Last Thursday, June 11, was my birthday, and I had planned to spend it as I have most every previous one—as just another day—perhaps having a get-together with family and friends. Well, it was made clear to me that turning an age that ends in “0” is not just another day! Of course, as crazy and weird as this year has been, I really didn’t see much reason to treat it any other way. Over the course of the day, however, that would change.
Right around 5:00, as I was relaxing in my lawn chair out front on the driveway, contentedly watching the world go by, I was treated to a parade—a caravan, if you will—made up of ten or so vehicles, full of good friends. Accompanying lots of horn honking, there were plenty of balloons and homemade signs made of poster board, wishing me a happy birthday and congratulating me on reaching this wonderful milestone!
This type of “drive-by” celebration has been in vogue since the onset of the Covid-19 madness and the “stay-at-home” lockdown. It’s really kind of nice, although it would have been fun to have been able to invite everyone in for more celebrating and shared laughter. As it was, they all made a second loop around the block and came by again. I spent a quick moment as each car pulled up, thanking them for caring enough to participate in a birthday parade in my honor before they left.
For most of the day, I had repeated my wishes to just have the day be nothing more than a normal day, with maybe a quick acknowledgement that I had turned another year older. But that was not to be, and, as it turned out, I’m pretty glad that it all seemed to go against my intended wishes.
Thinking back, I realize that it meant a lot to those who participated in making something special of “my day,” so I guess it was pretty well necessary for me to go along with them, too. In short, it was a wonderful day, from start to finish. It was a bright moment that far outshined the madness.
It’s been a few weeks—nearly a month—since my last post, and I must confess that I really have no good reason to have avoided writing something in that span of time. Suffice it to say, however, that it has been a busy month with appointments, grandsons’ basketball games, getting the Thanksgiving together and the Christmas lights up and working. (Still can’t figure out those light timers!)
On top of that, we’ve had weather to contend with. About a week ago, we were hit by one of those early snowfalls that dumped nearly a half a foot of snow in most of northern Illinois.
Of course it would come in at the exact moment that my son and I were setting out for a five-hour drive to southern Illinois for our annual pheasant hunt with my good friend and his son.
Driving was slow-going for the first few hours, but the farther south we got, the snow dwindled, replaced by rain. By the time we got to my friend’s house, it was just cold, damp, and clear of any snow. We had a great couple of days there (we always do!) and the return trip home wasn’t bad at all.
About that friend…
Steve and I became long-lasting friends a long time ago, in late-summer 1973, when we both happened to be walking in the door of a small, rural school in south central Illinois at the same time, to begin our first days of teaching careers. Although we had never met before, there seemed to be a sort of instant bonding, since we were both in the same boat and were strangers in new and unfamiliar territory.
Steve was from way down in southern Illinois, a product of Southern Illinois University; I was from the western suburbs of Chicago and a recent graduate of Kent State out in Ohio. To say that it was good to meet someone in the same situation as I right off the bat, would be an understatement. And from that first “walking-in-the-door” meet up, we both tended to do things together, as we wound our way through those first hours, days, weeks, and months as teachers and coaches.
I soon discovered that Steve was an avid hunter and fisherman, two things I had never really done much of, other than a few forays out into the woods with my dad when I was too young to tote a gun. But I was soon invited to join Steve and a few other teachers for opening day of dove season.
That experience is one of those that gets etched in one’s memory! The recently harvested corn fields were drenched in golden sunshine, and the friendly chat among our little group did something that erased all the doubt I’d had about taking a job so far from familiar things. Perhaps for the first time, I really felt included (although I wasn’t a very good shot!), and the day turned out to be much, much more than killing birds. To this day, I cherish that late-afternoon we tramped through those shorn fields, waiting for the doves to come in, getting to know those other guys, and sharing things about my life with them.
Being single, Steve and I were pretty free to march to our own drummers. He and I would hunt and fish many times in the years that followed, and summers would find us playing fast pitch softball for a country tavern out in the boonies.
When I finally got married a couple of years later, things obviously changed–except for the friendship! That has remained. When an opportunity to move north came about a couple of years after I married, Carolyn and I took a chance on it, especially since she was from there. Although I spent most of my career there as a result, I really never forgot my beginnings down there in the small town or that very first dove hunt.
