Mar 27, 2009

Re: Hallow's Eve

Those parties were a blast. I do regret some of my costume choices, but I had a couple of good ones. I think I made a damn good Mark Twain. I had the bushy hair and mustache ready to go.

So, it was you that gave me the flu...dayum!

The photo at the bottom shows t. durham portraying an eerily realistic Alexander Dularge As I said, I regret some of my costume choices. I think Tony and me watched C.O. about 20 times that year. His costume was a no brainer.

Then there was the party at Deb's when the old geezer next door set fire to an enormous, old stump in his backyard. The resulting blaze shot a plume of flames and sparks that drew quite a bit of attention...including the Belmont Fire department. I do remember yelling encouragement to him as he doused the the thing with gasoline. HI HO!

I think the party you infected with the Swine flu took place in Liberty (hwy 93) at the house of a guy named Raymond. I think that is where the jar of Jiff showed up too.

If we revived the party, today I would come as myself: a middle aged geezer with failing eyesight and dwindling bank account.

Nice post.

Hallow's Eve

It seems so long ago now. All our friends would plan for the evening to come, imaginations flowing like a spooky wine. It was time for the annual Halloween costume party and we would all gather at a predetermined location to drink, party and impress one another with our choice of costume.
The characters portrayed were eclectic and amazing, from the pregnant nun to Moses, Mark Twain to Jim and Tammy Baker, a Roman soldier, a pimp and his ho, the list goes on.
I don't know why we stopped having the parties – I suppose age and reason caught up with us.
I remember the first one we attended. I decided to dress as an alien, complete with a glue-on mask. As fate would have it, I was sick as a dog and needed to be home in bed but I wouldn't have missed it for the world, so I drug myself to Powdersville and tried to party with the gang. My fever was rather high and the resulting sweats had my alien mask flopping on my face after only an hour or so. In hindsight, it wasn't a great move on my part as I had the potential of making the entire party ill, but I was young.

For us, the tradition eventually died out but it did last long enough to see my brother Gary as a dog, Debbie as the Bride of Frankenstein, Tony and Larry as Paul and John, Laura as a sheep, my mom as a hooker (that one required a couple of years of therapy), Dwayne as a zombie, some chick even came as a jar of Jif peanut butter!
Sometimes I wonder what choices of costume my 50+ year old peers would choose now?

Mar 23, 2009

32 in 24 (or Bonnie Knoxville)

I'm exhausted! Worn slap down. Walking slow, thinking mo. Beat to the socks and draggin-ass.
But while my butt is waxing the floor, I am grinning from ear to ear. My jaws ache from laughter, I'm hoarse from conversation and singing and I can feel a nap coming on, although other plans will hold said nap at bay.
Laura and I just returned from the first annual Hollis Junior High School class of 1970, seventh-grade science, classroom 7A, front/center desk reunion. It was attended by two alumni and a spouse and was held just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee at the plush (well, acceptable) LaQuinta Suites at exit 398 off of I-40. You see, this was the weekend when Bonnie, my seventh grade sweetheart, and I would actually lay eyes on one-another after 32 years. After our short pants romance had ended, Bonnie and I remained friends throughout high school and up to my marriage. Then we lost touch. How would I feel seeing her after all this water over our respective dams? How would we look to one another after all the years and miles? Would this meeting be awkward and strange, and end after a short but polite lunch with half-hearted guarantees of “we'll have to plan a trip up your way”? Would she see this pudgy, bald, clean-shaven 52 year old man and take off running back to Nashville faster than you can sing “Nashville Cats-clean as country water-Nashville Cats...”?

Bonnie and I have put probably 50 hours on our phones over the past four weeks. We've talked into the wee hours about God and the devil, life and death, love and loss, triumph, tragedy, happiness and otherwise – a veritable Billy Shakespeare drama in the making. We've seen recent pictures of one another and were both pleased that we were “still home”, so to speak. These conversations built a base of trust which allowed us to take the next step of meeting in person again. And I was wanting Laura and Bonnie to meet since they shared so many common traits (both are down to earth-plain spoken women who see only black or white, are easy to love but hard to handle!)
We agreed to meet at a Cracker Barrel just across from the hotel at noon on Saturday, with the additional agreement that if either party decided to chicken out of the rendezvous, we'd each have the decency to call the other and back out gracefully.

