In truth, I am hesitant to write much of anything lately. I have been drained of motivation and my desire to write is probably at an all-time low.
For the past few months, I had dedicated myself to finishing a project that I have always wanted to do. I have posted a few short excerpts from that project on this site. They are just shorter versions of the stories I have written about growing up in Oak Harbor, Ohio. I have had some wonderful comments and encouragement from those that have taken the time to read what I have posted. I struggle accepting them because are they just being nice or do they really mean them? Who knows?
Only time will tell…
I have most of it completed but I can’t seem to find the motivation to sit behind the keyboard and finish the remaining chapters. I am not sure it is just discouragement or if it is fear. Discouragement because I am not sure it is worth reading. I am not a trained writer. I have always said I love to write but I have never thought I was good at it. There is a bigger part of my thinking that tells me to have some fear of it. Fear because someone may actually read it.
I think I understand how musicians feel when people listen to their music for the first time. I am sure they feel exposed and vulnerable for putting their “work” for everyone to critique and judge. That is how I feel. I put my thoughts down and put them out for all to see and I am fearful of the critique. Fearful of the judgement. It is why for years I never shared my love for writing. It is why I buried dozens of handwritten notebooks of my writings.
Never ever to be found again. They were the best writings I have ever put to paper.
Can I handle the discouragement? Can I handle the fear? Will I ever get the motivation to finish this project? Will anyone ever read it?
Only time will tell…
I need to find a way to get myself back on track to write for me. I know that the reality of my project ever becoming something that other people would want to read is a pipe dream. So I will try refocus on it simply being a file tucked away on a computer that will be tossed away when the computer crashes or becomes obsolete. These things happen to those things that are temporary and have no eternal significance.
Only time will tell…
As I grow older, I am aware of the fact that I am drawn to life between two worlds.
One world of the temporary and one of the eternal.
A world of the temporal, the temporary, a world ruled by time. A world with an end, a “due date,” a life controlled by time and lived in moments.
And, I also live in a world where I, at times, see the edge of eternity. It’s as if in these moments of time I sense it. In God… I am given life. He lives in me and He gives me opportunity to enjoy each moment of life. I am keenly aware that I am growing older and most of my life is behind me.
I have the awareness, in light of eternity, things of temporary importance have no real value.
This includes my writings.
And yet, as I live between these two worlds, with one foot in time and the other in eternity, I begin to understand a life of eternity with God.
It surges through my mind, giving me a new vision, a new desire, and a different purpose.
More and more, as I think about how I want to spend the rest of my “temporal” moments, I’m drawn into eternity… drawn by the awareness of God and eternity.
And more than ever I want the edge of eternity to be my constant reality.
Will I ever finish the project? Will it ever be read by anyone?
What I have experienced since that cold brisk November day in 1970 are not waves of grief.
To be honest, instead of feeling waves of grief that come every now and then, I personally have felt grief every single day. No waves, just one consistent shade of grey that washes over me.
It is something that is part of me.
It isn’t something that I chose to have in my life and I work hard at hiding it, but it is always there. It is as close to me as breathing. It has been my life-long companion and it is as normal in my life as putting my clothes on in the morning. To be honest, I don’t even think about it that much anymore. In order to go about my day, I have to put clothes on. I can never consider another option without striking fear and disgust from those who would see me naked and exposed. That is what grief is like to me. Like the clothes I have to wear, it is something that I put on every day. I don’t have a choice. I wish I could but I can’t wash it off in the shower. I push it down as far as I can, but it’s always lurking and hiding somewhere just under the surface. It is a grey filter that clouds my world and I have carried this dark passenger with me since I was nine.
What blindsides me is not grief.
I have never shared this with anyone. It is something that I have struggled with since that horrible day. Guilt comes to me in these huge sucker-punch hits that I never see coming. They hit me so hard that it rams into my very soul. It feels as if someone has hit you so hard in the stomach that it sucks out everything you have – your heart, your oxygen, your whole being. It hits me out of nowhere. I cannot predict when or where it will show up. I cannot control it. The pangs of guilt hit me when I am doing some of the most mundane, common things in life. Like when they hit when I am driving in my car to work, or when I am listening to music or when I am working in my garage. They hit me when I walk into a room and see the pictures of my wife, my children and grandchildren hanging on the wall.
There have been times when they have hit me when I shop at the grocery store. Of course, no one else knows it. I remain still and stoic. I smile at the person I pass on the same aisle and I continue to fill my cart with milk and bread. But it’s there, spasms of guilt, flooding my heart and soul. A sucker-punch of the worst kind. No one is the wiser and I carry on with life. Never knowing when I will run into it next.
I sort of live in fear of that.
If you considered my world in 1970, you would have found that other than the 6:30 news bringing the horrors of the Vietnam War, the Manson Murders, the Kent State shootings and the occasional blurb about the civil unrest on the college campuses across America into our living room every night, I had always been protected from the outside world. The bad news that was projected on our black and white television was often tempered by shows like Gilligan’s Island, Mayberry RFD and the Beverly Hillbillies. This was long before reality TV. Almost all the programs on our television at the time were based upon some type of non-reality life. The premise of a hillbilly living in Hollywood with a cement pond, or the plausible reality of a group of people, on a three-hour tour, to be forever stranded on a deserted island was all the reality we needed.
In early October 1970, I had some medical issues that required surgery. I was being admitted into Magruder Hospital in Port Clinton, Ohio. I was going to have surgery and I would be absent for two-weeks from Mrs. Gulau’s classroom at R.C. Water’s Elementary School.
Mrs. Gulau was my 4th grade teacher. While there is no doubt that she was a wonderful teacher, she seemed ancient to me. She seemed out of touch even by Oak Harbor standards. Mrs. Gulau was old school before old school was a thing. She was a strict teacher. She allowed no excuses for missing homework assignments and ran her classroom like a well-oiled machine. No deviation from the schedule was permitted. I struggled with her being my teacher and I will admit it wasn’t her fault.
It was mine.