Since then, every November’s been a regular routine to travel on down for a day of pheasant hunting with my good friend Steve. We sometimes kid each other about what would have happened had we not been nervously walking into the school, at the same time, all those years ago. I suppose it was just one of those timely strokes of good fortune that we did.
I write this, nestled in the microfilm section for local newspapers, in the lower level of the Alden Library here on the beautiful campus of Ohio University. I’m all alone, except for my wife, who is somewhere on the other side of the room, reeling rolls of microfilm of issues from the late 1900s, searching for obituaries of long-dead relatives.
I have been busily trying to get a decent connection for Internet access, but being an outsider without the proper OU ID card, I’ve not been able to do so, although I have connected to the GUEST WI-FI, but that still isn’t allowing me to “get out” and access anything on the Internet. That’s OK, but what scared me was the error message I kept getting regarding my Scrivener license. After several attempts to “fix” the issue, I had to force quit the program and figured I would take care of things once I returned to our hotel room later today, where normal access wouldn’t be a problem.
And then I had a brain storm! I wondered what would happen if I quit the access I had to the WI-FI (which was doing me no good anyway) and then tried to launch my Scrivener files: Blog posts and novel WIP (Birchwood’s Secret). Once I quit WI-Fi and then launched my Scrivener blog project, everything worked normally. And so I’m able to write this now, while Carolyn digs into the past and spins microfilm merrily along, in the comfortable surroundings. It’s quiet and very conducive for getting this put together.
Now, why are we in the lower-level of the Alden Library at Ohio University? A couple of years ago, we visited this very area to do research and locate old cemeteries where my wife’s grandfather’s brothers and various cousins and aunts and uncles were laid to rest long ago. And though that first visit proved rewarding, it still left my wife missing many pieces of genealogical information for that part of her family history. There were a few old, out-of-the-way cemeteries we’d not been able to locate on our first visit to Athens County. Thus, we decided we’d need to return in the future to see if she could close all of the loose ends and gaps of missing ancestral data.
And that’s why I write this from Ohio University. She searches; I write. I look back over our trip thus far and realize that it’s been a good one so far. We left our home in northern Illinois just about this time one week ago, getting a later start in the morning because we both were battling colds and flu-like symptoms.
Our first port of call was her brother’s in Waynesville, North Carolina, where we planned to spend the weekend before heading on east to meet one of my “genealogical” cousins Carolyn had “found” in her Ancestry.com efforts.
Spring had just arrived in that part of the mountains, and the next day was full of beautiful colors of the dogwoods, flowering crab trees, and a whole cavalcade of others. The warmth of the sun made for a pleasant day spent out on their large wrap-around deck. It was a great day to recover from our long journey the day before, after arriving right around midnight. Sunday was more of the same, with plenty of reading outside and sneaking a peek at the Masters golf tournament in late afternoon.
Monday found us on the road through the rain, up and down over steep mountains, on I-40, en route to Statesville. After communicating with Carolyn, my cousin had found a nice restaurant in a town that would be a half-way point for us to rendezvous, have lunch, and get to know one another. Statesville was the perfect place, and the four of us had a delightful time chatting, eating, and carrying on as though we’d known each other for a long time.
By and by, we bid them farewell and soon were headed north on I-77 with Beckley, West Virginia, as our destination for the remainder of the day. And I was looking forward to getting back there and staying in the same hotel where I had a couple of Octobers previously for the Rocket Boys’ Festival.
The beautiful countryside was made even more so as we’d managed to leave the rain behind and now had the afternoon sun to make all things bright and colorful. Our plan now was to have a restful evening before continuing on into a part of West Virginia neither of us had ever been before: Elkins–A town where my first cousin, Roger and his wife Jeannie, live. We planned to visit some very beautiful spots in the area, including Blackwater Falls State Park. But now, it was time to call it a day, get some sleep, and get up early and on the road for the next part of our adventure the next day.
In my last post, I wrote about our trip to Florida and what a good time we had with two good friends, despite the non-Florida-like weather.