The drive to Knoxville, through the North Carolina and Tennessee mountains, was absolutely perfect on this second day of spring 2009. The temp was in the low 50s as we made the last mountain pass and breezed past Sevierville a little ahead of schedule, leaving the clouds over the mountains behind us
Laura and I arrived first, pulling into the lot at just before noon. I called Bonnie to get her e.t.a. and chatted with her as she made the last few miles to our exit. Finally, this excited and smiling old boy saw her as she pulled in and parked, her looking all fine in her black Lexus! We were on the phone with one another when she stepped out of the car and only hung up the phone when we hugged hello. God she looked great! Her blue-green eyes shimmered in the noon-day sun as I bear hugged her and she responded in kind. At least her grip hadn't changed much over the years . Bonnie and Laura hugged and said hello and we headed into the restaurant for brunch.
I knew that our first few minutes together would have us staring at one another, studying each other with eyes steeled by tragedy and loss. And we did. After satisfying ourselves that part one of the reunion had gone over well, we ordered soup and salad and commenced reunion-ing.
After brunch, I rented a two-room suite and we settled in and continued our talks.
How do you cram 32 years of memories into 24 hours? You don't. You can't. All you can do is identify the important topics (Family, family and family), touch upon those and belch whatever comes to mind. We had in common that we'd both raised two kids, a girl and a boy so we had plenty of stories to share on that front. Sitting in the living room of the suite, Bonnie and I picked up on earlier phone conversations and completed each story – this time with the added bonus of seeing facial expressions that rose and fell with subject matter. Tears for the sad or proud moments, laughter, lot's of laughter for those moments that only parents of teenagers can grasp. By now, Laura had tired of the lane of memories we had tread and went to get a good night's rest. Bonnie and I sat on the sofa and talked and talked and talked. Then, as evening turns to night turns to early morning, the other important subjects are discussed. Music! She produced a couple of her early recordings on cassette and it was decided to go to her car and listen to these rough gems. It was good to hear her first recordings, but after listening to her latest CD I could hear when the trained, sweet voice of these early cuts became the powerful, soulful voice of the latest. It was an amazing transformation and one I'll not soon forget.
The sillies began at about 2:20 am. We discussed again our innocent past together and our resulting friendship. Then we laughed about why I had left her alone at the seventh grade dance (this stupid move on my part lead directly to the breakup...I was too shy to tell her that I couldn't dance).
At this point Bonnie starts the Lexus and drives away from the hotel parking lot, her music playing on the car stereo, her singing right along with it. We drove the 30 miles through the black Tennessee night to Gatlinburg and the high mountain peaks which rise above the small town. After driving up a long and steep road we settled on a dirt patch on the side of the mountain which overlooked the town on one side of the road and the dimly lit valley of resort homes on the other. Above, the stars twinkled brightly.
And on this chilly, beautiful early spring mountain night, this amazing woman took me by the hand, and on this dark roadside parking lot taught me a slow dance while she gently sang my favorite song of hers to me. The years melted away and for a shining, brief moment we were no longer on a Tennessee mountaintop. We were two innocent 12 year olds dancing across the gym floor at Hollis Junior High School, not looking back but looking forward. It was a moment that will be with me always, and the thought of it will always bring with it a smile.

Mar 14, 2009

A rainy day preview of Spring in South Carolina

So I ventured out today like a redneck ranger. Sitting astride my eighteen horsepower lawnmower, I headed to the bottom land and the Bauer Garden...more about this piece of Heaven on earth as the Spring unfolds. The sky was a somber gray, which, when visiting this Eden, intensifies the solitude you feel there amongst the rhododendrons, azaleas and viburnums. Yet the gloom provides the perfect light diffussion - and a few rain drops couldn't stop me. I was wearing an orange poncho to protect me from the cold drizzle falling from an obsidian sky. I was in search of the blooming deciduous magnolias visible from my back porch. I was not disappointed.

The real burst is yet to come. I'll be there to welcome her.

Mar 10, 2009

So...where've you been?

