Friday, July 24, 2020

Rolling Rolling Rolling ...

The Cut River Bridge
About 1986, I nearly lost a brand new Bronco II into a ravine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. While living in a house across the road from campus at Michigan State University, my housemates and I made a road trip up north. Somewhere along U.S. 2, west of the Mackinac Bridge, we spotted a roadside park on the shore of Lake Michigan. It was most likely by the Cut River where U.S. 2 crosses the river's ravine and empties into the lake. There is a newer park and scenic lookout there now, but I remember a small gravel lot and a couple latrines on a bluff just before the bridge.

From our vantage a hundred feet or so above the lake, the rippling waves danced in the moonlight like a thousand shards of a shattered mirror. The gentle summer breeze whispered through the lush green trees that looked black against the bright reflected light of moon. Most of the guys were awed into silence as we stood in the gravel parking lot … and I heard a strange crunching sound. 

Without an actual thought coagulating in my brain, I suddenly spun around to see my truck slowly rolling toward the ravine. The only thing between it and the bottom of the ravine was one of those almost-oval-shaped ‘landscape timber’ boards the DOT had haphazardly laid around the perimeter of the gravel. I walked back to my truck, which I had locked for some reason, unlocked the door and stepped on the parking brake. The scrunching noise of the brake broke everyone’s bliss and caused them to turn around. There I stood one foot on the ground and the other standing on the brake of my truck. I never heard the end of that for the rest of the weekend.

Well, I just did it again! I can’t believe that this has happened after more than a million miles on the road and countless – literally thousands – times climbing out of a truck. I had dropped an empty trailer and hooked to a load of CHEP pallets. I only had to roll over to the office, collect the paperwork and I’d be on my way. Simple enough. 

I backed into an empty spot near the office, but my trailer was a little close to another tractor so I pulled back out, straightened up, and backed in. There were no lines, no parking spaces there, but a “real” truckdriver leaves his rig straight and square to the world around it. I grabbed my notebook and a mask, and climbed out of the truck. 

As I stepped away, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a wheel turning; the lugs on the wheel were just barely moving. They shouldn’t be moving! Downhill from me was a bunch of other trucks backed into docks, getting unloaded. I couldn’t stop to think about that. I couldn’t stop to think about the fact that I had locked the door. I just started moving. 

I walked back around the front of the truck; set my notebook and mask on the top step; reached into my pocket for the keys as the truck gradually rolled faster; shuffle stepped to the left as I unlocked the door; opened the door; climbed the steps; leaned in to reach for the air brake knobs and yanked the yellow one. The yellow knob controls the truck brakes, and will set off the trailer brakes too. Truck brakes are controlled by air and the system had to evacuate for the brakes to engage. The air spilled out of the brake system in a familiar hiss as the truck rolled another eight or ten feet toward the other trucks. The brakes finally grabbed as the last of the air escaped and the truck stopped -- with about twelve feet to spare.  I had crab-walked next to the rolling truck for sixty or more feet.

It was only then that my heart started to race. What a morning that would have been. My truck was aimed toward the trucks getting unloaded at the docks. Most of those drivers were likely sleeping, waiting for a phone call to tell them they were empty. A lot of those trucks are owner/operators; guys who own their own trucks, buy their own insurance, pay their own repairs. 

I’ve forgot the brakes before; probably many times. However, as soon as I took my foot off the brake pedal and could feel the “looseness” of the truck, I pulled the brakes. Most honest truckers would admit the same. To take my foot off the brake and climb out of the truck without being mindful of that looseness and to have walked across the front of the truck toward the office not knowing, is unbelievable. Distracted parking? The parking lot didn’t look like it had much contour to it, but my truck rolled downhill right at the building and those trucks. I likely would have been fired over that. Amazing that I was so stupid. Amazing that I got away with it.

Do I have to say it again: “I’d rather be lucky than good.”

Image by Gittensj

Friday, April 17, 2020

Mom's been gone a year.