We had planned to head over to New Orleans for a few days, after dropping Bill and Barb off at the Panama City Beach airport, but the weather forecast sort of took our enthusiasm out of the equation, and we decided, instead, to get on the road and drive straight home to northern Illinois.
Our driving conditions were ideal all the way up through Alabama, Tennessee, and most of southern Kentucky. However, as soon as we got back into our dear home state of Illinois about 7 p.m., the heavy snow had begun, and, of course, we were several hours from home. We kept thinking that the farther north we drove, the less the storm would be—based on the weather maps and radar we were intent on watching!
I was forced to creep along behind semis at a top speed of 19 mph, and the storm continued to intensify. Many vehicles had spun out and into the median, stuck for a long night, and others had exited into the deep ditches and woods on the other side of the highway. What state trucks were out plowing or salting, were finding it difficult to keep up with the heavy snow, and it was pretty obvious that we needed to get off the highway!
The long stretch of interstate between Carbondale and Effingham, Illinois, is dark and sparsely populated. What towns there are, north of Mount Vernon, are small and offer few options for accommodations. We exited at Salem, Illinois, a town of about 7,500 people. We filled up with gas, and the woman working at the station was very helpful and called a couple of the motels there.
The first had no vacancies, but we lucked out on the second one. The Guest House International was only a block away, and we slowly slogged our way there, where we found several others waiting there with the same idea as us.
But, as promised, the woman clerk had held one of the few remaining rooms and we were thankful. It was good—and safe—to be off the road and out of the storm for the night!
We were up and out by 8:00 the next morning and found the interstate to be passable but not really ideal for travel. But at least it was daylight and it wasn’t snowing as it had been the night before. I took it easy, and we worked our way up north where the weather had been much better and very little in the way of snow. By the time we made it home in the late afternoon, we were both tired and glad to be off the road.
Last week the frigid temperatures broke and the past several days have been very pleasant, and new life seems to be rapping at our door. People are out and about and enjoying the 40s and 50s that are gracing us with their presence this week. Little by little, all of the accumulated snow is disappearing and larger patches of grass in our yards are unmasking with every passing hour.
Our snow time ordeal seems like a long way off at this point. Now, it’s time to think about first applications of spring fertilizer, a new lawnmower, and sitting out on the deck for morning coffee! Have we truly worked ourselves out of the throes of winter’s relentless grip? I certainly hope so….
For the last two years, we’ve taken February vacations to places neither of us has been before. Last February, we journeyed to Stone Mountain, Atlanta, and A.H. Stephens State Park in Georgia. We then visited Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina. We had a wonderful time in each place, despite the unusually cold and stormy weather.
Now, writing this from my home office following this year’s sojourn, I’m giving serious thought to re-thinking our future trips at this time of the year. We are once again back home in white, bright, and cold northern Illinois after a week in Panama City Beach, Florida. We have seen more sun here at home within the past twenty-four hours than we did for most of our time in Florida’s Panhandle location! The wife and I have had some serious discussions regarding maybe taking our little February trips a bit later in the month—or even into March. We shall see.
Regardless, we enjoyed our week down there after driving through some seriously nasty weather south of Nashville.
Our friends, Bill and Barb, belong to a Time Share organization, and they were able to secure a week’s stay for the four of us at Marriott’s Legends Edge. They flew, we drove, and we timed our arrival there so that we could pick them up at the airport.
Arriving by mid-afternoon on Saturday, Carolyn and I located the place, checked in, and had time for a nice lunch of fish tacos at the golf club restaurant before heading to the airport. Our friends’ flight was right on time so we were off for them to check in and then explore the various parts of Panama City Beach.
Although it was cool and overcast, I still persisted in wearing shorts. Such a rebel am I! Monday was perhaps the most “Florida-like” of the week, with sun darting in and out of a gray cloud cover. The temperature was good enough for us to spend several hours poolside, soaking some sunshine into our winterized bodies.
Unfortunately, that was the only day we were able to feel good about any kind of poolside lounging. Of course, there were a couple of days of downright cold temperatures, where the long pants were in order, so I stowed my rebellious ways for the sake of being warm and comfortable.
