Go Home Again

In the past few months, I’ve been traveling a lot. I’m not going that far geographically, only about three hours drive, but it most definitely is a world away.

The day before Christmas, I sold my business of the last ten years. This was, as you can imagine, a difficult choice to make and one that took a lot of introspection before the final, irrevocable decision was made. The trick, as with any business sale, was finding the buyer. As I put the word out that my company was for sale, I started to really discover what was going to be needed of me to make this happen. I was a manufacturer of a specialty home item and though it wasn’t rocket science, any prospective buyer who didn’t have a direct background in this process was going to need a lot of hand holding. This meant that I was going to be doing a lot of direct instruction and thus, away from home for an appreciable period of time. There was no escaping that reality.

The first individuals whom really looked interested were a very nice couple out in California. I spent several hours teleconferencing with them as they tried to make their decision to buy or not and though I was excited at the idea of selling, I also thought about how hard this was going to be. I would naturally have to go out there and show them the ins and outs of the business and that would take my time and their money. Then, I got a call from another company with some serious interest. They wanted to talk and… they were just one state away. Better than that, they were in my childhood hometown. As the California folks waffled and the economy got bleaker, I heard from them less and less and from the new folks “back home”, more and more. In the end, the new folks bought it.

In one day, most of the shop was packed up on a truck and moved lock, stock and barrel to its new home and plans were made for me to put on my instructor’s hat and follow along until they had everything in hand. Finding a place to stay three or so days at a time was no problem at all since my folks still live there and don’t mind seeing my face turn up on their door step or hogging up the bathroom first thing in the morning. I don’t get back to my parent’s home much and it’s rather a novelty to be there again.

One of the complications of this is my other loved ones. My dear Wife would be left in the house with two small children running on 100% pure high octane crazy, and though we both love them immeasurably, being “on duty” solo for days at a time can grind you down faster than an eraser in the hands of a third grader. In an effort to keep things as easy as they could be for Action Girl, I took Short Stack with me on several of these trips. Sitting in the passenger side back seat, Short Stack would watch the world go by one truck at a time with a “director’s cut” commentary going for the duration. In an effort to improve his view, I’d remove the headrest from the front passenger seat, thus giving him a much appreciated and unobstructed view of the road. He’s a great traveling companion and never complains about anything. He will point out every single piece of heavy equipment that you come across and ask you roughly a gazillion unanswerable questions though. You just have to deal with that. His favorite is to point to a random street as you drive along and say, “Why are we not on that road?”

Once I got to our destination, my parent’s would watch Short Stack and I’d get to work. I really didn’t get much of a chance to look around town since I was there to instruct, not reminisce, but I was taken with how much things had changed. The changes, in fact, were almost all I could see. The new plazas, the missing fields, the giant bypasses and the new roundabouts. Where had my little hometown gone? My view of my past home, colored in fading Kodachrome, matched up badly against what I was looking at now and it made me a little sad, even if I knew very well that things inevitably change. My days were full of instruction and work but it was good to see the torch being passed as well. I was happy with my decision and the buyers were the right ones to carry it forward. When I’d get home it was to my old house, my parents and my son. Talk about things changing with time.

My last trip back to instruct was solo. Action Girl decided that though she loved her one on one time with Lulu Belle, she needed some verbal company while I was gone. It did take some of the pressure off for me, being on my own. Even if I didn’t get out to poke around town much, I did get to work late and finish up the lessons, thus insuring that I was done traveling for extended periods of time. I promised my self that I’d be back in the springtime, just to enjoy being there and perhaps go hiking with the family. Running out for lunch on the last day, I decided to take a back route I remembered from my childhood. The small roads wound through residential neighborhoods I hadn’t passed in a lifetime and as I crossed a small bridge, I had a flash of a face race through my mind.

She was a tall and thin with soft features and a warm smile. She was wearing a long skirt, simple blouse and a headscarf as was common in the nineteen-seventies. With her were two boys enjoying the remains of their ice cream cones and talking happily as they walked over this very bridge. I was one of those boys and the other was my friend Charlie. The kind woman was his Mom and I can just recall stopping to drop the soggy ends of our cones over the rail and then racing to the other side to see whose was first as the current swept them away. She had taken us out that day for a walk and other than that brief piece; I can’t recall any of the other day’s happenings. I was probably seven at the time and didn’t know that she wore the scarf for a reason other than fashion though I’m sure Charlie knew.