Mom has been gone a year and I still don't know how to consider that that fact is true. 

I wrote this while helping care for Mom in the few weeks before she passed.  I wasn't sure that I would ever share it and I'm not sure why I have. It makes me feel her presence, perhaps it will for someone else as well. 

My mother is dying, and I don’t know what to say.
She’s always been beside me; even when I was away. 

Now it takes a bear hug, each time I help her stand. 
This untameable cancer was never part of the plan. 

In everything I’ve done, she’s been with me from the start. 
She taught me cooking, and living with an open heart. 

My mother is dying, and I don’t know what to say. 

I just sit and hold her hand, a bit tightly … today. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Rock n Roll Moments

Recently, a musician friend posted this picture of a band playing while people danced. From the 1960s, the picture was part of his “Rock and Roll and the Decline of Western Civilization” series (tongue firmly in cheek). I replied “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like the high you get when people are dancing to what you're playing. Even as a high school hack rock n roller, I got the chance to feel that a couple times. Still carrying that juice.”

I was thinking specifically of the time when a band I was in got to play a few songs at our own high school dance as a preview of an upcoming variety show. It was a hell of a moment. Our signature cover song “Jesse’s Girl” - yeah, I know - was all me for the first couple bars. I cannot describe the feeling when people started dancing. That was the thing. That was rock n roll. All kinds of kids in my school got the mistaken impression that I might be cool; instead of just awkward and goofy.

Some towns are football towns; some are basketball or soccer. I grew up in a band town, where it was cool to be in the band. Just like in sports towns, the recruitment and training started deep in junior high and funneled the best players into the Marching Band and the Symphonic Band. The more I thought about my friend’s picture, however, the more I realized that my rock n roll moment came a couple years before that dance.

The Charlotte High School Marching Band got invited to participate in Edmonton Alberta’s Klondike
Days, a ten day celebration of Canada’s Gold Rush with a marching band competition on the side. I remember getting into the marching band a little early in my Charlotte Band career because they needed members to go to Edmonton. There was lots of practicing to be done. We had a tradition to uphold and, eventually, judges to impress. Under the tireless leadership of Director Karl Wirt and with a really good show - a halftime show - based on the band Chicago’s Greatest Hits album by a recent Charlotte grad, Keith Richardson.

In addition to the main show, we had to prepare a variety of other music. I think there was a main parade. There were these cool showcases in downtown Edmonton where four bands would march toward an intersection from different directions. When they met, one band would march out into the intersection, play a song or two, and retreat. Then each of the others would do the same.

The marching band competition was inside an arena. We were the only high step marching band among corps marching bands and corps marching judges. They didn't know what to make of us; we didn’t do so well. Mr. Wirt got a kick out of reading us our scorecard where one judge thought it was inappropriate that we had played “Proud Mary.” Apparently, the judge didn’t know his Chicago from his Creedence.

My rock n roll moment came at an Edmonton Eskimos Canadian Football game. Somehow, our high school band got the gig to play the halftime show. We sat in the stands during the game behind one of the end zones. All the low brass players were sitting in the back row; where we usually were. In fact, most of us low brass players were the kind of guys that sat in the back row in class anyway. We put on airs as slackers, but when the chips were down, next to the drum section, we were driving the band and could be counted on to do so. If I remember right, Karl Wirt and Keith Richardson were each low brass guys; they would understand.

Right behind us in the stands was a group of taxi drivers enjoying the game on a company outing. When they heard that we had a kickass marching band tribute to the band Chicago, they were very excited. In my memory, they told us Chicago had just been through the area, but I found an archive of Chicago’s tours and there’s no mention of Alberta. Maybe it was Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Keith Richardson’s show was incredible; the score and the marching routines running through a selection of Chicago’s hits. At one point, three soloists stood in a triangle, shoulder to shoulder, back to back, and shuffled in place for each to face the crowd as they played their part. The finale of the show was brilliant.