And my grandiose plans to work on my writing fell by the wayside, as I booted up my MacBook Pro only once during the week. Neither was I in the proper frame of mind to write fiction, nor was there a good place to get away and write in peace and solitude as I prefer. So I made lots of mental notes and reminders of what I had to get going on as soon as I got back home.
On the other hand, I managed to get lots of reading done—The Billionaire’s Vinegar—a story about the world’s most expensive bottle of wine and the mystery surrounding it. Not much of a wine fanatic or devotee, I wasn’t all that enthralled with the book. But it’s for a book club discussion in the near future, so I plodded through it and finished it during those cold days in Florida.
Whatever else we weren’t able to do during the week, we made up for with our nightly dinners. Seafood was the order of our stay there, and we had some delicious grouper, seafood platters, and scallops, to name a few of our favorites.
In Panama City Beach, there are numerous fine places to get good seafood: Dirty Dicks, Sharkey’s, Harpoon Harry’s, The Front Porch, and The Whale’s Tail over on the beach in Destin. Nothing goes together like a cold bottle of Bud and a blackened grouper sandwich!
Our last night there, we had a wonderful dinner at Captain Anderson’s, a Panama City Beach tradition since 1967. It is one of those classic old-time restaurants, with lots of room and plenty of tables (all filled!) to accommodate hundreds. Our meals were well worth the cost, and it was a wonderful way to wrap up a fun—though chilly—week with friends.
The next morning, we packed up, checked out, and dropped Bill and Barb off at the airport and continued up the road for home, where we hoped to arrive right around midnight. But that is a story for my next post.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, a time to take a step back from all of the busy minutes in my life and to give thanks for all that I have. I have usually been surrounded by family, who have travelled some distance to share in our once-a-year gathering. Laughter and smiles have been as plentiful as the food and other goodies that tempt beyond imagination!
Our hosting the Thanksgiving festivities began many, many years ago when all of our kids were young and before they were grown with kids of their own! The fun always began on Wednesday—Thanksgiving Eve—when my tradition of cooking one turkey on the Weber charcoal kettle began. It would be blasphemous for me to even think about using the oven to cook them! I come up short in many departments, but I must pat myself on the back that my holiday turkeys always are delicious and perfectly done “to a turn” (a kind relative’s words once).
Of course, I can’t let it go with just one turkey. I arise early on Thanksgiving morning and do the same thing all over again. Thus, two turkeys for our menu, allowing for plenty of delicious meat for the dinner and those crucial sandwiches later on for the next couple of days. Now that’s the beauty of the Thanksgiving feast, I think.
This Thanksgiving gathering is also the time when our garage becomes “Thanksgiving Central.” You know, the place where we can be found with the football and hockey on the TV up in the corner and the keg of beer chilling away down below, next to the the table laden with snacks and leftovers—not to mention pies and other tempting delicious desserts.
If the weather is cold (it usually is), our son has his propane heater that quickly heats things up and we don’t even need coats or jackets. On those few occasions when the weather has been unseasonably warm and pleasant, that’s an added bonus to add to our list of things for which we are thankful.
I can’t really remember exactly when this whole family ritual began, or why it seemed to catch on year after year. Like all traditions, it began once and we did it again the next year, and the next, and right on to the next, family and friends showing up and making it a very good time.
This year’s gathering was much smaller, many of the nephews not being able to make it because of their own “grown up” family traditions and responsibilities. And some day, we will no longer host the event, but with so many memories, we will always have much for which we are thankful!
Was your Thanksgiving a good one? What Thanksgiving traditions do you have?
So far in the two weeks that I’ve been up here at my summer place of exile, in the land of southwest Michigan, I’ve read a number of fun and interesting pieces of writing. And though I should be devoting more time at this point to doing my own writing and working on my next project, I have found the reading life much more beneficial at this point. I know, as in summers past, I’ll get the writing juices flowing about this time next week. And there’s a good reason for this. But first, my thoughts about what I’ve managed to read up here on the shores of Magician Lake.