At the young age of nine, I had figured out that the best way to get through school was to not make waves. At all costs, I would try to not to get noticed and for the love of all things pure and holy, I never raised my hand to answer a question. I was always smarter than I ever let on, but I wasn’t willing to try to talk in front of people for fear of my stuttering and making myself look foolish in front of people. I was content to fade into the background. I was easy to not remember. I am sure if you asked a few of my classmates from that school year, they would struggle to ever remember me.
Just someone they used to know.
After a few days in the hospital, I was discharged. I was home bound for a week before I was permitted to go back to school. After I started going back to class, Mrs. Gulau had made arraignments with my mother to have me stay after school for a few weeks to catch up on my studies. I would stay until 3:45 PM, about an hour after school let out for the rest of the students.
Then November 5th 1970 happened.
It was a cool day, about 45 degrees and a little windy as I remember it. I had a pretty good day at school and I was finally feeling like I was getting back into the routine of Mrs. Gulau’s classroom. The school day ended and I completed my hour of tutoring with my teacher. I was now waiting by the west side door, that the teachers used. Normally, I always came in and left through the front door of the school. I always rode the bus that would take me and the kids from my neighborhood to the High School on Church Street. From there, we would meander the two blocks or so to get home in time to watch Gilligan’s Island that came on at 4:00 PM every day after school.
But the last few days were different. There wasn’t a late bus to take me home and I was too young to walk all that way back home before it got dark at 5:30 PM. So I stood there in silence as Mrs. Gulau looked impatiently out the door to see if my ride was there yet. My cousin, Larry was picking me up and he obviously was running a little late.
I always heard Larry’s car before I could ever see it. Not because his car ran bad or had a loud exhaust system, but rather Larry always played his music loud. I mean really loud. As predicted, Larry’s music was blaring from his car as he pulled up to the side door to pick me up.
Larry turned down the music and the passenger side door flew open as he stopped the car. I mumbled, “Goodbye,” to Mrs. Gulau and I saw the look on her face as she pushed the school door open as I started out to get into the car. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the loud music or because he was late to pick me up. Either way, it was clearly a look of displeasure that she was giving.
Larry said, “What’s her problem?” as I slid into the front passenger seat of his Chevy Corvair. I responded, “I have no idea.” and then I hear my brother Bobby and his best friend, Buster laughing from the back seat. They were always laughing when they were together. I never really knew what they laughed about all the time but here they were laughing about something and they were the only ones that knew why.
I slam the car door closed and Larry cranks the music even louder than before just to see if he can get another reaction from the teacher. She disappears into the darkened hallway, shaking her head with displeasure, and we pull out onto Ottawa Street to head back to our home on Walnut Street.
I settle into my seat and I notice that my brother had his dog with him.
“What are you guys doing?” I ask.
“Wouldn’t you like to know!!” my brother said in sarcasm, as only brothers can. It was as if he knew I was going to ask that question. Buster and Bobby mumble something to each other and they burst out laughing again.
Larry, seeing that my feelings were going to get hurt by the banter that happens organically between brothers, put his cigarette down and said, “I‘m dropping them off so they can check their traps on Mylander’s farm.”
“Can I go with you?” I asked inquisitively.
“Dude, your mom told me to bring you straight home. You’re going to have to ask her. But you’re going to have to ask fast because I have to get to work soon.” Larry explained.
I nodded in silence and I distinctly remember the song, Lola by the Kinks was blaring on the radio and as my brother and Buster were laughing and playing with the dog in the backseat. I was right where I loved to be. I always rode around town with Larry whenever I could. I loved it because Larry would play the music really loud and he would tell me stuff about why this song was great and why he felt that song wasn’t good. I always felt accepted and thought he enjoyed having me around.
Besides the occasional outburst of laughter that came from my brother and Buster from the back seat, we road back to our house in silence. Only the sounds of the Kink’s reverberating throughout the car.
We pull into the driveway and I see my mom waiting by the kitchen screen door. She obviously was wondering where we were because we were getting back a little later than normal. Larry turned down the radio and as the car comes to a stop. I push the car door open and step up on the seat of the car and pull myself up to look over the roof.
“Hey Ma, can I ride with Larry to drop Bobby off?” I asked.
“No, Larry is running late and dinner will be ready soon” she responded.
“Come on Ma! Larry said he would drop me back off” I yelled.
“I said NO!!” she pushed back. “Come in the house so Larry can get to work.”
I started to respond but the back rest of the car seat flew forward and my brother started to climb out from the back seat. As he pushes me away from the car he says, “Come on Larry, let’s go before it gets too dark”.
I am so angry that my mom would not let me go. I had been working so hard after school to get caught up on my schoolwork, that I could not believe that she wouldn’t let me do this one thing. I mean, I hadn’t been able to ride around with Larry for a long time and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to me. I trudged over to the front door and my mom opened the door a little wider to let me in. I stormed past her, bumping her with my shoulder. I hit her hard enough that I was certain that she was going to grab my arm and make me settle down, but she didn’t.
I stormed through the kitchen and down the hallway to the living room. All the while, mumbling under my breath about how unfair it was and how angry I was at my mom for not letting me go with them.
My sister, Linda was already in the living room watching TV and an episode of Gilligan’s Island had already started. I hear the radio from Larry’s car as he pulled out of the driveway and headed down to Benton Street. I sat myself down angrily on the couch and pulled the curtain back and watched that black Corvair disappear on its way down the street. I turned around and started to watch the TV.
It seemed like only a few seconds before I started to hear the shrill whine of the sirens. We lived a few blocks from the main siren in town and for some reason it seemed unusually loud and never-ending.
My mom walks in to the living room and doesn’t say a word, but just the look on her face tells me that something is wrong. No words are spoken and she makes her way down the hall and back into the kitchen. It is then the kitchen door busts open and I hear unfamiliar voices coming from the kitchen and in an instant, there is confusion in our house. I hear a voice above the noise, “There has been an accident and they think it’s the Lee boys!!”