(I’ve Been) Searching So Long was the final number. On the band’s recording, the song begins quietly with strings, then the horns come in with just a hint of the power of what’s to come. The ending is a blast of power; a Midwest Rock n Roll Anthem. We played the somewhat dreamy main part as the band marched slowly, corps style I think. The song slowly intensified and the band ended up in a single file line along the edge of the other side of the field. The music swelled, we turned toward the ‘home side,’ all our horns snapped up on angle, and we blared the finale of the song slowly, strongly, the full width of the field (starting at 2:54 in the youtube above). Some of the lyrics are interestingly appropriate:

“As my life goes on I believe
Somehow something's changed
Something deep inside”

Now, when we nailed that in practice, it was fun. All the low brass guys, and the drum section, gave all we had to the thrumming bass line and rhythm of the song; a song that we still heard on the radio. The vocal melodies were filled in by our trumpets and woodwinds. In band, we usually didn’t play music that we could recognize, music that was ours, music that we listened to on our own. It was a thrill. I literally tingled with delight though all our practices.

To do this show, this same music, in a packed football stadium was something else entirely. In my memory, the show went well. ‘Searching So Long,' the finale came, we marched slowly, entwining the field and ending on the sideline. When we all snapped our horns skyward, nailed the song’s surge, and marched, victoriously, the full width of the field - roaring - the crowd went wild. We could almost feel their approval physically. They roared back at us. The taxi drivers threw their hats in the air. The crowd was with us, yelling and screaming the whole march across the field. That right there. That is what Chicago knows. That is what Mick Jagger knows. That is the power of rock n roll.

The hair stood up on the back of my neck. We nailed it. The crowd loved us. With each breath, each step, I felt less and less of the field beneath me; floating on the power of that moment. It was literally out of this world and I have never felt that again. Except in the telling of the story, and writing this now, I can feel the emotional pressure in my eyes, the knot in my stomach, a little catch in my breath. The magic is still there. I only have to tell the story to feel that surge again.

“There's a strange new light in my eyes
Things I've never known
Changing my life
Changing me”

Thank you, Mr. Wirt. Thank you, Keith.
Rock. and. Roll.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


The Tip Top Deluxe is in a westside neighborhood on the border between a blue collar neighborhood and a bit of industry. Down the street past some older houses is a sprawling iron and metal recycling facility. There’s a city maintenance yard and a Coca Cola bottling plant nearby, each two blocks in opposite directions.

The building must have once been a neighborhood store. Today, the exterior is plain; solid, but not fancy. The door faces the side street and above it hangs a jaunty sign sporting the retro Tip Top logo. Just inside is a small room that functions as a vestibule with the johns off to the right. On a music night the band’s merch table takes up most of the space. The bar is through a door on the left; past the doorman who’ll take your money and stamp your hand.

The night Deb and I went to see Sarah Borges open for The Bottle Rockets, we parked along the curb nearly under the sign. And as we arrived at the stoop, Sarah and a couple bandmates burst out the door.

“Oh, my goodness,” I said in an exaggerated way, but she didn’t recognize me yet.

I had met Sarah through my brother. I think he is practically a patron and has been a fan since he was going to M.I.T. and she was a local phenom. She has done a couple crowdfunded albums in recent years. As a poor vagabond sailor, I chipped in just enough to get the music.

The last five summers or so, when Tim and his family are back in the States for a visit, Tim has hired Sarah to perform at a garden party on Boston’s south shore where his family reunites with their Boston friends and former neighbors.

Deb, Sarah, The Bottle Rockets and I
A few years ago, Tim dragged me to a recruiting event for his company. I was visiting out east on a vacation. Though I had resisted doing anything work-related, Tim finally insisted that I go. As we set up an ice cream social in a room at M.I.T.’s student union, Sarah walked in with her guitar case! Tim, ever the patron, had hired her for the event. It was gourmet ice cream and acoustic rock and roll.

As she walked in, Sarah apologized that she hadn’t had enough change for the parking meter and the time allotted. As if by magic, Tim poured an amazing number of quarters into my cupped hands.