I began my summer reading with Philip Caputo’s delightful book The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean. It’s an easy and pleasurable read, mainly because I love stories of folks who have “hit the road,” and it is one that makes one wish to pack up and join up with Caputo and his wife and their two English setters as they roll along, mile after mile, in their pickup truck with a vintage Airstream in tow.
Of course there is much more than a simple reporting of the various places they pass through. More important, there are the people whose lives, for one reason or another, are forged in the towns—dying or thriving—where they live in today’s America. It’s this very thing that is the force behind Caputo’s purpose of making the long trip in the first place. As he travels along, the question, what holds us all together, surfaces at every turn, in a light and humorous voice every mile of the trip. It’s a wonderful read!
My other is A Study in Sherlock, a collection of short stories based on the Sherlock Holmes Canon, and I found each story therein to be well written and equally as fun to read as Caputo’s book.
Being a longtime Holmes fan, I enjoyed the offerings of featured writers such as Lee Child, Jerry
Margolin, S.J. Rozan, and Dana Stabenow, to name a few whose work makes up the contents of the book. I was familiar with Lee Child from his Jack Reacher books, but most of the others were new to me. I must say, that their stories in this collection have whetted my appetite to read more by each of them. I suppose that’s how we increase our reading wealth.
Now, as for my own writing efforts to finally get kickstarted next week is simple: Our cottage is busy with our two grandkids for a few days, followed by our annual NASCAR “Race Weekend” beginning this coming Thursday.
For many years, several relatives and friends gather here for a multi-day party leading up to our trek over to Michigan International Speedway very early Sunday morning for the race. We’ll return that night and everyone will filter out for their homes in Illinois, Ohio, and various other points on the map on Monday. After a brief recovery period, I’ll be ready to get my writing routine in full gear when it will be just me during the weekdays.
And so this will probably be the last post until that time. I’m sure I’ll have some cogent points to make about “Race Weekend,” so come on back next week. It’s sure to be worth the effort. Until then…CortlandWriter
It was the first really nice, warm spring day we’ve had so far, and our two-hour drive out to spend the afternoon with good friends at their rural lake house in western Illinois was very enjoyable. Having spent time with both of our kids’ families this past week, we would be alone for Easter Sunday. Instead, we were invited to join Barb and Bill and their son and his wife and two boys for dinner and an enjoyable day of doing nothing!
Following the early Easter church service and delicious breakfast, we came home, changed clothes, and set off for a leisurely drive through the rich northern Illinois farm land. And after the long, hard winter months, everything about the fields and yards we passed seemed to cry out in relief, as if to say: “Finally, we’re ready. Let’s start the growing cycle all over again.”
As we rolled along the old highway, my window partially down to let the good fresh air in, we saw how green things were actually becoming, a sure sign that new life and growth was definitely taking place. No polar vortex was going to interfere with any of that! It was a good feeling to realize that very thing.
Shortly after we arrived at Bill and Barb’s, we sat down to a tasty Easter dinner. Thick pork chops
off the grill—cooked perfectly!—Michigan asparagus we’d brought along, sweet potatoes, various salads and chilled jello with fruit made for a sumptuous and delectable meal. Carolyn’s traditional Easter angel food cake, decorated with jelly beans and those yellow Peeps, was the perfect ending.
The remainder of the afternoon, we spent outside on their deck in comfortable chairs, enjoying the wonderful sunshine and terrific refreshing breezes. Our conversation turned to dreams and wishes we still might wish to have actually come true—sort of a “bucket list” type of discussion, even though I don’t care much for that term!
I hadn’t really given any of that much thought lately, but it didn’t take me too long to answer. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to drive the entire length of the famed Mother Road, Route 66. I always said that upon retirement that would be one of the first things we would do. Of course, I’ve been retired since 2007 and have yet to take that journey, but yesterday’s brief chat session kind of rekindled—got the juices flowing once again—the idea and desire to set off from downtown Chicago and hit the road that is
such an iconic piece of American legend and lore.