I hear my mom talking but I can’t make out what she is saying and my sister and I are left alone in the living room just staring at each other trying to process the chaos that has just forced its way into our lives.
Next thing I know, Linda and I are shuttled upstairs into my parents’ bedroom and we were told that our mom was going to check on my brother. Nothing else was said to us and the door was closed to separate us from the rest of the house. We sat for hours, in silence, on the edge of my parent’s bed, knowing that something bad happened but we did not know what it was. We never considered that death was a possibility. Our family had only dealt with the death of a great-grandmother and none of us had ever considered that it would ever touch our family.
With my sister and I quietly sequestered upstairs in my parent’s bedroom. There wasn’t much need to check in on us. We could hear the commotion downstairs. The loudness, the overlapping voices, the sudden periods of extreme quietness. The constant opening and closing of our back door.
Finally, I had enough and I snuck out of my parent’s bedroom. I made my way quietly down the wooden steps of our home. The landing of the stairwell opened up into our living room and it was filled with people.People that I am sure were familiar to me but as I recollect they all seemed faceless, except for their eyes. It seemed to me that people looked through me as if I did not exist. People who did not know what to say or simply ignored the traumatized nine-year-old that was walking in their midst. I made my way down the dark hallway towards our kitchen.
As I got to the doorway that opens up into our kitchen, I heard my mom talking on the phone.
It was at that moment that I would learn the truth. “I need to get a message to Robert Lee” my mom pleaded. “I need him to call home as soon as possible because his son was killed today in a car accident.”
Some calls change your life forever.
Waves of grief? No.
As an adult, I get the reasons why things happened the way they did that day. No one did anything intentional. Everyone was in shock. No one ever spoke to me about it. In fairness, I never spoke a word about it either. No one sat down with me and helped me come to terms that it was just an accident. No one ever saw the guilt that was heaped onto my shoulders. No one saw that there was a nine-year-old boy who to this very day carries the weight for what happened.
Why did I have surgery that October? Why couldn’t it have waited until Christmas break? Why did I have to stay after school? Why did I ask to go with them in the first place? Why did I ask my mom in the first place? Surely my delay caused this to happen. Why didn’t I protest more about not being able to go with Larry? Maybe I should have taken more time and delayed them. The train would have passed before they got to the railroad crossing. Thirty seconds either way and the results would have been so different.
Somewhere deep inside of me is that young boy and he will never come to terms with the results of that day. The same could be said for my mom, my brother and sister too. I am sure that they have their own grief and have to deal with the guilt that comes from these kinds of tragedies.
We have never discussed this as a family.
Life has to be lived and you have to move forward.
However, it doesn’t lessen the pain of guilt that I experience. I feel guilt because I have been able to live a long life. I have been able to experience the wonderful things that this life has to offer. My brother and my cousin Larry never got to experience the joy of bringing a child into this world. They didn’t get to travel around the world or shake the hands of two US Presidents, like I did. They will never hear the joyous sound of a grandchild yelling, “Grandpa!!!” in excitement when you walk into a room and they see you.
After 46 years, the pangs of guilt don’t come as often, but they still lurk in the dark places and appear at the most unexpected times.
I have been blessed by a mother who chose not to let me go on that fateful day. I will continue to live life to the fullest.
It is what Bobby and Larry would have wanted me to do.
When I was younger, when asked, I would answer enthusiastically and always with pride.
I would always give a clear picture of where my hometown was.
As I got older and after I moved away, I began to notice that nearly every time I told people where I was from, I delivered the words, “Oak Harbor, Ohio” as though it were an apology for something I did wrong.
I would wait for that familiar blank stare. I would then say … “Oak Harbor is in Northwest, Ohio… close to Cedar Point” and suddenly I would see their eyes light up with recognition.
When you grow up in the tight confines of small town America, everything outside the boundaries of your hometown is kind of a blur. You can only imagine what everyday life is like in faraway cities. Those places outside of the town limit signs could be just as much a figment of your imagination as anything else you’ve ever dreamed. No matter how many pictures you’ve seen. No matter how many times people would come back with stories of life beyond your reality, it just never really seemed to convince me.
To me, those places were as much a fantasy and as far away as the land of Oz.
As a child and even into your teens, you know your hometown intimately, and it knows you. It seemed that no matter where you went, you were always running into something that reminded you of how much you’ve already done there. Every day it would wrap around you like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night until you felt you knew it as intimately as you did the layout of your own bedroom. You could walk around it with your eyes closed and never be surprised by a single thing.
When I got my driver’s license when I turned 16, it was the first time I felt like I was part of the world and not bound by the unforgiving signs of our town limits.
I felt untethered, independent and unrestricted.
It makes me grin when I think about it now, because I was still bound by the town limit signs. I just changed my mode of transportation. I went from a 10-speed bicycle to a Ford Pinto. Which really only meant I could drive the loop around town a little faster.
Not much faster, mind you, but just enough to make me feel free. I would drive my car in the same continuous, languorous, tedious, life sucking regular loop around town.
A typical summer night would be as follows: I would pull out of my driveway on Locust Street and drive south to the stoplight by Denny’s Gulf Station. Make a left turn onto Water Street and drive real slow to see if any of my friends were at Van Atta’s Dairy Queen. If no one was there, I would continue down the street and turn left onto Finke Road and drive through Veteran’s Park to see if there were any softball or baseball games going on. An extra bonus was if there were any girls playing tennis on the courts next to the road.
In today’s world, I would be handcuffed, interrogated and probably body-searched over why I was sitting in a car, at the park, watching the games from the front seat of my car.
But not back then.
I can’t tell you how many times I sat there parked in my car. Watching the games from the front seat, trying to look and be cool. Wanting to talk to the cute girls playing tennis or to the other girls that were just walking around the park trying to look as cool as I was trying to be. I sat there trying to get enough nerve to start conversations to girls whose names I knew and went to school with since kindergarten.
I could never pull the trigger.