“Go fill Sarah’s meter,” he said, “I’ve got to go pick up the ice cream.”

Thus, I found myself walking across the quad at M.I.T. with Sarah to find her car. She was dressed for a casual afternoon acoustic jam in a mini skirt and cowboy boots. We must have been quite a sight mingling with all the future engineers and computer scientists but had a nice walk and a pleasant chat about music and family.

Back at the Tip Top, Deb and I found a booth and as Sarah passed by, Deb pointed to me and asked her: “Do you remember this guy?”

“Hey, um …  your brother is … Dawson-Townsend, in Switzerland. And you’re just Townsend” Sarah declared.

Sarah’s latest album was produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel. He also produced the last couple Bottle Rockets albums. Roscoe has an amazing musical pedigree; including having been Joan Jett’s original lead guitar player in the late 70s. Roscoe was playing for Sarah on this tour and the Bottle Rockets’ rhythm section, bass and drums, were the rest of her band for the night. Apparently, they had all met on an Outlaw Country Cruise, Sarah had been scheduled as a solo act, but a borrowed pick up band -- these same guys -- was organized. She and her gathered crew put on a killer set of rock and roll. They played a lot of Sarah’s new music; peppered with old favorites and the go-to songs from her back catalog. With a short break after Sarah, The Bottle Rockets took the stage and after two or three songs, I wandered out back to find Sarah.

“Do you smoke?” Sarah asked and I shook my head. “Well, if you can hang out a minute, I want to chat.”

Sarah took care of her business with the club as Roscoe sat near the merch table eating a sandwich. Soon Sarah and I went outside to the crisp air on the sidewalk. She lit a smoke and ...

“So, how’s the boat?” she asked! The.First.Words.She.Spoke.

Suddenly I was lost. Disoriented. Blood thrummed in my ears as my heart pounded. Misty stars floated in the air. Seagulls cried. Waves crashed and hissed against a beach. The.First.Words.She.Spoke.

Now, I wasn’t on the make that night. I was honored that she even recognized me. But Men are often ridiculous about inappropriately projecting our affections on any woman who is remotely nice to us. We are even worse about imagining that woman is projecting affection in our direction. But when a woman asks a sailor about his boat -- FIRST.

Well, that was almost more than I could handle appropriately.

Despite my swimming sweaty brain, we had a nice chat. It was more than surreal standing out on the sidewalk, after just watching Sarah rock the house at the Tip Top, and talking with her about her son, life in Boston, and my niece and nephew, whom she had seen more recently than I.

Anyway, I think Sarah’s been on the road since her late teens. She has heard it all and has probably had to shut down all kinds of harassers and interlopers. I’ve seen her burn hecklers into silence from the stage. Moreover, I’m in no position to offer her anything. But.The.First.Words.She.Spoke.

And besides, I can’t decide if she and Roscoe are a couple or just musical partners. She told me, nodding to the black Suburban at the curb, that they like traveling together. I also read an article where she referred to him as her “partner in crime.” Each of these could equally refer to a professional relationship or something more.

There was a couple at the Tip Top who I know are also Michigan friends of Sarah’s. Inside, she stopped by them a couple times to chat. I really don’t know, but I think I was the only one to stand outside on the sidewalk for a chilly, extended chat.

If nothing else, I like to think that I might have made Joan Jett’s guitar player a little jealous.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Lost Dancer in Memphis

Dave was distracted, but not by all the noise around him. The grill cook rattled his utensils like a mad jazz drummer. The dish washer clattered away at a huge pile from the morning rush. Chit chat and rumor buzzed amongst the remaining booths. It was mid morning and breakfast was well over, but the regulars hung around trading gossip and bad puns. Dave’s brain swirled like the creamer in his coffee. A beige puddle collected in his spoon after he’d set it down. He looked out the window and thought, so this is North Little Rock.

He had gone to Memphis to find her, but hadn’t. In escaping with his life, he had only just kept his freedom. The jury was still out on that too. Another bad pun.