I’ve traveled much of the Illinois portion of the Mother Road, but I long to cross the big river and explore ever westward. I think Carolyn and I will have to seriously consider working that in to our plans before too many more years fly off the calendar! At any rate, it made for a pleasant and whimsical conversation on a beautiful, sunny, warm Easter afternoon with a couple of very good friends….CortlandWriter
Every once in a while, I like to write to people and make sure all is well in their world, especially if I haven’t heard from them in a very long time. And so yesterday I sent a brief e-mail to a friend and his wife to let them know I was still alive and kicking and hoped that they were as well.
Both of them are in their 80s and really not doing very well at all. I knew this from the last communication I had several months ago, but I always am holding out hope that the good Florida sunshine and climate will be an elixir that is good for what ails them.
When I checked my e-mail early this morning, there was a reply from my old friend telling me that his wife was no longer able to feed herself or manage any of the other necessary functions and was now a resident of a nursing home. I wasn’t a bit surprised, but it was still sad as I thought back to our first meeting back in the mid-90s, the both of them vibrant and healthy and happy-go-lucky.
I became acquainted with Dick one evening by chance back in the America Online days, when all this Internet/Web stuff was new to most of us. His online name—something indicating that he was a writer—caught my eye, and I dropped him a message telling him about my same kind of interest in writing and publishing.
And as it turned out, he was a transplanted, retired Chicagoan living in Florida, and he was very interested in my desire to be a writer, having written and published several books himself. From that very first meeting online, we exchanged long and wonderful e-mail letters (most of which I still have in a three-ring binder) for many years.
I was still teaching middle school, and every March Carolyn and I, our two kids in tow, would head off to Florida for spring break to spend the week with her parents in Sarasota.
The year I met Dick, we made plans to meet with him and his wife, Alice, while we were down there for spring break. Dick and Alice lived farther north, near Clearwater, so they suggested they’d drive down in their camper to a campground of which they were familiar in nearby Sarasota and have us join them for dinner and a get-to-know-one-another visit.
That turned out to be a wonderful time as we enjoyed a real face-to-face meeting and shared our personal stories of our lives, families, and interests. I could tell that Dick was sincerely interested in being a sort of mentor to me in getting started in writing seriously and, eventually, publishing.
I learned a lot from that first meeting, not the least of which was that to be a writer, one must have discipline—a word that Dick would remind me over and over again in e-mails and conversations in the ensuing years.
And though I puttered and tinkered with my writing during those years, it wasn’t until I retired from teaching in June of 2007 that I sat down and told myself that all of the dribs and drabs and various drafts I had started over the years needed my serious attention. In short, I found some of that discipline which Dick liked to talk about and began in earnest to write my first novel. It turned into Black Wolf Lodge, and I even paid tribute to my friend Dick in the story as the “wind chime man,” a person who had inspired the main character, Rick Brenson, to pursue his dream of writing.
Over the years, the e-mail communications slowed and then all but petered out, for one reason or another. I never knew if I had said or done something to offend my friend, but those long and newsy e-mails stopped coming. Carolyn and I did stop and see him and Alice a few years ago on our journey through that part of Florida, but things just weren’t the same. There was an obvious tiredness in the man, and Alice was frail beyond belief.
Sadly, Dick had lost his zest for writing and now spent most days forwarding news items about politics and the great divide this country has experienced. Instead of reading and enjoying things sent from this man—my writer friend—as I did for several years, I now simply hit [DELETE].
Though it was wonderful to receive an actual e-mail note from Dick yesterday, it was also sad and heartbreaking to realize that age and health have caught up with him and Alice, and those glorious days of “getting to know you” are but a memory—yet a good memory!…CortlandWriter
Even with the excitement of publishing a new book, and hearing from so many who have purchased it in one form or another, today is rather sad for me–something which brings everything right back to earth. And that is the passing of a very good friend.
Our friend, in his late 70s, hasn’t been in the best of health the past few years, but this is very unexpected! I intend to write more about our good friend, Bob, in future posts, but at the moment I’m going to step away from the blog, forego any marketing and promoting of THE GOOD LUCK HIGHWAY, and reflect on the many memories I have about Bob and our times together.
Like that freight train out there right now, slowly passing the water tower, our lives are here but for a moment and then are gone away down the tracks. Goodbye, old friend!…CortlandWriter