I would just swallow my confidence and promise myself that tomorrow night would be different. “I will do it for sure tomorrow” I would say to myself, as the music blared from FM 104.7 on my stereo. I would sit there alone, hoping that the station would at least play, “Cold as Ice” by Foreigner or “Do You Feel Like We Do” by Peter Frampton when those girls would walk by so I could turn it up even louder and that they would hear that I was cool.
Thinking about it now… it probably was just as creepy as it is today for someone to sit in the car like that I just never considered it when I was doing it.
It never dawned on me at the time, but when I would pull up in my dark blue rusted out Pinto, I was pulling next to the never-ending sea of Camaro’s or Trans Am’s that always seemed to be owned by every “cool kid” in Oak Harbor.
Eventually, I would grow tired of just sitting there in my car with the music blaring from my radio. I would start to pull out of my parking spot to make another loop around town.
Maybe something was going on? Maybe something changed since my last trip around town?
Heading down Main Street towards Locust Street, I’d crank the stereo system a lttle louder, knowing all the while that it cost more than the car I was driving.
I was lying to myself. I would tell myself that tomorrow night would be different.
I just experienced the Friday Night Lights of Oak Harbor football.
I haven’t been to an Oak Harbor game in over 20 years.
I wonder what had changed? I wonder if it was like I remembered it?
There was a time, that Oak Harbor felt Friday Night football was the center of their existence. The starting players would have signs with their names in their front yards. The players spent the whole day wearing their jersey around school and counting down the periods until school was finally over so they could focus strictly on the game.
The players knew that growing up in Oak Harbor meant they were born and raised for those Friday night lights. Seemed like every kid would dream of the day when they would play under those lights.
Players didn’t take anything for granted because they knew the history of what teams and players had done for Oak Harbor in the past and the players didn’t want to let the town down! All players who ever put on that Rocket green helmet knew who they were playing for: their teammates, the school, the town, and all former Rockets that ever wore the uniform.
The cheerleaders decorated the players lockers, paying close attention and doing a little more for the senior football players. There were pep rallies and booster clubs and cross-county rivalries.
A lot can change in 20 years.
I pull into the parking lot and slowly get out of my car. There is something that is always uncomfortable about walking into a football game by yourself. It’s like there is an unwritten expectation that you go to the game with someone else.
I am alone and I feel self-conscious.
It’s October. There should be a chill in the air but there isn’t. I expected the school colors of Christmas Red and Christmas Green to be draped all through the stadium and everyone standing shoulder-to-shoulder, like I remembered the games in my memory.
I hear the band playing. The band starts to play the Oak Harbor “fight song” and suddenly I am adrift in nostalgic familiar territory. I stop and listen and I am surprised that words come oddly back to mind easily…
“We’re loyal to you OH High…”
I watch the band march off the field to same drum cadence that has been the signature of the band for as long as I can remember.
“O-H-H-S… O-H-H-S… Rockets!!!”
I make my way along the front of the stands. My brother and sister are somewhere in the crowd. They are here for their class reunions. For my brother, his 45th. My sister she is back in town for her 40th reunion. Now my brother has only missed probably 7 or 8 games of Rocket football since the day he graduated all those years ago. He is walking history book of knowledge. He knows and remembers all of the players, the teams and their stat history. For my sister, this may be the first football game she has been to since she walked off the field on her last game as a cheerleader her senior year.
I find them with their respective classes in their designated seating so that they can sit together and talk about old times and watch the game together. I am keenly aware that I don’t belong to either of these classes. But I wedge myself into a seat among them and suddenly I am an imposter. It feels like everyone’s staring at me. Each alumni from the class of 1971 and 1976 trying to figure out who I am.
A face they don’t remember.
My sister reminds a few people who I am sitting with, that the person who has crashed their party was her “little brother” and for some, a vague sense of recollection comes to mind. I am sure they found some relief in knowing that I wasn’t someone in their class that they totally did not remember.
The game has already started, but I can’t follow what’s happening on the field.The sun has long set, but the lights are so powerful that it looks like the type of daylight I often experience in dreams.
Surreal. Metallic. Unforgiving.
Friday Night Lights.
I am sitting in the midst of a group of people who are themselves trying to reconcile their memories of the past to the reality that is surrounding them.
I am no different.
My mind starts to drift off… suddenly it is 1973.
It was the first day of football practice – I was late.
I began to panic.
Maybe I’d come on the wrong day! Maybe I’d come to the wrong place! Every time I would open a door, there was another hallway. I couldn’t find the coaches – I couldn’t find any of the other players.
And that’s when it hit me, this was Jr. High School. The transition from elementary school to Jr High was a BIG deal to me.
And I… was completely… and utterly… alone… and on my own.
It was 1973.
It was a crazy time. Nixon and the Watergate scandal were the headlines and people were on the move… asking new questions… looking for answers.
People were breaking in new ground and wanting a change.
Seemed like everyone I knew was searching for a new identity. Including me.
That September, I entered Rocky Ridge Junior High. I was looking forward to new adventures. I wanted to start my 7th grade year with a bang.
After my summer baseball season ended on a sour note and I was clearly given the sign from the baseball gods above that my dreams of being a baseball player were now dashed upon the rocks of reality. I was looking for new opportunities. I wanted to play sports, but not just any sport but the sport of football to be exact.
I had always idolized the high school football team. I would always think about what it would be like to play in front of my friends and family. Playing on Friday nights, in the glow of the bright lights that would spotlight hometown heroes and legends.
I spent many Friday nights watching the game from the railroad tracks that ran along the west side of the field.
I would wait patiently until halftime and then they would close up the ticket booth and we were free to enter into the game. For me, Oak Harbor’s football stadium at the corner of Church and Walnut will always be considered hallowed ground and it’s the players and teams that made it special.
The Jr. High football team changed at the high school on Church Street and after running down every hall of the school, I finally found the locker room and went in.
To say that they were less than pleased to see me come into the locker room more than 10 minutes late for the first day of practice is an understatement. For what it’s worth, it did get me noticed. Linda Lee’s little brother. More importantly, I gave the coaches a face of the one person they would ride and harass for the rest of the season.
