They Tore The Old Place Down

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Each year for the past 3 or 4 years, I have taken a day to just be alone. I usually pick a place to go that I used to live. I started doing this after my mother died. A close friend told me that I needed to process my feelings, to go somewhere and be still, unaffected by deadlines or other things. And so that’s what I do each year.

This year wasn’t a planned trip. My daughter had come to stay with us for a few days and  I took her to the airport to fly home. I had taken the full day off from work, and she was safely at the airport by early afternoon and I had most of the day left to do whatever I wanted. The airport is only about 45 minutes from a small town that I lived in when I was a kid, one of my many stops along the way, so I decided to head there.

I lived in the tiny town of Castile roughly three years, including 1st and 2nd grade. My dad taught at a small college there. We came to Castile because my dad had contracted a disease that was debilitating him. Formerly a pastor, he didn’t have the energy to be a full time minister anymore. We moved into a small apartment that the college offered, in the building seen at the top of this post. We were upstairs and there were apartments in the down stairs.

I have fond memories of my life there. I had two close friends, Pat and Terry, and we enjoyed the small town and the freedom to roam the village. I especially remember going to a local store after school with Terry and getting a cup of cider. I developed a love of reading there at the town library, and sometimes I can still picture Tarzan in my mind the way I saw him when reading.

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The thing I remember the most is the time I spent with my dad. He would be home, physically worn out, basically bed ridden. We would play catch with a beanbag in his bedroom, a simple thing, but to me it was wonderful. He would tell me years later that he felt so bad that he couldn’t do more with me than catch. But I loved those times, I didn’t think of it as being cheated. Those moments are sacred to me.

I went back to Castile two years ago, walked the town, took pictures, talked with people that I probably went to school with, but didn’t remember. And I visited the old building that we had lived in. It was empty, condemned and leaning dangerously to one side, seemingly held up only by one large tree. I talked to some locals and they said the building was owned by an out of towner who hadn’t been there for years.

So now in 2018, I came back to town. I drove by the library, which looks very much as it did when I was 10. I drove past the cider mill and Pat and Terry’s old homes. I drove by the old school I went to, closed for many years and very rundown. And finally I drove to see the old apartment building. A block away I could see something was different, and as I pulled up I realized the old place was gone. A gaping space where the building once stood. It was a funny feeling, like my memories had been whisked away. Bittersweet. They had torn the old place down.

I’m still processing my feelings. The building itself was nothing. But the memories it represented, of the times with my folks, my dad, my early friends, the beginning of the journey, they are very real. It was a simple life, a bygone time. I miss the place.

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That Time I Met Phil Keaggy

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I first heard the music of Phil Keaggy in the fall of 1979. It was my first week in college and a bunch of my new roomies and I were driving around the Miami area. Out of the car speakers came a progressive jam of a song, cool vocals and guitar riffs. I was informed that the song was called “Time” and the artist was one Phil Keaggy. Impressed, I headed to the school bookstore the next morning to buy his albums. Keaggy, for those who aren’t familiar, is a world class guitarist, with a multitude of styles. He was, as I found out, the first guitar hero in christian music. And so my love affair with his music began. To date I have seen him in concert somewhere between 35 – 37 times. The number is a blur at this stage.

But this blog is about the first two times I met him. In 1984 I was attending the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale. Over the five years since first hearing Phil’s music, he had never played close enough for me to see him. Sometime in the spring of 1984, I heard that Phil would be participating in a “pro-life” event in Ft. Lauderdale. Excited, I bought my ticket and made my way to a very large church in Ft. Lauderdale. (I’ll point out that I was, and am, against abortion. But that gets tricky, and we’ll talk about that some other time.) To be honest, I attended the event only to see Keaggy. And so three hours of speakers came and went while I waited to see Phil. The only speakers who I remember were Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer (who received a standing ovation for saying the media was “full of bullshit”), and Melanie Green, wife of CCM icon Kieth Green. The response to Frank’s vulgarity was stunning to me, having been raised that good christians don’t say that particular word!

Finally Phil came out and performed two songs. This was very disappointing to me, three hours waiting for two songs didn’t cut it. The photo at the top of this blog is one I took during his performance. I determined that I would wait in the hallway hoping to meet Phil and snag a autograph.

After sitting around for three plus hours, I needed to use the restroom. And of course, as I was using the bathroom, Phil came in and settled into the urinal next to me! My immediate thought was “I’m not going to talk to my musical hero while we are both going to the bathroom”. So I finished up and waited for him in the hallway. Phil was very gracious and signed an autograph for me, I asked a couple of stupid questions, and we went our separate ways.