As the stoneware coffee mug touched his lip, the warm memory of her kisses swept back over him. He recognized the frosted glaze atop the brown mug; a copy of a classic pottery design that had originated in Ohio. God ... Ohio. They had fallen in love at a small college in the Miami Valley. Dave was there because of his father’s connections. Toni had enrolled because of the well known classical dance program. Her family was from New Orleans, but she had been raised in Memphis. A dark beautiful mix of voodoo and soul, she had been life changing. She had been his. And then she’d left him for New York and an Off Broadway gig.

His Mother should have loved her. Toni sang in the church choir. Her voice was beautiful, clear and strong. You could get religion just hearing her sing. But his parents had reacted in a completely unexpected and backward way. The relationship had brought up issues that he had never had to confront back home. His Dad felt their relationship threatened his position on the school board. On the phone, his Mother had just cried and cried. In the confusion and frustration, he had paused when he should have been strong. He had been weak and indecisive at the most perfectly tragic moment. That’s when Toni had left for New York without him.

She was hurt. There was more crying on phones. He had never wanted to let her go. Constraints he no longer accepted had stopped him from helping her pack, driving her to New York and staying there with her.

Soon Toni had lost her bearings somehow on the Great White Way. The demands were steep and the pace was frenetic compared to the genteel South she had known. Just as the bright white lights of the marquee never quite reach the damp grit of the street, she had never quite fulfilled her dreams. She had gone back to Memphis and had gotten into some trouble; a mistake with a local tough guy, Tavo. Now she, and her newborn child, were hiding.

In Memphis, Dave wasn’t expected in the neighborhoods where he searched for Toni. He was a pale, freckled Midwesterner. Everyone there seemed to know all they needed to know about him yet he knew nothing of them. But then he had found Toni’s sister. And he found Tavo too. The sister had told him Toni was in Texas. The tough guy had told Dave he was going to be dead.

“Is that all, Hon?”

The waitress jarred him back to North Little Rock. Dave hadn’t remembered eating the pie, or finishing the coffee, but there it was — an empty plate, a thin, cold puddle in the bottom of the mug, the messy fork draped across the plate, and the dirty spoon. He hadn’t used the knife. He hadn’t expected to use a knife. It was a deadly surprise for Tavo that he’d even had a knife.

“Yeah … thanks,” he said slowly.

He couldn’t go back to Tennessee, but as soon as he got to Austin, he could tell Toni that she and her baby were safe.

Note: This is an old short story of my polished up. 10/01/2018.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Cop and the Corn

I’ve written before about the DOT regulated hours I have to track as a truck driver. I can drive for eleven hours a day, but once I start, I have just fourteen hours of on-duty time in which to drive the eleven. A ten hour break resets these clocks.

I just started driving again for a company where I had driven before. Its a three-beer-story, but I had three trucks in my first eight days after two of them died on me. And because I had to get a ride from another driver back to Florida, I had to leave some of my stuff in the second broken down truck. That truck is still waiting parts in a shop in Savannah, Georgia. I wrote about that here in a post about earning boat money.

I picked up in Alabama and delivered in Douglas, GA.  I had just enough time on my clocks to backtrack to Albany for a load; 44,000 lbs of Coors Light bound for Smyrna near Atlanta. About an hour up the road from there, I had to stop for the night (my night is usually 14:00 to midnight). My appointment for the next morning was at 10:30; a terrible time given the usual morning traffic in Atlanta.

After checking with Google Satellite Maps, I knew there was lots of parking at my delivery location. So I left quite early to avoid the traffic and arrived at 6:00a for my 10:30a appointment. There’s lots of beer drinkers in Atlanta, so there were lots of trucks waiting to deliver there that morning. It was almost 1:00p by the time I was unloaded and ready to roll.

My next load assignment had two pickup stops. The first was about 40 miles away, back through Atlanta traffic -- and needed to be picked up before 2:00p. I started rolling before I had a specific address, but had to message into dispatch that I couldn’t make it before 2:15 or 2:30p.