I survived that first day and at the end the week, the coaches called out my name and they threw me my new football jersey. Christmas Green…with the number 80 blazoned in white on the front and in the back. I was now officially a member of the 7th grade football team for the Oak Harbor Rockets.
I was so proud.
I had not even put on a pair of shoulder pads and here I was strutting around in my football jersey. We were told to wear the jersey to first day of school and I happily complied. I remember walking through the doors that first day of school with my bright green jersey on. I was way too cool and I remember walking about two foot off the ground.
I had no clue of what I was going to face in the coming days.
Considering the fact in 1973, I was a smidgen over 5 foot tall and weighed all of 65 lbs. I should have been keenly aware of what I was about to face. We were lined up in the hall outside of the equipment room and waited for our turn to be called in to be fitted. I was so excited.
Names were called and I waited patiently. I was among the last 5 or 6 players that were called. When I was finally fitted with my equipment, I realized that something was different. Before I ever stepped onto a field with football pads on, my fate had already been determined. While the bigger kids and those who had families that had special ties to the school received newer equipment, I was given football pads that were straight out of the 1950’s. My way too large helmet was commonly called a “monkey ear helmet” because of the protruding ear portion of the helmet.
“That will work!!!” my coach declared, as he slapped the side of my monkey helmet. The helmet spun so far that I was now looking out the earhole of the helmet. But all my thoughts and concerns were about one day playing under the lights on a Friday night. So I straightened out my helmet and made my way to the door of the locker room.
I almost made it out when I was stopped because a father was in a heated argument with the coach about the inept, outdated and unsafe equipment his son had been issued. A few minutes later that son would emerge with nice, appropriate equipment with a rounded safe helmet like the Varsity players wore.
I didn’t have a dad that did those kind of things. I was completely and utterly alone and on my own.
Still I was proud. I was starting my time playing football. I wasn’t going to let inept, outdated and unsafe equipment get in my way. I did learn quickly that running around with all these pads on was much different from what I was used to when the guys and I played backyard football in Blakely’s yard. This was going to take some time to adjust.
For the most part, I survived the first few practices by being pretty lucky and besides the prodding from the coaches I stayed out of the line of fire. Then the fateful event happened. We had a football drill called “hamburger”which basically is a drill where two players lie on their back with their helmets touching. On the coach’s whistle, both players get up and run back four yards in opposite directions, where one player takes a handoff from one coach and the other slaps the hands of a waiting coach. At that point, they turn and run at each other. The player with the ball tries to run through the tackler and the tackler tries to bring the ball carrier down. After the tackle is made, each player moves to the back of the line as all players take part in this drill.
I took my spot in line and as I got closer to my turn to participate in the drill, I looked across to the other line to see who my competition was going to be. I really wanted to make a good impression on the coaches and I wanted to make sure I was matched up with someone my size and if luck would have it, maybe even someone smaller than me. So I watched to see who was going to line up against me. I saw that it was someone who was bigger than me and I started to shuffle my way a spot further back in line where I would be matched with someone my size.
I got to my preferred place in line when I heard the loudest whistle I think I have ever heard. Then I hear my coach screaming out my name, “LEE… front and center!!!”
I had been caught cutting the line… which was a big no-no.
He grabbed me by the facemask of my “monkey ear helmet” and proceeded to pull and drag me back and forth in front of my team. All the while using me as an example as to what a player was not supposed to do at practice.
After the verbal tirade and personal humiliation, he finally drug me over to the spot where I would have to carry the ball. He made me lie down at the spot and I hear him talking to other players but I cannot hear what he is saying. I hear the whistle and I jump up to take the hand off from my coach. Everything is good up to this point and I take the hand off and I turn to run the ball through the defensive player. Here is when things start to go south, because it is then I see him.
Earl Kashmere… that’s right and he was a monster. Earl Kashmere was Mr. Football of the Oak Harbor Junior High. He was no less than a foot taller than me and he was about 100 lbs. heavier as well. Earl was just staring at me, waiting for the kill and I thought just before he hit me that I saw a glimpse of a small smile come across his face.
I had never been hit so hard in my entire life. My body went completely numb and I saw stars, once again, through the earhole of my helmet. I remember hitting the ground and as all the air rushed from my lungs so did any current desire to play football.
I never told my family what happened. I am sure a law suit by today’s standard. Coaches got away with that sort of thing back then. I didn’t have anyone to tell and I surely did not have helicopter parents that protected me. I would have been just told that it would build my character.
Have you ever known those moments that changed your life? Do you remember a specific time, a special event that was life changing for you? I think it happens to all of us, I know it happened to me on that day. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t quit. I stuck it out for the season. I wanted to play, but I just wasn’t good enough and so I finished the season and the dreams I had of Friday Night Lights faded off into the distance.
Profound moments of life are not all good moments.
So my football career was short-lived and I never played football again for the Rocket’s.
That was over 40 years ago. I think I am finally recovered from the pain endured on the practice field that day.
The game tonight is coming to close. The Rocket’s once again are victorious. The Friday Night Lights once again protected by the dedication, blood, sweat and tears of young men that are just trying to make their dreams come true.
I make my way out of the stadium. The lights still burning bright in the night. My thoughts drawn to how I don’t feel part of it anymore and as I open the car door to get in and head home, I can’t stop thinking about that picture of me in that Christmas Green football jersey.
I smile, and I wonder whatever happened to Earl Kashmere.
For anyone who really knows me, it is no secret that I have loved to write for a long time.
I remember when I graduated from college, I received a gift from a close friend of mine. I slowly opened the box and pulled out a beautiful Waterford pen. It felt great in my hand and immediately I knew that it was meant to tell stories. It was meant to share thoughts, beliefs, feelings and perspectives. It was meant to be used. All it and I needed was a blank piece of paper.