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Which brings me to the next picture, taken a little over a year later, in the summer of 1985. I had graduated from AiFL and moved back to New York State. A buddy of mine and I heard Phil would be playing in Lancaster, PA. We excitedly made the 4 hour trip to see him. This time there were no disappointments, as Phil and band played over two hours. Afterward Phil came out to meet people and my buddy and I got in line to talk with him. While waiting, I worked up the questions I would ask, determined to not blurt something stupid like I did the previous year. Our turn came and before I could say anything, Phil said “we’ve met before haven’t we? It was in the hallway in Ft. Lauderdale wasn’t it”? He remembered our conversation. Blown away, I once again had nothing brilliant to say, and mumbled a couple of weak questions.

I have heard from others through the years that have had similar experiences with Keaggy. He apparently has an incredible memory, and is very humble and gracious. He must of met thousands over the course of a year plus, but he remembered me. I’d like to think it’s because I’m an incredible guy, but I know that’s not the case! But it made for an unforgettable night.

Baby Violet

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A pretty special event happened over the weekend for my family. My first grand child was born. Baby Violet, mother Eve and father Tyler, my son, are all doing very well. My wife and I are thrilled and Violet’s Aunt Alicia and Uncle Kyle are excited about her arrival. She’s beautiful and tiny and perfect.

I wish my parents had been here to see her. My dad died when I was 25. He died of cancer, and we were all shocked because we believed he would beat death, because he had beaten it twice before. When we heard he had cancer he told me he would beat it because he wanted to be there to see who I married and to see my kids. We were all wrong, the cancer was too far into his body, and he died two months later. My mother on the other hand lived to 94, and saw and lived with and loved my kids. She would have been giddy over little Violet, I can almost hear her excited squeal, the one she would make when she was really excited about something. Like a great meal or family visiting, the things she lived for.

I don’t know about the hereafter. I used to believe I did. But I like the thought that Mom and Dad are aware of little Violet, that they can somehow share in the joy. So even though I don’t know if they can or not, I’m going to go with the hopeful idea that they can, especially dad, who missed so much because his body let him down.

So we’ll go forward, as a family, and do our best to shower Violet with the love and care that my parents would have. I’ll tell her someday about her great grandparents, and the extraordinary lives they lived, simple people who were filled with love. Welcome to the world little Violet!

Vega memories

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“Chevette”
Twenty years ago I watched in awe
as my dad drove up the driveway.
More than proud to have a brand
new family car.
Thirty miles to the gallon, 0 to 60,
sometimes.
I remember putting down the back
seat and lying in the hatchback.
Looking at the sky watching
trees go by.
I was the son of a preacher, and
he was a rich poor man.

No A.C.
No FM,
And no regrets,
in my Chevette.

The winter cracked the highway and
we tried to dodge the potholes.
He never promised us it would be a
gentle ride.
He never had a problem though,
keeping it on the narrow road.

The christian band Audio Adrenaline recorded this song probably 20 years ago now. It always reminded me of my dad, and the Chevy Vega he bought new while we lived in Kentucky. The experiences match my memories of the early days of that car and my dad. If you change Chevette to Vega, it’s a match. My dad was indeed a rich poor man. We’ll talk about him in depth in another post. We went to Lexington to buy the car. How dad was able to I don’t know, he wasn’t being paid by the college. But he decided we needed a newer car, so we went to a dealership, traded in our red Taurino, and drove away with a new 1975 Chevy Vega.

That would have been fine, but dad had agreed to pick up some visitors to the college and bring them back to the campus. So instead of Dad, mom and me riding home, we added another five people. If you’ve ever ridden in a Vega, you know it’s small, and there’s not a ton of room. Plus these people had luggage! All I remember is I was stuck on the backseat floor, under somebody’s legs for the whole trip back home. Longest couple of hours of my short life!

I eventually had the car pasted to me, after my first semester in college. Seems my parents were worried about my transportation after I told them about a date I had where the car I borrowed (my roommate’s car) broke down somewhere in the Miami area. I can’t remember all the details but my date decided that was probably enough and we didn’t go out again. (You know who you are!)