I remember him being absent from my life for a while not long after that sunny day. The cancer had moved quickly and as friends and classmates, we all tried to fathom what it would be like to loose your mom. The idea alone scared the hell out of us. We couldn’t imagine what he and his twin sister were going through. The only frame of reference I had was the TV show, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” starring a young Bill Bixby. In the show, Bill’s wife had died and left him and their six year old son alone. I remember it being a good watch, not funny, not sad, but poignant and a bit melancholy at times. It wasn’t hard to imagine the boy being played by my friend.

Charlie and I remained close for years and years and I don’t think even once brought up his mother to him. I don’t know what I would have said at any rate. Bringing up topics like that are hard enough as an adult. When you’re a kid, well… they seem better to leave alone, like a scary dream or dangerous looking animal. The odd thing that struck me as I drove along, away from the bridge and past Charlie’s old house, was the realization that I had remembered that moment with his Mom and the ice creams before. It occurred to me that it popped into my mind whenever I crossed that spot. It had just been so long since the last time I had been by here. I hardly remember her, but I knew her son very well, and I think she would be proud of him today indeed

I lost track of Charlie after high school and haven’t been able to find him since, though I confess, I haven’t looked terribly hard either. We were very good friends once and spent a lot of time playing in each other’s yards. His Father I recall being a little domineering and over protective, but with children of my own now and trying to imagine keeping a family safe and strong through the loss of your spouse, I can’t blame him at all. In retrospect, he was doing an amazing job.

As I drove back to work after picking up my lunch, I took a different route back. I still know all the back roads and remember riding my bike down the shaded, cracked and uneven cement sidewalks, so long ago. It feels strange now to be here again but nostalgic, all the same. It stirs memories that have long lain dormant. I hope I can get back this spring with the family so we can do some good poking around. If time permits, we might go for ice cream. If I can remember, I’ll smile to my self and silently thank Charlie’s Mom for her kindness so long ago. Wouldn’t it be good for all of us to be remembered like that some day?

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Flame On!

As we stood at the base of the tree, I was taken by three facts. First, that it was a very, very tall, and old white pine. Second, that it stood at the edge of a forest that pretty much turned into most of western New Hampshire. Third, that branch that the lit sparkler that had been accidentally thrown into was starting to smolder.

My friends offered verbal assistance.

“Um… Crap!”

One of them in particular, my friend Ioseph, did a helpless little dance under his tree bound, burning magnesium stick and attempted to complete an intelligible sentence in an effort to coax it down.

Oddly enough, none of this required the application of alcohol or other foreign substances. Heck no. This was par for the course. After all, Ioseph Fork Beard was there!

I have a group of friends who have been part of my life for very much of it. We all live in various places now and though none of us are more than a state or so apart, adult life has made visits infrequent. I miss them terribly some times, but for the safety of our various families and others who might be passing by at the time, it’s probably a good thing.

The Doctor was the first of my life long pals. He and I grew up at each other’s houses and I consider him my brother. On at least one occasion, I can recall giving both my and his Mom a Mother’s Day card. We both had keys to both houses and used them often. We’re that close.

The second member of the group was met for the first time when The Doctor and I attended a summer computer camp. It was some time in the 80’s and we, as aspiring nerds, decided to spend part of our vacation in a college basement staring at black and green monitors, coding in BASIC. It was there that we met another aspiring geek, the very young, Mountain Man. Well, to be fair, we were all young.

Mountain Man attended a different school than we did and so, after camp was over, we lost touch with him for a while. We would meet again, later in high school, but when we did, it was with the adoption of the fourth member of our circle. Enter, Ioseph, Fork Beard.

In high school, he had no beard to fork, but he didn’t need one to stand out, either. Ioseph does not blend into a crowd well. Perhaps he would have a shot at it if the people in the crowd were all tall, flaming red heads and bear like. Otherwise, you’re going to see him first.