I started to write. I wrote about everything. I wrote about growing up in a small town. I wrote about my family. I wrote about the death of my brother. I wrote about my college experiences. I wrote about traveling around the world, meeting two U.S. Presidents and I re-told stories that my grandfather shared with me. I wrote about my future dreams and how I truly felt about the things in my life. I wrote every day and I kept my musings in note-books and hid them so that no one would ever find them. I was embarrassed, afraid that someone would read them and expose my thoughts and feelings. It was my life story hand-written and detailed on paper. Nobody ever knew that this was what I did in my spare time. That was over 30 years ago. Long before there were computers in every home. Long before word processors, blogs and the internet.
Then life got in my way. Responsibilities of a young father and a man trying to make it in this life sapped any desire and passion I had for writing. I just simply stopped and put the pen down. For almost 20 years, I really did not write much more than my sign my name. I swallowed the desire and passion I had about writing. Most of what I had written over those years would never be read by anyone. I hid my notebooks and today I assume they are where I placed them all those years ago. I am sure that some of my “best” writings are embedded somewhere in that “buried treasure.” Unfortunately, I have no ability to unearth them. Along with my treasured Waterford Pen, those notebooks will remain where I put them all those years ago.
In some ways, the reason for this project is to try to remember and relive the raw feelings and perspectives of that time in my life. This is intended for my family and more importantly my children and grandchildren. I write now so that they will know where I came from and in a small way to have piece of me that will endure, long after I am gone. I want to be remembered and I want future generations of my family to know that I existed. I realize that sounds and feels really arrogant when you actually write those words down. But what is the purpose of life and living if you don’t leave a legacy that is to be remembered in a good way? Truth is, if you are not remembered in the eyes of the local community you grew up in, your “hometown,” the chances of your passing will ever be noticed are slim. However, if your life is reminisced by those who love you, likely you will be remembered forever.
I am aware that there is never enough time to say everything that I want to be told. My intention is that for those that read this, will not only get a glimpse of what it was like for me to grow up in 1960’s and 1970’s but to also come away with the feelings of what it was like to grow up in the safe confines of Oak Harbor, Ohio. It is intended to be as frank and personal as I can possibly make it. I will not intentionally censor myself and I will try to keep it real. I will try to tell the truth as I had seen it and at the very least, how I perceived it.
To be honest, it also is my last attempt to try to put into words of what it was that made growing up in a small town in Northwest Ohio something special to so many people. There is no doubt that I have lost clarity of many of the memories over the years. There are details that I used to be able to easily recollect before, even as recent as a few years ago, but I can’t anymore. Many of the details were tossed into the abyss when I hid my notebooks all those years ago. Not to be alarmed too much as I am pretty sure I am not suffering from any medical problem leading to unusual memory loss. I believe it is just a natural process of life that is being orchestrated by something.
And that something is Time.
Time marches on, like a faceless army – emotionless, merciless, relentless, all-consuming, pillaging the confines of our mind and the precious memories of our past. Time creeps slowly and surely. They say that “time heals” but what they really mean is that “time erodes.” Time erodes everything – the bad, the ugly, and even the good. Time erodes the details so that sometimes memories cross and blur into one another. I look at some of the things I used to do when Oak Harbor was home. I wish I could do them again. However, for a long, long time Oak Harbor hasn’t “felt” like hometo me. I don’t live there anymore except in the memories that flood my thoughts.
It is like standing on the banks of a rushing river. Your past is on the other side, and you are on this side and there is no way across. No way to go back. That river is called time. The waves of time, slowly crash against the shores of our memory. Slowly and surely eroding away the sand castles of your past.
Maybe time isn’t the enemy. Possibly the real enemy is the attachment to memories that I am not sure ever existed the way I remember them. Over the years, I have told myself that this is silly. Why am I trying to re-connect to a place that doesn’t even remember that I was part of it? Why am I trying to find a way home to place that doesn’t exist anymore?
The tracks of time are final. No point in mulling over it. Was what I believe happened reality? Are the memories just a creation of my imagination?
Does any of it matter?
It is then I am reminded of the many times I lie awake at night with memories of another place and time running through my mind. I have come to the conclusion that answers to these questions really are not important. There is something deep inside of me that is pushing me to find my way back home. Even if that home isn’t what you thought it to be.
Maybe my memories are real. Maybe not.
But I am reminded that everyone has a story… this one is mine.
Hopefully, it will be the start of a journey to find my way home… for good.
Summer nights can never be as good as they were when you were young.
Especially in the confines of our sleepy little town in Northwest Ohio.
The feeling of freedom after the last day of school that stretched across three blissful sunburnt months doesn’t quite have an equivalent in adulthood.
When I reminisce about my childhood summers, I think of the smell of sun and sweat on my skin after playing outside all day long. I think of the sizzle of sparklers and the big colorful explosions of fireworks with their sulfuric scent lingering in the air on July 4th celebrations at Veterans Park.
I think of the smell of chlorine and blood-shot eyes from swimming in Teagarden’s pool.
I think of cupping my small hands around fireflies and dropping them into mason jars, little pieces of summer I wish I could have treasured forever.
As a young child, the highlight of each summer was marked by the annual county fair. For several days in July, kiddie rides, games of chance, concession stands, and fun houses were erected in the heart of our county. Unlike some of my friends, that would go to the fair every day, I usually was only able to get to the fair one day during that week. I looked forward to it for months. I look back at the time now and realize that my anticipation for the event was much more exciting than the real thing. When my day finally came around, I spent my day shoving cotton candy in my mouth, riding the giant swing ride over and over and going to look at all of the animals.
At the end of the day, I’d crawl sleepy-eyed into the backseat clutching cheap trinkets won playing “everyone is a winner”carnival games. It was the highlight of my year.
Along this time in my life, the memories seem to blur for a few years. At the age of 9 years old, I lost my older brother, my cousin and a close family friend in a tragic car-train accident. Today, almost 50 years later, except for the details of that horrific day, I struggle with the memories of that time. I have a very clear and distinct memory of having an older brother. But the thing is, unless I see a picture, I can’t remember what he looked like. I don’t remember his voice. I remember him going to school every morning. I remember him teasing me. I remember his friends he would have over and me begging him to let me play with them. I remember the color of his hair that was always messy. I even remember his bedroom. I remember a few days just before he was killed that we sat in his room playing “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5 over and over until our mom made us turn it off. To this very day, I can’t listen to the song with having tears stream down my face. I guess the memories of a 9-year-old never quite leave you.