The vega became something of a legend at college. I was always hauling people around in it and it always had a ton of soda cans in the back seat. Occasionally a few random cockroaches would show up. Went to a lot of concerts and got lost a lot. I painted my name on the side door above the handle to personalize it which was kinda corny. It saw me through my three years at Miami Christian and a lot of good times.

My first year at The Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale I was working as a cashier at Cumberland Farms in Ft. Lauderdale. My vega was parked in front of the store and a customer backed into it, driving it into a barrier and crunching the car a few inches. I drove it like that for a few months, a very hard ride! One sunday night I was taking my buddy Tim and his girlfriend to church. Although Tim was 6’7″ and 270 lbs, and his girlfriend was a tiny girl, Tim sat in the back seat. We didn’t get too far before there was a loud bang and the back end of the car dropped on the rear tires. I turned the car around and we drove back to our home with smoke streaming out from the body rubbing on the tires. Great smell! And so the Vega came to a glorious end, crushed into a cube at a local junkyard. But it had served me well and I still miss it.

Life on the move

I’ve been corresponding a lot on FB with friends from different stages of my life. It seems many have no idea of the crazy twists and turns my life took during my school years. From birth through my senior year of high school I moved ten times and attended 9 different schools, in three different states. How did that happen? My dad, as I’ve mentioned before, was a Baptist preacher and a teacher. Staying still just didn’t seem to be in his DNA. It started when we left tiny Throop, NY where I was born, and moved to Mt. Morris, NY where dad took the position as pastor at a Baptist church. While we were there I started kindergarten. My dad’s health began to decline and after a couple of years at Mt. Morris he took a teaching job down the road at a christian college located in Castile, NY. And so I spent first and second grade at the elementary school there. Dad then took the pastorship at a small church in Springfield Center, NY, just up the road from Cooperstown. We were there from third grade to part of sixth grade. Dad then moved us to Letcher, Kentucky to be a greek and hebrew teacher at a very small christian college. This lasted 3 years, I finished sixth grade there and we moved again halfway through my freshman year. This is where it gets a little crazy and I even have trouble remembering it all.

 

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Calvary College, and my mini bike, 1975.
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Mt. Morris, NY with dad.

 

When Dad resigned from the college, he didn’t have a job to go to. Why would he do that? Well, the college hadn’t paid him in two years, providing an apartment to live in was the compensation, and Dad was forced to look for support from people, much like a missionary does. The college was literally down to one student, I’m not kidding, and the end was in sight. (The college campus is still active, now known as Calvary Campus https://www.facebook.com/calvarycampusletcherky/). So we packed up our stuff and headed to Seffner, Florida, where friends had a place for us to live during the rest of the school year. I attended the Jr. High school the rest of that year. For those keeping score, thats two high schools my freshman year.

At the end of the school year dad had not been able to find a job teaching, so we headed north, back to Throop to live that summer with my Aunt in the house that would one day be the home for my own family. I started my sophomore year at a christian school in Auburn, NY. We stayed through the first two weeks of school in the fall. Unable to find that elusive teaching job, and with another home of a friend in Seffner opening up for the fall/winter, we headed south again. I then attended a large high school in Brandon, Florida. Between the semesters, dad was hired to teach High School in Miami. So off we went to a decent sized christian high school for my second semester of my sophomore year. That’s three schools in one year and five over two years for those keeping score at home.

The difference in the three schools I attended my sophomore year is pretty comical really. Emmanuel Christian probably had 100 students from K to 12th. Brandon High had over 4,000 students 9th to 12th. And Mueller Christian Academy I’m guessing had a few hundred students. In two and a half years I had lived in the coal country of Kentucky, the heat of Florida, and the small town farm area of CNY. I felt like a pinball, bopping from place to place. I made a handful of friends along the way, and had my first real girlfriend in Miami, but it was crazy. Miami was a crazy place to live in the mid 70’s and my dad didn’t like it. He was also unhappy with the fundamentalist bent of the principal at Mueller and the day after school ended we were packing our stuff and heading back to Throop. I wasn’t happy, leaving my first girlfriend was a bummer. After living that summer at my uncle’s home, dad was determined to stay put and not have me go to another five high schools, so he took the only available job he could find at the local high school, Port Byron, as a janitor. He had graduated from PB 38 years before. PB was my sixth and final high school, I spent my junior and senior years there. Interestingly enough, after I graduated, 40 years after he did, dad was asked to be the pastor at a small church in Oatka, NY. I headed back to Miami to go to college and he headed back to pastoring. It had been a wild four years.

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Port Byron Basketball, 1978-79