I feel like I’m cheating. I’m at work, but work is taking place in a beautiful suite in Salem VA, I have three Schlafly Dry Hopped APAs (American Pale Ale) buried in ice for later this evening, Another Park, Another Sunday & Fields of Gray are the first two songs in queue on my iTunes…
There’ll be blue skies fallin’
There’ll be bad scenes and bad dreams
In a world so uncertain
Through the clouds it’s hard to see
I will grab you and lift you
As we hold on tight and sway
We’ll go walking
Across the fields of gray
…that’s good stuff! The only thing that would make this moment better is if Karen Stoutamyer was in her cheerleader outfit, sitting on my lap and whispering the words of the song in my ear. I guess that would really be cheating, ‘cause I like her husband, and she has had dinner with my wife, they have “broken bread together” so to speak…the associations are just too close. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for a hot woman to whisper sweet nothings into your ear while wearing cheerleader stuff if she’s never met your wife, and you don’t know her husband. Otherwise, well, the general rules of decorum have to apply. Damn, it’s a nice thought though.
Life isn’t fair. I should be allowed to have Karen whispering in my ear. I should have more money. I shouldn’t have to be away from home so much. I should have an American Standard Stratocaster. I should have a full head of curly blonde hair. I should’ve been able to kiss a girl named Angie, at least once. I should be able to know what’s around the corner or what’s next. I shouldn’t be only halfway through the funerals I have to go to this week.
Today I carried the casket of the man who gave me a Martin guitar when I was 12 years old. Do you have any idea what a big deal it is to have a Martin guitar? At any age, it’s a privilege – I was 12. My Uncle Roosevelt just gave it to me. “You can’t learn how to pick on them cheap ass guitars. Learn how to play Wildwood Flower on this one and you can have it.”
That guitar, and that man, taught me a lot of things. I will never be a good guitar player, but it doesn’t matter – I really enjoy playing my guitars, and that’s all that matters. One of the things the Martin guitar taught me was how to appreciate the finer things in life. One of the things the man taught me was that I’m entitled to those things as much as anybody else; “…if you’re willing to work for it, you can have it.” That’s a good lesson, that’s why I always dated the pretty girls…my Martin guitar, and my Uncle Roosevelt said I could.
I was sad to see him go, but I find some comfort knowing that he’s hangin’ out in a music store in heaven, listening to pickers, their stories, and sharing a few of his own. He’s playing Tom Dooley on a pre-war Martin, and he’s telling a patron that “Wayne Henderson makes a better guitar”…that’s a nice picture for me.
The second funeral I will attend this week is for a boyhood friend, Skip. The first time I was allowed to cross the street without holding my Mom’s hand, Skip was the friend I was going to play with. Skip and I were the same age; he is the first childhood friend of my memory. We grew up together with a cast of characters in an unscripted, improvisational neighborhood play where nobody ever really took the lead, but nobody ever stayed in a supporting role either. We all had our talents and strengths, and we all had our flaws and weaknesses. We had happy homes and sad homes, broken homes, and fake homes. We had boyhood adventures, lots of “near misses”, and we had fun. Picture a combination of the movies The Sandlot and Stand By Me, that was our life. It was a good life.
This is where most writers insert the phrase, “Life was simpler then…” I don’t really think it was, at least not for us. I think life was less protected then, also less handled and less planned; you just lived it and didn’t over think it all. Almost everyone in my age bracket has had this conversation, or posted something like this on Facebook:
“When I was a kid, my parents kicked me out of the house by 9:00 in the morning, and I was forced to play outside. We used our imaginations, we built forts, we built dams in the creek, we played football all day, we played Army…baseball bats were bazookas and tree branches were rifles…and our parents didn’t know where we were until the streetlights came on. If I needed to travel any distance I got on my bike and I got myself there”
Like “50 is the new 30”, that paragraph is the new “I walked to school in the snow – uphill both ways!”
Both of those conversations usually concluded with “…and I turned out fine.” Really? Did you? OK, if you say so. I didn’t.
Skip, Rock, Dole, Killer, Fenner, Pee Wee, Tone Tone, Jaybird, Red, & Kohrs spent summers fishing and playing hotbox (pickle), we spent our falls playing football – two hand touch in the street, or tackle in the fields of our Elementary & Jr. High School. We spent our winters playing basketball on the playground of our school, or in Skip’s backyard patio court; always worrying about the ball making its way down the concrete stairs and hitting the sliding glass door and waking Skip’s father. This was bad…his glare could defrost a January windshield in like 10 seconds.
Skip DeVoe…the name rolls off of my tongue and through my memory like waves on the Carolina coast – full, robust, and eternal. I could tell Skip DeVoe stories for 2 days, and I wouldn’t be halfway finished. The boy was my good friend, the man, sadly, was a stranger to me. Life isn’t fair.
Skip’s hand were always shaking, but he could tie a treble hook on a 6 pound test fishing line as deftly and as steady as the most skilled surgeon. Skip was beautiful…a strong, handsome kid, who was good at everything he did. He knew how to talk to the girls too. The ladies liked him because he was never shy about saying something nice…he gave you his heart. I think he kinda worried what you were going to do with it afterward, but he gave it anyway. He was fearless, I don’t remember him ever starting a fight, but if you wanted one, he would fight. He was never afraid to stand up to a bully, or to someone who was wrong. I only know a few people like that, people who would rather take an ass-whipping than take anyone’s bullshit. I realize that it’s a bit primitive to admire such things…but I do.
Even though I didn’t know what I was seeing when I saw it, the complexity of Skip’s soul, the depth of his character mixed in with the simplicity of his spirit, were all things that set a compass for me. Skip was just a good dude. He was loyal to his friends, he was kind to strangers, and he was generally happy with the moment. When we were kids, he was happiest in some kind of competitive game, but he could be happy lying down in the soft tall grass at “the short cut” staring up at the clouds and wondering.
I’ve written about this recently, but I believe the point is worth repetition; it’s sad that we seldom stop and think about, and appreciate, the effect that people have on our lives until we lose them…until it’s too late. If I could talk to Skip today, I would tell him that even though I didn’t know it at the time; he helped to teach me about courage – a vital component to parenthood and internet banking. He helped develop my competitive nature, without which, in my day job, I would be a complete bottom feeder. That competitive spirit has helped me enjoy the sports that I have played through the years, and the sporting events that I have attended or watched on TV – I love that stuff.
I think the biggest lesson that Skip taught me was how to just “get along”, and that you can get along without compromising your values and beliefs. It took me a while to apply the lessons learned from my friend, and like other lessons, every now and then I forget…but I get along alright.
I’ll go to this service, I’ll walk down memory lane with some old friends, and I’ll remember my friend Skip with a smile. Sometime today I’ll close my eyes and I’ll see his head fake as he drives around me to the basket, or I’ll watch his trembling hands quickly tie a lure onto a line and then, just as quickly those hands will gracefully cast a perfect arc just short of some lily pads, and he’ll turn around and give me a wink. I’ll see these things, and I’ll miss a guy that I haven’t seen in twenty-five years, and I’ll try to make sense of it all. I will do my best to celebrate the life that left too soon. I will try and understand that this is all part of some grand plan that just doesn’t feel so grand right now, it feels unfair. Life isn’t fair, but it’s good. Rest in peace my friend.
Thanks for reading.