I was not aware of it at that time but my path in life would forever be affected by the events of that day. The innocence of life in a small town, although strained by tragedy, would continue for me for a few more years. I was still wrapped up in the warmth of a community that still wasn’t hardened by the events of life.
The details of that fateful event is a story to be told another day.
As my summers accumulated and I advanced towards junior high, summer life became all about friends. My small group of friends and I rode our bikes all over town on long summer days, creating our own adventures to shake up this small town life. Life was filled with Little League baseball and the strange realization, but not ready to admit just yet, that girls weren’t so yucky after all.
The only fear we had in life was getting home before the street lights came on. Never had a worry that our picture might wind up on a “missing child” milk carton. We were only bound by the town limit signs and we felt like our town was ours and ours alone. There were nights that our gaze would try to look past those town limit signs. We were slowly coming to an understanding that there was a life beyond what our eyes could see.
We bought candy by the fistful at the W.R. Thomas 5-10 store. All that sugar would fuel late-night sleepover conversations. I am reminded of the arctic chill of basement floors and how we’d seek refuge from the damp heat by spreading our sleeping bags out over the floor. The lights turned off and there was just enough glow from the black and white, three channel TV for our time of telling stories and lies to each other.
Tucked in a sleeping bag on a friend’s cold basement floor, summer nights had the effect of a sacred place. We would talk about our plans for the next day, told scary stories and made fun of each other in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. Usually that would always cross the line somewhere along the conversation and we would have to break up a fight every now and then.
Midnight felt so late and so adult.
Sometimes, as we fought to keep our eyes open to see who could stay up the latest and after we would hear that familiar yell come down the stairwell “to keep it quiet down there” would then start the conversations of our dreams of what we would become when we got older.
Dreams of becoming a professional baseball player had not yet been dashed upon the rocks of reality. We believed they could come true for all of us. We could, in fact, all play professionally and we all would play on the same team. Like the pick up games in our backyard, we were only limited by what we dreamed. We would talk until our conversations drifted off into sleep.
In the morning, none of us would dare talk about our late night conversations. We knew that any further discussion in the light of day would jinx the possibilities. It was a pact that we all believed but never discussed. It all felt surreal, for now, our dreams were safe from the rocks of reality. Protected from the light of day, forever stowed away with the moon.
Each summer day marked by the bike race to Van Atta’s Dairy Queen to get our .25 ice cream cone. Then we would mad dash it to Yeisley’s field to play baseball until we would get too hot to play and then, if we did not have a game that night, we would make our daily trip to the pool. We never swam on game days. We were told we couldn’t because it would make us too tired and we would not be able to play at the top of our game. We were convinced that the lifeguards were going to call our coaches.
On game days we would ride our bikes to the pool. Not only just to see the girls but to see the fun we were missing with our other friends that did not have a game. We would stare through the fence for a while then slowly head home one-by-one to rest up for the game.
Baseball was life during that time. We never considered that there had never been one player in our small town that ever made it but for now our dreams were safely protected by the belief of the certainty of the young and naive.
Summer still ended with the fair. But instead of playing games and riding rides, the focus had shifted. We now walked around the fair. We walked in packs. We were all just walking around trying to look cool.
However, there was strength in numbers. Even though not one of us would ever admit to it, our pack walked around, hopeful to run into the group of Jr High girls that were gathered safely in their own pack. We would walk until we grew tired. Tired of daring each other to do outlandish acts. Tired of acting like little immature kids. Tired of trying act like we were older than we were.
Truth was… we really wanted to go ride the rides like we did when we were little.
But here we were, suspended somewhere between childhood and being a teenager. It was all wrapped up in the security of living in a place and time where time seemed to stand still. All the people, and all the houses that surrounded you were as familiar as the things in your own room. You believed it would always stay the same.
The dreams of life beyond the town limits of Hartford were still off in the distance.
But as much as we believed, something deep inside of us knew the truth. Slowly change was happening. Soon enough, little league baseball would end and we were made to face the reality that only a hand full of my friends would continue to play baseball in high school.
I wasn’t one of them.
I suddenly had the over whelming feeling that I walked out of my childhood and into the next phase of my life. I wasn’t ready. I wanted to stay there, in the comfort of the summer nights of Hartford. But I knew I couldn’t. I was now fourteen. I slept under a roof that belonged to someone else, in a bed my father bought. Nothing was mine, except my fears.
And my growing knowledge that not every road was going to lead home anymore.
Things were changing. I would hear some of my own friends start to talk about making plans on leaving the safety of our hometown. I started to hear the other side of growing up Hartford. The negative. In my mind and memories, the place was perfect, almost sacred.
Looking back, I know it wasn’t perfect and obviously not sacred.
It was clear that my feelings were found in a place that was caught up in the reluctance to move from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.
Before I knew it, I found myself in High School.
Going to the fair was now focused on running into other kids from school and seeing who had coupled up or broken up over the last few months, triumphs or casualties of summer.
We no longer walked in packs. I would usually hang with just one of my friends. It kept the competition down and I would not have to be embarrassed by that one friend that always acted like an idiot.
During fair week, when the sun went down, that magical familiar feeling of youth slipped over me once again. Those exciting feelings of not knowing what would happen next.
There was the possibility that the crush you had might see you and smile at you.
When it looked like no one was around, we worked up the courage to go on the Kamikaze, a ride that shuttled you in giant, nauseating upside-down loops. I screamed at the top of my lungs while “Do Ya” by the Electric Light Orchestra blasted through the ride’s crappy speakers, and I felt like a badass.
At the time, there was no greater heartbreak than when the fair packed up and left town with all of your wishes still unfulfilled.
That last night at the fair, in the darkness of night, we walked home from the fairgrounds.
