Monthly Archives: May 2012

Engraving, the American Top 40… and freedom!

There is a radio station where I live that plays Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 shows from back in the 70’s every Sunday morning.  Every time I hear them I can’t help but think of the week day afternoons and Saturdays from 1975 to 1977 when I worked at Bradshaw’s Jewelry Store on Main St. in Elizabeth City.  I was originally hired to replenish the gift boxes behind the counters, deliver any gifts that needed delivering and clean up the store every afternoon after school.  Eventually they taught me how to do the engraving and that became my job on Saturdays along with all the weekday stuff.  It made me a bit nervous because there were pieces that if you messed up they couldn’t be buffed out… the item was just ruined.   Fortunately I didn’t mess up too much stuff… at least not enough to get fired, anyway.

So what, pray tell, has this got to do with American Top 40?  I remember standing in the back room at Bradshaw’s every Saturday morning, after I went and got doughnuts for everyone, going through the weeks engraving orders, seeing what I had to do for the day, while listening to the Count Down.  I can remember standing there so long at that engraving machine some days, particularly around Christmas and graduation,  that my ankles and knees would hurt from standing on that concrete floor… but I did love that job.  Every time I hear Casey’s voice now it makes me smile.

At the end of each day, I got to go out front, clean the windows, sweep the sidewalk and bring in the flags that flew in front of the store (can’t get any more small town America than that, can you?) … I was always so glad to see that time come on Saturdays.. I love the job… but nothing feels as freeing as when you know you have worked hard all day… and now… your time is yours… that is really the best!!  A few bucks in your pocket, a little gas in the old Chevy Malibu and nothing but time on my hands…. yep… that was the best for sure!!

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Hey, do you remember….?!

I’ve been thinking a lot about places… those places that I use to hang out at as I was growing up.  I guess everyone has places they remember… there was always something comfortable and familiar about these places.  It’s where our friends were and where the events that have shaped our lives happened.

There was a place we called the sawdust trail back behind my mom and dad’s house (a place where the local sawmill apparently dumped the bark from thousands of trees) where everyone that had motorcycles would ride and we would spend hours and hours just wondering around in the woods… and then there was Whaley’s…  and Hill’s, down the street from Elizabeth City Junior High where we all went before and after school and tried to avoid Mr. Jolly… then there was the Circle Drive-In, Water Front Park, Tuck’s BarBQ, the mall parking lot.. and the Sewer Plant (yeah, I know… ).. the places where young, awkward teenagers grew into older, more awkward even more insecure teenagers… then there were my college hangouts… hang on.. this is a long list…. Rinaldi’s (where we had to pay a deposit on our beer mugs because they somehow kept leaving with us)… then Glady’s (where we would stand around a fire in a 55 gallon drum drinking beer and swapping lies)… the Sub and Mug…. Lambda Kappa Farm (Don’t ask… you had to be there…), the Golden Key, the Monarch (where we sang with Morris on Thursday nights), and finally Valhalla’s… (Paul served up 3 deep fried hot dogs for a dollar…. the best!!).

There are stories related to every one of these places that make me smile… and laugh… and cry.  You may know these places… and may even know the stories.   Maybe one day I will get around to writing down all of those stories… or maybe they are best kept in the recesses of my mind…  But even if you don’t… there are those places from your past that hold those stories for you too.  You remember the smells… the taste… the music… “that” guy or “that” girl… or “those” friends..

Take just a minute…. remember…. and smile and laugh and cry.

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Best of Friends…

Junior high and high school can be such an awkward time.  If it wasn’t for my friends, I don’t know how I would have survived it all.  This is a story about my best friend back then…

I’m not exactly sure when Joey showed up in my life.  It’s one of those things that really didn’t seem very important.  It was either in the 8th or 9th grade when we were attending Elizabeth City Jr. High that he and I started hanging out together.  But in any case, from that time on we were inseparable.

It didn’t seem to really matter what either one of us had going on, the other one was always involved somehow.  We both took French in the 9th grade and were selected by our teacher to go shopping downtown for some crafts supplies for a French dinner we were preparing.  We were turning the cafeteria into a French Restaurant or something like that.  But anyway, the Jr. High school is just 3 blocks from the main downtown shopping area so we were able to just walk off campus and head downtown.  Needless to say, it took us almost all day to get the supplies.  Heck, we almost forget to get them before we went back to the school.

And we were always there when each other had accidents too.  I almost lost one of my eyes in a freak accident once.  Joey helped me keep up with my assignments until I got back into school again.  Once, he had a knee blow out on him playing basketball and ended up on crutches.  I helped him get from class to class (the school was 3 stories and no elevators which was a real pain with crutches.