My truck GPS was still in the broken truck sitting in Savannah. I was using my phone and wandered through some sketchy country roads near Hampton to get to an old, repurposed warehouse. All that rushing around for two skids of no brand windshield washer fluid.

The next stop was up near Stockbridge. I managed to find that next warehouse tucked in a suburban shopping district and got loaded with Chinese imitation YETI coolers. My fourteen hour clock was running out and I had only driven about five hours of my eleven for having waited all morning to unload the beer.  I was chagrined to find nowhere to park a semi in the neighborhood.

Dispatch had a grand plan to get me through Savannah to pick up my stuff. The two stop load I had was bound for Hope Mills, NC. Then I was to pickup a load in Clinton, SC to go to Fort Pierce, FL; passing right through Savannah with a stop for my stuff. The trouble was that Clinton vendor is notoriously slow to load a trailer. Hundreds of big-but-light boxes of plastic storage bins are loaded by hand on the trailer floor -- no pallets. I had to get there in one jump and take my break while they loaded me. Otherwise, I would not have time to get to Savannah during business hours. I had to make business hours on Friday or I would have to wait until the following week, on another load, to swing by and get my stuff.

Here’s where the fun begins. My trip from south of Atlanta to the other side of North Carolina was reasonably uneventful. There was an accident involving three semi trucks and a ten mile backup, but luckily it was on the other side of the highway. The eastbound lanes got bound up by rubberneckers slowing down to gawk at the accident but I was through the bottleneck in a few minutes. The rest was not a leisurely ride, I only stopped once for coffee -- to get rid of some and to get some more. Old Trucker Proverb: You don’t buy coffee, you rent it.

I arrived at the Hope Mills warehouse and had to scramble to find an empty trailer. There were two choices: one trailer wouldn’t be unloaded for a couple hours, the other was hidden in a back corner of the lot. I had about 200 miles and little less than four hours to drive; I had to go. When I found the empty trailer, someone had left me about 20 pounds of field corn spilled in two sprawling piles. My broom was hanging on the back of the truck in Savannah.

I grabbed the trailer and headed for South Carolina; flying. The next load was almost all the way back
to Georgia and I barely had enough time. About halfway there was a truckstop that I remembered was easy off and back on the highway, so I planned my attack. When I arrived, I jumped off the highway, ran into the store, and bought a broom, some garbage bags, some supper and a granola bar for breakfast -- then tore off down the highway again. I watched my diminishing drive time and the ETA on my phone all the way there.

I arrived with just six minutes to spare. Now the trailer needed to be swept as I hadn’t been able to take the time yet. Once the trailer was swept and I scooped the corn into a couple garbage bags, there wasn’t a dumpster to be found. Many warehouses give little or no thought to the needs of drivers. At least this place had an indoor bathroom that we all could use. I tossed the bags of corn on the catwalk behind the cab and checked in with the shipping office.

I slept a while at the dock, then finally felt them start loading me. I slept some more and then woke to the metallic sound of the dock plate being retracted; the perfect ringtone for a trucker’s alarm. In front of the shipping office, the trailer was sealed, the paperwork signed and then I moved off to a corner of the lot to sleep a little more. Now I could time my departure to hit the dealer in Savannah mid morning and get my stuff in the right truck.

Up at 2:00a for my morning ablutions and a pit stop, I was ready to roll at 3:00a but still had to do something with the bags of corn. I decided that since corn was natural and I was out in the country, I could just dump it. No one would be surprised by a pile of corn in the road. I didn’t want to just dump it in the warehouse lot, so I pulled out onto the road, stopped in the left turn lane and threw on my four way flashers.

It was still dark when I exited the cab and stepped back to the catwalk. Just as I sliced open the bags and started dumping the corn onto the road, a couple pairs of headlights passed over my shoulder heading toward the warehouse. Crap, I thought, shift change. Attention was not something I wanted just then. I had corralled a piece of plastic twine that had been swept up with the corn the night before. I just wanted to dump the corn, not litter.

