Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Playing Favorites

When I was about sixteen I borrowed a shirt from a friend. It was a soft-blue, button-down, cotton casual oxford. I never returned it, and wore it unbuttoned over my “Save the Wolf” tee shirt well into my early twenties, when it actually fell apart at the seams.

Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy was my favorite book throughout my teenage years. The well-written and fast-paced story of a conventional third world war fueled my ever-fearful-of-a-world-war teenage imagination. I dog-eared my way through its pages over and over again, reading it on the school bus, in the tub, on campouts, and in the flashlight privacy of my blankets at night. I am not sure where that book wandered off to in the end.

At the age of 17, I started writing with a green ball point pen made by Bic. “Love” letters, song lyrics, short stories, and the occasional journal entry; they were all written in green, using that ball point pen that wouldn't dry up. I loved that pen until the day it finally died, somewhere in Paraguay. I was twenty years old.

I had a brief affair with a 1972 Toyota Land Cruiser when we lived in Seattle. She was painted green, wore chunky new tires, and looked great topless. The very thought of her roll bars makes me grin. Beautiful and petite, she was also tough; she loved to climb mountains and wasn't afraid of mud. We spent our weekends together in the Cascades, and my wife wasn't in the least bit jealous. I sold her when we moved back to New Hampshire with a new baby boy in tow.

A good friend and hero of mine gave me his watch. It was a simple black and white analog timepiece, and the wrist band was just a red and black braided bracelet that he had made out of string. I wore that watch long after the last time I saw him, waving goodbye from a rusting rattletrap of a bus in the middle of nowhere, Paraguay. I lost the watch a couple of years later, and was upset about it for some time.

I took several beatings for Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys in the 70's. We lived near Pittsburgh, and in spite of two Super Bowl losses during our time in Steelers country, I wore my Dallas gear to school on the days after both. I lost some blood, a little skin, and had there been any friends or pride for me to lose, I probably would have lost them as well.

When I was sixteen, I bought a beautiful muzzle-loader from a trader at a mountain man rendezvous. Much like the gun Daniel Day-Lewis carried in "The Last of the Mohicans," there were six extra inches on her barrel, and her wood was naturally patterned to attract the eye. She shot straight, stood tall, and I loved her as much as I had ever loved anything. Every time I slid her out of her long, black, cloth cover, men would stop and stare as if I were peeling a lacy thigh-high off the leg of a sexy starlet. Upon hearing her roar, some would even dare to ask how much money I would take for her. "There isn't enough money in circulation," I would reply with a grin. Years later I lost her in the move from Seattle to New Hampshire, and I don't think I even have a decent photo of her. I still sit and think about that gun from time to time, and my wife can usually tell when I do, because my mood shifts to the left of happy.

I often think about these and other favorite items that I have loved and lost over the years, and wish that I still had them. But I wonder if they would be priceless in my hands, just as they are in my memories.

Probably not.

Well, maybe the gun. Sitting next to me on the seat of that Land Cruiser.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

West 4 Independence

"I think I could do this," I whispered.

"I was just thinking the same thing..." Ella replied, her own voice barely audible.

I reached out and took her hand in mine. My eyes wandered across open fields, up mountains, and  towards the big blue sky.

This simple exchange occurred two years ago this week, while driving through Eastern Utah on our way to spend a few days with Ella's family at Bear Lake. We had already spent a few days in Oakley, relaxing at the family cabin. You wouldn't think that surrounding ourselves with two dozen or so nieces and nephews would be a relaxing enterprise, and in the past it hadn't been for me. But that year I had embraced it, and found the experience to be a restful one. We had spent the evening of Independence Day at the Oakley Rodeo, where we watched the bucking, riding, roping, and when it was over, the colorful flashing of fireworks overhead.

I searched my memory for a more patriotic 4th of July but could not find one.

Bear Lake was sunny, hot, and metamorphic. I had brought the first half of a manuscript that I was working on, and it was passed around to brothers and sisters-in law. A discussion ensued one afternoon, as we sat in the sun and watched the kid-cousins playing in the water. Common ground was uncovered, and for the first time in an eighteen-year marriage I felt kinship with Ella's family.

I flew home two days later, leaving Ella and the kids to stay in Utah for a couple more weeks. During that time the cell towers between us crackled and sparked with excitement as Ella and I discussed our plans to move west. It was unreal; we were the last people on the list of those destined to move to Utah. We had long ago fallen in step with those bent on stereotyping, ranting, and speculating when it came to “Utards.”

By the time Ella and the kids were home, my excitement had melted in the hot humid air of New Hampshire. We would not be moving; we ran a successful business, lived in a nice home, enjoyed the company of good friends, and loved our sweet little town in spite of its growing pains and ever-increasing tax burden. Wasn’t the thought to move west just a knee-jerk reaction to a restful vacation? Would living in Utah be as wonderful as visiting had been? I imagined my doubts until they grew into the joy-killing weeds of reality. I informed the Salt Lake City based company that was eager to meet me that we were no longer seeking an immediate move to Utah. Ella and the kids were deflated.

Summer ended, school started, and happiness struggled. We pushed our way through the autumn months in slow motion, still hoping for a reasonable end to the perfect storm of emotions that had raged since Jared’s suicide two years earlier. I wrote sporadically, never imagining that I would actually finish my account of the troubled relationship I had shared with my little brother, and the shame that I felt at having abandoned him whenever he had truly needed me. I longed for a sweeping, cleansing change, but fear and the unknown stood in the way. Driving the winding, canopied roads of New England became a metaphor for life; I couldn’t see where I was going.

An unexpected email, a couple of phone calls, and a flight to Salt Lake City later that winter seemed (at first) to confirm my doubts. I had come to meet with that same interested company on their dime, but upon entering their office I knew in an instant that it wasn’t to be. I threw the interview and left the building. Looking up at the grey layer of winter smog, I felt depressed, lost, and let down.

And then I accepted a ride up to Summit County. There the sky was blue, the sun was bright, and the mountain air was clean. Snow covered the ground, but I was warm. It felt like home. I called Ella and told her that yes, we could do it, but it would have to be at 6500 ft.

Soon our house in New Hampshire was on the market, and so was my business. Both sold with little trouble, each to good friends looking for their own sweeping, cleansing change. Ella flew west, and after a couple of days searching around the valley, she found the house and neighborhood that had been waiting for us.

We moved in just before the 4th of July, one long and winding year after that moment of clarity we had shared in the car. One of the first things we did after unloading the truck was to buy tickets for the Oakley Rodeo. As it began, several girls rode into the arena on horseback carrying the Stars and Stripes. The crowd went wild as the flags fluttered and a song about “Home” began to play over the loudspeakers.

One year later.

Ella has made our home comfortable and happy, and she has worked hard while I have scribbled. When she goes missing I know to look for her on the back deck, where she is sure to be sitting on the couch swing, staring up at the mountains with a smile on her lips. The kids have settled in; they’ve made new friends, tried new things, and admit to loving it here.

My book is finished. People love it, and I refuse to check sales figures. I like to drive through Summit County; out here I can see where I am going.

I am doing this; we are doing this.