Our ride left us and we had no choice but to walk the 4 miles back to Hartford. The only light coming from the moon.
I was deep in thought and walking to the town I grew up in. I realized that there was a time I knew every family on the block. Their kids, names of their dogs, but most of those families were gone now.
The ones who stayed were not the same. The world was moving on.
Only the lights remained the same.
Maybe I was starting to realized that growing up doesn’t have to be so much a straight line. Maybe a life was a series of advances and retreats. Maybe I was learning that I was growing up too fast. Maybe it was the fact that I was missing something about my childhood.
But I could not shake the feeling of loss on the long walk to Hartford.
Eventually I made my way home. I walked slowly. Walking past each one of those houses, called homes, I started to realize something. I was beginning to understand that in each home, with its Ford parked out front and its white bread on the table and TV set glowing blue in the falling night, there were people with stories. There were families bound together in the pain and the struggle to make it in life. I was just starting out on my journey to figure out what life was really about. After growing up in Hartford, protected by the outside world, I wasn’t even sure I knew what “real” life was anymore, but I knew I had a lot to learn and my quest to finally find it was a long way off.
Walking up my driveway, I noticed what a beautiful night it was – lit by the moon. The world smelled fresh and clean. I turned the handle of the front door and opened it. Like always, there was my mom sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. As I walked into the room, she put her paper down and stood up. I could see in her eyes that she knew that I had a tough night. She gave me a big hug. She never said a word and neither did I. We didn’t have to, for in that moment I felt like a kid again. Life and all of its responsibilities were knocking on the door. But for tonight, they would have to wait.
I never went to the fair again.
Summers took on a whole new level of gravity after graduation. Now, summer was a season of returning home to a life put off to the side while classes were in session. People stopped coming home for the summer. Jobs replaced summer freedom–real ones, not the mowing lawns or life guarding for minimum wage of the past. The cycle of seasons felt like it accelerated a little bit more each year, like a record playing on the wrong setting. Most people I knew had long abandoned the town limits of Hartford. The town was now different. Van Atta’s had long since been sold. W.R. Thomas closed it’s doors.
Except for the hardware store, the familiar storefronts of Water Street were now empty.
Years have become decades, and my early memories have lost their sharp edges.
But I can still recall the names of the old stores in town. I can still remember reading magazines at the counter and ordering no better cheeseburger and fries in the world than the one I would get at Van Atta’s restaurant. Especially for $1.25.
I can still remember the way my heart would race when I knew it was a baseball game day. Or the feeling of pure joy of being flanked by my best friends on our bikes. It was our first taste of freedom–to be able to take ourselves anywhere within the town limits, powered by the adrenaline pumping through our veins with each spin of our silver spokes.
I wish I could have bottled all those feelings all of those years ago, like those fireflies in a mason jar. To once again feel that youthful freedom and the delicious possibility of how any given night might end.
I’d open the lid and breathe in the smallest sample in order to make it last.
On summer nights in Hartford, it truly was a great way to live life.
What will it take to move you? What will it take to move you from a place of certainty and towards a place of openness to evidence, to a place of possible changed opinion?
We live in a world where everyone is talking and no one is listening. Most people only pause long enough to catch their breath and then dive right back into the rhetoric.
As we stumble through this ghastly political battlefield, I keep coming back to that question.
What will it take for you to listen?
My Facebook feed is full of political memes and messages regarding candidates; their potential benefits to the nation, their views and more often, their missteps and political sins.
What do we think we are accomplishing when we post these images and words?
No one is listening. It’s like people who just keep bringing water to those who are not thirsty.
I suspect people hope they may make someone think; that they might just offer an issue that generates pause and causes others to research and truly consider their position.
People want to make a difference. People hope to gain another person in support, perhaps, that sways the election in the direction they desire.
It makes no difference of the lies or the actions of a candidate. My personal belief is that almost everyone has already made up their mind. The time between now and the election is a total waste of time and money.
I personally believe that we are an arrogant lot. We think we know; we think we understand.
I’m pretty sure we don’t understand much of anything. I suspect we get about one half of one percent of what there is to know…if that.
My opinion is not that we’re stupid, but that the body of knowledge to be known is so vast, that it’s simply outside of our grasp.
The practical side to this is, we can’t think we know all of the answers. Our minds must constantly be open to and aware of new potentialities.
Don’t be that person… that arrogant person posting things they can’t possibly understand. Don’t be the one who digs their heels in the mud during a debate and refuses to entertain the possibility of being wrong.
In wrongness lies creation, potential, and growth.
Our egos tether us to an opinion and belief. It tethers us to political parties. Let go of the ego and consider the dream of possibility.
How many people are left that are open to the possibility that their candidate may be wrong? Are there people among us who would truly free themselves from ego and conditioning to critically analyze the information?
I see so much division. If you grew up in a staunchly republican or democrat home is your loyalty based more on identity and emotionality than researched ideology? That makes me sad.
But the truth is, people are so indoctrinated that words like “democrat” “liberal” the “left” “republican” the “right” are dirty words. I won’t even mention the response that comes with the words “conservative christian”.
Neither “democrat” nor “republican,” “left” nor “right” or even the words “conservative christian” are dirty words.
In truth, alliances that are well thought out and researched are respected by me and others who are capable of exercising their muscles of critical thought. I have no respect for those that spew political hate that simple follow political rhetoric like sheep headed to the slaughter.
Are you open to evidence?
Are you willing to research and critically view the information put before you?
Are you able to resist the mob rule of the American political climate?
Can you put space between you and your ego and make a well-considered choice?
And so, it is with these words that I challenge each of us to be open, to consider, and to use our heads when assessing our choices.
But above all, be kind. Remember to love. Remember that even those candidates with whom we disagree are human with souls and an eternity that stretches before them, just as it does for us.
Love is about people, not about opinions or ideology. Most definitely it is not about politics.
What will it take? What will it take to get you to really think and not be swayed by the news media? What will it take for you to stop following a candidate that is simply your parties candidate? What will it take to get you to consider you may be wrong about this one?