive down to Cincinnati to catch a Reds ballgame at Riverfront Stadium.  If we arrived early, we’d park at the stadium and walk downtown to catch a meal at a restaurant.  We’d pass vendors near the ballpark hawking bags of warm peanuts (fresh roasted in metal drums there on the sidewalk) and Reds pennants.  At the game we’d see Johnny Bench in action behind the plate.  Tony Perez played third, Pete Rose right field,  and Lee May first base.  The team wasn’t as good as the mid 70s Big Red Machine (with George Foster, Joe Morgan, David Concepcion bolstering the roster), but the stars of the earlier team could be dominant.  I remember seeing Atlanta’s Hank Aaron smoke a line drive out of the park with the mere flick of a bat.  Juan Marichal, the great Giant’s pitcher, high-kicked, cork-screwed and threw the ball overhand and side arm.  He toyed with the hitters, humiliated them, owned the mound.

If my parents went out on a Friday night, my brother and I wrestled on the living room carpet, played “rug football” in the hall, or played “jump off the throw rug in time or land on your butt”.  We’d also boxed a bit, pulling our punches most of the time.  In other words, we engaged in rough housing that my Mother strictly forbade.  My sister sometimes caught the action in black and white on her Instamatic camera.  I can’t remember if she ever threatened to blackmail us, but she had the goods.

DSC_0241 (2)   Wrasslin’

 

The times were much simpler.  We had one rotary phone, a black and white TV, no dishwasher, no microwave, no air conditioning, no video games, no internet, no movies on demand.  We passed the time by playing cards and board games, watching bad movies on the four channels available to us (Elvis’s Blue Hawaii, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin westerns),  and telling stories about family history (Aunt Margaret discovered that her husband was a cheat.  He tried to hit on one of her sisters-in-law as she walked to work.  Aunt Mary had a long affair with a married man.  Grampa tipped outhouses on Halloween nights when he was a boy.)  We read magazines, newspapers and books.

I don’t remember being bored, and while we didn’t have the happiest household, we had many days of contentment.  But all nostalgia comes from a sense of loss, and I think that mine stems from a desire to return to a time when I had few responsibilities and worries, when my step was springy and my mind worked with greater clarity and curiosity.  And, of course, to times before I fully understood that loss and grief are our inevitable companions as we grow older.

“Those were the days, my friend.

 We thought they’d never end.

We’d sing and dance forever and a day.

We’d live the life we’d choose, we’d fight and never lose.

Yes we were young and sure to have our way.”