Once we got our drivers license we were always on the go.  It was funny but Saturday night was always date night and Friday night the guys always hung out together.  We were together every Friday night getting into some kind of mischief and every Saturday night we both always had a date.  In any case, we would take our dates home around midnight and then get back together again for an hour or so just riding around town.  I would bet that over a three year period we drove 20,000 miles and never ventured too far from Elizabeth City except for the trips to the beach and Friday night football on the road.

I believe I saw him every day I was in town from the 9th grade through our senior year of high school.  I just knew we would be life long friends.  Then there was our graduation.

I remember it like it was yesterday.  We graduated on June 7, 1977.  We were the first class to ever graduate on the football field at Northeastern High School.  It was your typical graduation.  People talking about something that I have no idea what they were saying now… and nobody really cared back then either.  In any case, graduation ended and we had to actually go back by our home rooms to get our diplomas.  I was taking my time, visiting with people and saying good bye to various teachers.  I finally got my diploma and headed for the parking lot.  It was pretty empty by the time I got there but Joey was sitting there on the hood of his car waiting on me.

We stood there and talked for about 10 minutes or so and then I told him I had to go meet my parents for dinner.   I remember looking across the roof of my car at him as we were both getting into our cars and yelling at him that I’d see him around.  But it felt so very different, like that very moment was an end of something.

I didn’t see Joey for the next two months.  I was busy getting ready to go off to college and Joey had decided that he would just stay home, find a job and buy himself a new car.  When we did run into each other again it was very different.  We really didn’t have much in common since we both had chosen different paths.  Conversation that had been so easy just months before were now awkward and strained.

I only saw him off and on briefly over the next couple of years and then we didn’t talk at all anymore… until 1984 when we ran into each other in an apartment complex parking lot in Wilmington… where we both just happened to be living… but that’s another story.

I still wouldn’t trade any of my time with Joey for anything else.  He was the best kind of friend you could have going through Jr. high and high school… a guy who was always there… who always had your back no matter what… What more could I have wanted than that?

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Not quite good enough…

I have struggled a lot lately with this topic.  Most of my post deal with the past… and this one does too, in a way.  From the days I was in elementary school, I always loved playing sports.  I wasn’t very good at any of them but I always loved the competition and camaraderie that participating brought.  Some times people would tell me I was good at things.  But I never finished first at any thing… always finishing close, but never winning.

The same thing held true for academics.  I always did pretty good at school… good, but not quite good enough to be included as a member of the Honor Society or to be considered one of the smart kids.  I use to sing in a choir or two as I was growing up (yeah, there are some stories coming about that too) and I was told that I had a good voice… but never good enough to sing a solo or anything like that.

And so I spent my life growing up being good at a lot.. but with the constant reminder of never being… quite good enough.  Recently all of this has come to the surface again.  I am being reminded constantly that I am good at lots of aspects of my life… but not good enough for that dream job or other things that I want in my life.  The weight of not being good enough can be crushing.

We in the United States in particular have become so obsessed with winning… with being number one.  No one remembers anyone that finishes second.  You either win or you might as well just fold the tents and go away.   Is this really the way life should work?  I surely hope not.

But I do know this to be true… if you don’t try, you will never know if you are good enough or not.  And shouldn’t we be just as impressed with the effort to be in the game as we are with the eventual winner?  I don’t have any answers or words of wisdom here…

I just know that I hate this feeling and I want it to go away… and I want to be able to just be happy with who I am and doing what I am doing… So I get up in the morning… see the sun come up again and face another day, working hard… praying that today is the day that I feel that I am… actually good enough.

Living Life on the Narrows can be challenging some days.  Come on, friends… let’s get going… maybe this is THE day we have been preparing for our whole lives!!  Remember… physically strong, mentally tough, emotionally secure, spiritually grounded!!!  Let’s get after it!!

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Saturdays and Grocery Shopping….

As you scurry around today and tomorrow trying to get together those items that you need for your Memorial Day cookout just think about this for a minute…

It is amazing how mundane grocery shopping is today.  We seem to run to the grocery store several times a week, picking up a little bit now and a little bit later..  In my youth grocery shopping was huge!!  Saturday at our house was dedicated to visiting just about every single grocery store in Elizabeth City.  We would get up early, head over to my grandmothers to get her list of things that she needed and then we would head on out.  I am still somewhat perplexed by it all but of course, you couldn’t get your meats from the S&R… they had to come from White & Brights because they had the best meat counter in town.  And my grandmother would only drink a coke from the 6.5 ounze bottle.. which, by the way, is the most perfect packaging of a product ever.  We had to get those from the S&R.  And we would have to run by the Colonial Store.. later known as Bg Star, I think. And of course we would swing by Winn Dixie too.  I do recall that we would walk up and down ever single aisle in every one of those stores, knowing full well that we weren’t going to buy but those specific items from each store.  I’m not sure what it was we were looking for but we had to look anyway.  I really don’t remember too many of the specifics about this but it struck me the last time I was in Elizabeth City… every single one of those stores is now gone.. replace by those mega chain, low price leaders… sigh… isn’t it funny how things that we  hated so bad when we were young, we now long for just one more time as we get older….