The bags were almost empty. And then a sheriff squad car crept by on the other side of the truck. As he pulled in front of the truck, my heart sank. First I wondered how much a ticket for littering might cost. Then I remembered I was in the south. I might end up in front of some unamused judge after languishing a couple days in the local drunk tank. My thoughts became a horrifying mix of Buford T. Justice, Barney Fife, and the littering trial saga of Alice’s Restaurant. I was hindered by the twisting twine and a few cups of remaining corn, and struggled to wad the bags up. I leapt back into my truck and tried stuffing the mess into my little trash bag.

The sheriff that approached my door couldn’t have been 25 years old. He was squeaky clean, way too alert for 3:00a with a perfectly polished smile straight out of the Laurens County High School yearbook; probably a former quarterback. His grandfather was probably the judge I’d be seeing later in the week. My gagging trash bag finally swallowed the tangle mess of twine and corn and I sat up in the driver’s seat.

“You good?” was all he asked.

“Yes … yessir, I am,” I choked.

He waved, spun around to his car and drove off. I’m still confused.

Did he see the corn on the road? Did he think it was someone else’s?

He probably thought I was taking a leak. Behind the cab at the catwalk is a notorious peeing trucker spot.

Looks like I won’t be having a baloney sandwich at the county jail tonight.

I’d rather be lucky than good.

It's long but it's a classic draft era protest song:

Bonus Track from Todd Snider:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

An Empty Square

[Please note, I wrote this in my journal about a year ago, I wasn't sure I would ever share it.]

Paula Hosey passed away over the weekend, just shy of her 53rd birthday. The news was difficult and a sharp pain to my heart. She was the first girl with whom I used the phrase “go steady.” It seems a little silly now using those words in fifth grade, but we did. Those were the days when anything was possible and we, and all our friends, lived with hardly a worry or a care.

Back at Galewood Elementary, fifth grade I think, for Paula’s birthday I wrote her a poem and got her a flower. It was March, forty some years ago, when I trudged through snow over to her house. When I knocked on the door, the house was filled with her girlfriends and I had stumbled into a birthday sleepover or something. I can vividly remember realizing that one leg of my pants was scrunched up on top of a snow boot. When I bent over to straighten that leg, I realized to fix it I would have to expose my long john underwear to all those girls -- a fraction of inch, mind you. I stood back up and left the pants where they were -- and I probably turned red, because that’s what I often did back then. No one else likely noticed or cared, but they did all coo about my poem and flower. I felt pretty cool and the walk back home was a little warmer.

In fifth grade, you don’t go steady for long.  We were always friends and sang together with friends in an act that tried out for our high school band's variety show; the Band Bounce. Just after we all started high school, Paula’s family had to move. I wrote another poem for her which I don't remember besides the last line which was something creative like “I sure will miss you, Paula.”

A couple years after though, I did get to see Paula again when a family camping trip took us through Williamsburg. And recently, we had been in contact on Facebook.

For many many years I had a journal containing my poems. Most of them were not very good; either sappy and lovelorn or an obvious attempt to impress a girl. It contained that last poem I had written for Paula. On that page I had drawn a square where I was going to stick her last school picture. I never tracked down a picture and all those years later it was just a square with “Paula” written inside it.

When I got divorced a second time, I moved out of the house in a hurry. That is not a story for today, but I grabbed my possessions on the fly, deciding what was important and what to simply abandon as I loaded my car. That journal of poems, a hard bound, unlined book with no writing on it’s spine, escaped my attention. Weeks or months later, it was an abrupt, strangely physical sense of loss when I realized that I was missing all my poems.

Ever since I heard this weekend that she was gone, my heart kind of feels like an empty square with the word “Paula” written inside.

Rolling Rolling Rolling ...

The Cut River Bridge About 1986, I nearly lost a brand new Bronco II into a ravine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. While living in ...