It's been over thirty-two years since I last talked with Bonnie. A chance Facebook encounter reunited us and we have spent the last couple of weeks sorta catching up.
Funny thing was, we picked up our conversation as we left it all those years ago, as if time were suspended and the intervening years were only a wisp of memories. We found that we shared many commonalities, even after veering off into different directions with our lives.
Bonnie was my 7th grade sweetheart, my first true love. We met at Hollis Junior High School (no middle schools back then) in Mrs Robinson's homeroom. She was my deskmate in homeroom, as well in as Mrs Robinson's science class. I'll never forget the first time we held hands...a boring science movie playing on the 16mm projector, a darkened room and a 2-seater desk with those little cubbyholes for your books at lap level. We both reached into the same cubbyhole at the same time and clasped hands.
I was in heaven! She had hair as long as Rapunzel, the most sparkling blue eyes I'd ever seen, and to a gangly seventh grader, she smelled real sweet. Most days after school, I would walk her home, taking the mile-long walk very leisurely and lovingly. We sometimes stopped by the Drug Store at Judson Crossing for a soda, although I seldom had money to buy anything. The romance ended, alas, with a misunderstanding - probably just as well as she and I would attend separate high schools, leading to new relationships. Although we had ended one relationship, I always felt that Bonnie was a friend. We would stil talk on the phone about new girlfriends/boyfriends, she took the time to tutor me in algebra and helped me pass that course and we kept in touch throughout high school.
Bonnie was (is) an excellent singer and, although I had never seen her actually perform, I always knew that she would excel in that area. I do remember a time when we were hanging out at her house on Virginia Avenue, circa 1974, and she informed me that she was singing in a talent show at school. Her choice of song was Roberta Flack's "First time ever I saw your face". We were in her room and she was rehearsing, the only time that I had heard her sing. I knew then that this girl had something, her voice flowing through her old home like an angel lightly touching the ground and then soaring again. I was taken with the sweet soulfullness of her voice, a controlled, emotional outpouring of love wrapped up in a song.
Fast forward 32 years.
I had often thought of Bonnie and how life had been treating her. As it turns out, a series of tragedies in the early nineties left her scarred, scared and having to be the strong one.
Our first phone conversation was polite and tender. We revisited each other's past and it was like hearing an old Sinatra album - filled with tears of sadness and joy, much laughter and sorrow, and the common bond of enduring the things that life tosses at us. One of the first things that I asked her was "recorded anything lately?", assuming that she had indeed recorded something. "I have a CD", she answered. "Please send a copy to me-and don't forget to autograph it for me please". We ended the conversation on a note of "great catching well...hope to talk again soon".
I soon found that I could not get my fill of Bonnie. She sent me her CD and I plugged it into the CD player in the car and listened to it while I drove to work.
Awesome! I soon found myself listening to it everyday - a funky blues song followed by a soft, sweet song followed by yet another bluesy number - all telling of a love for God and from God.
Next I knew we were talking everyday. Our conversations would go on for hours. And when we weren't talking by phone, we were text messaging or communicating by Facebook.
And our conversations continue. Laura and I are planning a trip to Tennessee to visit my dear friend, allowing us to cement a relationship that started so many years ago. We have so much in common, so much ground left to cover and so many things left to do together.
I am blessed, fortunate and inspired to have her fall back into my life...and I'm sure that this friendship will continue for a very,very long time.
Thanks Bonnie.

The Brandon File: The Skatin' Rink...

Of all the mill villages in Greenville County, Brandon, as far as I know, was the only one to have a combination skating rink/bowling alley. The Mill owned and operated the place and William Donehue was the manager. William ruled the "skatin' rink" with an iron fist...and a whistle that helped convey his absolute authority. One short "tweet" - you still had a chance to avoid his wrath provided you ceased whatever foolishness you were in to. One long, shrieking warble - and you were on the way to expulsion. And the expulsion could be lengthy depending on the offense. Of course, being a good little boy, and having the good fortune to live next door to William, I rarely ever felt the sting of his admonishment.

Sherry, Sherry baby Sherry,
Sherry baby Sherry,
can you come out tonight?
(come, come, come out tonight?)

Outside, kids are milling around with their skates hung around their shoulders, getting in a quick smoke before hitting the rink. "Give me a drag off that Lucky". "Get ye own." "Dayum, you got a whole pack!".

Inside, the hum of the florescent lights is barely audible over the din of eager kids lining up to rent skates or bowling shoes. A long shriek of the whistle is followed by William scolding a fat kid he spies on the approaches without said proper shoes. "I'll throw ye ass outta here"! As I said, William Donehue drew no quarter and took few prisoners. The fat kid's bad judgement is followed by stares and condemnation from the older guys. "Hey boy, am I gonna have ta stomp you"? Across the way in the rink, a pretty girl wearing bobby socks is gliding solo on the hardwood , flawlessly switching from forward to backward skating in a graceful pirouette. Soon, her performance is marred by a gaggle of R.A. kids from the local church, pushing and shoving one another; their chaperon oblivious to their roughhousing. Before long, the chaperon was in William's office getting an ear full. A few minutes later he appeared on the rink, red faced and warning his hellions of their impending doom.

The pin boys are showing up now, talking the usual nonsense about girls they didn't know and money they didn't have. "You setting up for Gazaway?" "No, I got Sorgey." "What did he roll last time?" "Bout 275". "Did he tip ye"? "50 cents". "You a lying dog"! By the time the league bowlers start to arrive the place is smelling of buttered popcorn and lane oil. Donehue is spraying the shoes with disinfectant when he spots a boy and girl in the shadows of the rest room engaged in a lip lock worthy of Bogey and Bacall. The sharp warning of the whistle is followed by, "now yall cut that stuff out! This ain't no damn hotel. Yall's mamma's know yall down here doing that?" A group of giggling mill hill girls surround the jukebox and feed in enough nickles to saturate the evening with Soldier Boy, Leader of the Pack, Down in the Boondocks and the entire Four Seasons song book - whether you like it - or not.