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A First First…

I promise that I will not start every post with some pre-blog explanation but I feel this one requires a little bit.  This one is very personal… and involves someone other than me.  As they use to say on Dragnet, the names have been changed (in the case left out) to protect the innocent.  I have many other stories that I am working on that involve other people and I am trying to figure out… is it okay to share this or not… let me know your thoughts.  In any case.. this is the story of my first, first kiss…

I had known her for many years.  We had gone to church together since we moved to Elizabeth City in 1969.  From the 7th grade forward we had been at the same school.  I always thought she was very pretty…. too pretty actually.  See, I was really shy and was too scared to talk with girls… particularly the real pretty ones.

Once we were in high school, we started having classes together.. and she would talk to me some.  I eventually got comfortable but was always amazed that she would spend any time talking to me at all.  We started hanging out some and I would sometimes ride my bike over to her house on Sunday afternoons and we would just sit around and talk or listen to music.  It was a great time.

I wanted to kiss her… but I was so painfully shy… and I was certain that I had no clue what I was doing so I didn’t do it.  As time went on I could tell this was going to be an issue.  I could tell she was thinking that maybe I wasn’t that interested… and nothing could have been further from the truth!

So I knew the time had come!  I decided that I needed to get brave and step up so I figured the following  Sunday night would be the time.  I would kiss her on the way to her house after our church youth meeting.  Since neither one of us were old enough to have our drivers license yet, we were riding in the car with my sister and her boyfriend.  We were all hunkered down in the back seat holding hands and whispering to each other.  I was so nervous!  As we approached her house, I did it… I leaned over and kissed her.

In that very moment the world went pitch dark and everything was dead silent… suddenly I couldn’t breath.  Then all at once, I was seeing fireworks exploding but yet I couldn’t hear a sound.  It was the most amazing experience I had ever had in my life!

I came back to my senses just as my sister pulled up in front of her house.  I jumped out of the car and ran around and opened the car door.  We proceeded up the sidewalk to her house.  Since the porch light was on and I was still a little bit shaky, I decided that it was best not to press my luck and kiss her again…  she just looked at me and smile.. and said  “Thanks, that was very nice.  See you tomorrow.”  I just smiled back and said “Yes, it definitely was.”  And I walked away… or was I floating… I wasn’t sure.

There were many other first kisses that occurred in my life… but there can only be one first first.. and it was wonderful.  I wouldn’t trade the memory of it for the world…  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that this also meant that there would probably be a first last too… but that’s another story for another day.

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Yeah… those kids… that’s who I’m talking about…

Editors note:  Sorry I’m late this morning but sometimes life just dictates that you do things different that you had planned.  When the winds of life shift, sometimes you just have to adjust the sails to continue to make progress.    And now… on with the blog!!

There were all of the typical groups when I was in high school… the athletes, the real smart kids (quite irritating to those of us that were AL – Academically Lazy), those that were in the theater (just plain weird but in a interesting sort of way), those of us that stood on the outside and tried to figure out just who the heck we were (yeah, we all know who we are).. and then there were them… the band kids…

The band in the Elizabeth City Schools have been a big deal since back in the 1940s.  I have looked back at the ECHS yearbooks from my parents days and even then you could tell it was a huge deal.  To be honest it was quite irritating for those of us on the outside.  This group of students, in their fancy military styled uniforms… riding on their own buses (yep, EC bands had their own buses for a while… a very long while actually)… they always seemed a little bit snooty… like they were somehow better than the rest of us.

And yet… there were many of them that I called friend… and still do.  I have come to realize so much about that group of individuals.  They weren’t snooty at all.  What I had perceived as snooty was actually my own jealousy.  You see, they all shared a common interest… a common passion.  They were all driven by the miraculous beauty that a group of humans can create when they work together toward a common purpose.  The music they made still rings in my ears today.  In looking back, I so wish that I could have been a part of something that special.

Friday night lights would never have been the same if they hadn’t been there…. their contribution every bit as important as that of the teams on the field.  There could have been no pep rallies down by the court house…. and the small groups of them that played at basketball games meant as much as the full marching band during football season… And what Christmas Parade could have felt complete without them.  I never missed a spring concert in the Sheep Harney Auditorium while I was in high school.  The talent they displayed was… and is… phenomenal!

My band friends… you have contributed as much to the wonderful fabric of my life as anyone possibly could.  I still hear the fight song… I hear the cadence as you march… it is all still very much alive.  And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I too, with much humbleness and reverence…  just as Scott Callaway did… stand before you, remove my hat and bow.  You were then and still are the best…

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