Ioseph Fork Beard was an large, awkward transplant to the region and seemed to be a bit lost in the massive high school-factory that we all attended. One of us introduced him to the group and pretty much immediately, he was in. Ioseph had a few big things going for him. Firstly, he was immediately likable. You couldn’t possibly help liking him. It’s a super power of his. Secondly, he was the first of us to have his own wheels. While some of us had access to a family car, Ioseph had his very own. It was a white, Ford Escort and he could take it out when ever he wanted. That was some serious freedom. Thirdly, and most importantly, he was up for it, whatever “it” happened to be. If you came up with a crazy, half baked plan and brought it before the group, he would bake the other half and was on for the ride. Some might think that this was his way to gain popularity and access with a tight knit bunch of friends, but you would be utterly wrong. He just wants to try anything that sounds like fun. I’m fairly certain that if a government agent came to his door and told him that they wanted Ioseph to travel to the rebel infested mountains of Wehateyoustan and make a drop to the spy hiding there, his bags would be packed before the pitch was finished. Personal safety is not so important to him if it sounds like the peril will lead to a once in a lifetime experience. He’s always up for peril!

The other thing about Ioseph that you need to know is his head stone. He has one. We got it for him as a gift. Actually, it was The Doctor who got it for him since he had a gift certificate from the local monument company (don’t ask). It’s not very big and fits better on the edge of a desk than it would in the grass of a quiet cemetery, but it’s the thought that counts. The inscription reads:

Ioseph, Fork Beard
Consumed by a fire
“Oops”

This might seem a tad… harsh, but it was actually well received with a lot of vigorous head nodding from all those present. Ioseph has a well known and amazing ability to get in unusual, and often flammable, predicaments. To make matters even more interesting, he hasn’t limited himself to just one of the four basic elements when it come to destruction, but for this chapter, lets just focus on fire.

There was a story about an errantly aimed roman candle and a cut and dried out corn field. There was the time he decided to sterilize the lab desk in high school with alcohol from the Bunsen burner… and light it. (Please picture here, liquid fire dripping off the desk edges and onto the floor before the pie sized eyes of the science teacher.) Then, there was the sparkler, thirty feet up in a bone dry tree on the edge of the forest.

That, in a FEMA report, is Iopseph. I’m pretty sure that the only thing that keeps him out of federal prison is his super power of likability. He honestly does none of this stuff with the slightest bit of malice. It’s always with the most wide eyed innocence that he gets in these predicaments and at this point in our friendship, the utterance of the word “oops” from his lips will send us all leaping for the nearest window. With Ioseph around, life is ANYTHING but boring.

The four of us stood there in my back yard, all focusing our minds on putting out the tiny fire that we could see flickering amongst the needles on the branch tip. Ioseph continued his dance. “I’msorry! I’msorry! I’msorry! I’msorry!” It was a catchy little tune, really. I was seriously regretting pulling out the long forgotten box of sparklers that I had found in the closet. I was regretting even more the idea of tossing them, lit, into the air. To be fair, it was I who had done it first. Its long, shooting star-like contrail arching through the darkness and into the yard. Arching, I should add, into the MIDDLE of the back yard. You know… AWAY from the trees. Someone else tried it and then Ioseph did. His first toss put it directly onto the ancient pine tree at the edge of the property.

We were way too far away to get the hose to it, but that didn’t stop me from trying once the flames became visible. I hauled it’s reluctant coils through the flower beds, flattening the ones unfortunate enough to be in the way. With the water on full blast and my thumb held like a vice over the opening, the spray of water was short easily by twenty feet. We watched. The tiny flames got smaller, smaller and mercifully, went out. None of us took our eyes off the spot until every last red ember cooled and disappeared. I’m pretty sure you could hear our collective sigh of relief in Vermont.

Sparkler time was over for the night.

Oddly enough, Ioseph doesn’t work with fire for a living. You can tell, because the greater Boston area where he lives hasn’t been consumed in a mushroom cloud. We don’t see him often enough these days and I miss his dangerous company. I’ll see if I can get him to come up for a visit before the summer is over.

I might, however, wait until we’ve had a good soaking rain before I make the offer, though.

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