They called her, Rag Doll. Pretty, Rag Doll.
Such a pretty face Should be dressed in lace.

The crash of pins signify the real beginning of the evening's festivities. The league bowlers go first and they are serious. I loved to watch theses guys; the pained expression of seeing the 7-10 split, the contortions of body English, and their under the breath cursing (William allowed no outward profanity - save his own). The frivolities are shattered by Benny Sorgey yelling down lane number 1 at his pin boy who has done the unpardonable: He has pulled the string on the automatic pin sitter just as Benny had released the ball for his spare attempt. The clang of the ball hitting the metal framing brings Donehue bounding from his office with veins popping. The pin boy hunches in horror as a stream of profanity hurls toward him from up the alley (the league guys did have some latitude with William concerning their language). "I guess you won't be gittin' 50 cents tonite you dumb aice".

Going to the chapel
and we're Gonna get married

As the evening dissolves into night, activities slow and William counts up the register, readying the place to close. A small kid with a stutter sweeps the rink and cleans the bathrooms. "Wh-wh-where's the dang Pine-S-s-sol?" Two older boys sweep the lanes and apply the oil whose ever present fragrance lingers forever and always. The passionate pair that drew William's ire slink from the shadows of the rink and walk hand in hand towards West Greenville. The pin-boys rack up the pins and clean up after themselves; their alleys littered with soda bottles, uneaten nabs and dozens of Viceroys smoked down to the butts. After rolling a 263, Benny Sorgey changes his shoes, bags his 16 pound ball and leaves the building, still cursing his "worthless" pin sitter who, as predicted, went home tipless this night.

10 minutes later Donehue locks the door and chases away a teenage boy loitering outside the building."We're closed now, you can go home", William says with authoritative urgency. Cutting through the mill yard, I walk home with William and listen as he tells the story about seeing Ted Williams play baseball against the Yankees. I had heard the story many times, but I never tired of hearing him tell it; or of his trips to New York with Fred Mcabee, and their ribald post war exploits in the "apple". It was hard to imagine so much world out beyond the village.

Two hours later, homework finished, I was fast asleep and dreaming of impossible spare saves and bobby socked girls swaying to yet another song by Frankie Valli. My small slice of the world fast asleep with me.

Mar 6, 2009

Report from Molly's Rock

Like my esteemed brother-in-mallets Mr D., I'd like to take a moment to comment on the latest (and last?) of old man winter's assault.
This snowfall was supposed to be a big event here in the midlands. The weather report from Columbia on the eve of the projected storm was dire: WINTER STORM WARNING.
Columbia school officials took this warning seriously and called off the Monday school bell by Sunday evening. Alas, the expected 4" of snow never materialized. In fact, the area served by said school districts never saw a flake, due to a troth of warm air from the south. The area most affected was just north of Molly's Rock in Newberry county. While we received a ton of snowfall (and it was gorgeous!), we only saw about 1 inch on the ground, with roads as clear as a summer day. Anything north of us (Clinton, Laurens, Greenville, etc.) got a respectable amount.
Columbia parents of school kids were pissed because of the early call. Most had to lose a day's work to stay home with the non-snowbound kids. Letters to the editor of the State newspaper lambasted school officials for this meat-headed call.
Need I remind those irate parents about their previous letters to the editor of a few years ago when, after an ice storm forecast, the school board failed to call school early, which resulted in kids being on busses during the storm, which in turn resulted in accidents involving school busses, which in turn led the irate parents to lambast said school officials with the charge of incompetance.
What's a homey to do?

Mar 5, 2009

The last vestige of winter down south...

The March sun is doing its damage to Sunday's snow. By tomorrow the temps will be hitting 70 and even the protection of the Hemlock's shade won't be enough to forestall the inevitable. The little patch of snow seen here is all that's left of our unusual March "blizzard". On cue, the days are getting longer. Soon, the fragrance of honeysuckle will drift through open windows and "lightning bugs" will illuminate the balmy Summer nights. I can hardly wait.

Mar 1, 2009

Feeling a little bit like Robert Frost...

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Stopping by woods on a snowy South Carolina evening....

Update at 8PM: stopping by the refrigerator on a snowy evening too.

Update II: lights flickering...power will likely be a goner soon. 3 inches so far of heavy, wet snow. Trees (in the woods in photo above) are snapping like matchsticks under the weight of it. Oh the humanity!