Friday, June 30, 2023

Midsummer Night's Playlist

It was forty-seven years and a couple of days ago today.... 

I was driving from here to there and the songs on the above list were blasting from my radio. In my first two cars, there was only a built-in AM radio to listen to, but that was okay. At least I had tunes while I cruised.

This list popped up on one of my social media timelines, and as I read through it, I was immediately taken back to those midsummer days, and the AMC Gremlin that I drove. The Gremlin was not my first car. My first car was a 1962 hooptie that could get me from one place to another when it wasn’t broken down. During the few months I owned it, I replaced the entire exhaust system, brakes, and fluids and performed a complete tuneup. When the transmission went out after I’d invested all that money, my dad told me that the car was done. He helped me with those repairs; I learned a lot even though a lot of it was spent simply holding a flashlight while his mechanical skills came into play. Now, most of those repairs are not required or simply cannot be performed by the average owner without a full car maintenance bay. So, the Gremlin was the one I spent more time working on the fun side.

The only existing picture of my 1976 Gremlin
I pinstriped the car myself, and swapped out the rims before attacking the inside of the car. It may have only started with an AM radio, but it ended up with a nice FM radio complete with an 8-track player. I only owned ten or of the large clunky tapes. However, in that small number, I covered a wide range of genres from The Good Bad and the Ugly Soundtrack to Kiss Alive!. I added a set of home speakers I bought at a yard sale for ten dollars and they set loose in the back of the car, creating a safety hazard but giving me my own wall of sound.

I never did much to the engine. I didn’t know what I was doing. Automobile mechanics had marched forward in the two decades from when my first car was created to this one. It looked nothing at all like what I had done with my dad on the hooptie.

 About eighteen months later, as I was heading to an employee party in Williamsburg, the car was totaled. The rural highway I was on was in a heavily wooded area, and as I went around the curve, I faced two sets of headlights coming at me. On either side of the road was a steep embankment, so that was not an option. There were simply too many cars and not enough road. The Cadillac Deville that hit me head-on was being driven by a driver who was both drunk and high. The car he was passing was an older car with a group of older ladies in it. Given that everyone was traveling above fifty miles an hour, it is a wonder that everyone survived––especially me. There were no airbags in the car, but the seatbelt that my dad insisted I always wear was firmly fastened.

 After being struck head-on, his car pushed mine backward and then down the embankment. I remember sitting in the car a little surprised I was still alive. I shook my head several times to clear it before exiting the car and climbing up the embankment. Once I got back onto the highway, which was now covered with broken glass and shredded metal, I was stunned as the gravity of what happened pounded me. It was a memorable evening.


Monday, June 12, 2023

Of Dad & Cheetahs


Memories for me are triggered by many things. Music in particular, sometimes specific smells or meals, and of course particular days during the calendar year. I think most people can relate to having memories invade their consciousness during Christmas, but it being June. The approach of Father’s Day–has my mind turned to my dad and I’ve found myself reliving memories of dad events over the course of my life. It’s not a bad thing. Most of the memories are pretty good and usually relate to something positive. One memory seems to be coming up more often than the rest this year. It was something that occurred just before he passed away.

During the last few years of his life, he questioned whether he was being affected by CTE. Over the course of his life, he suffered several concussions. As he mentally deteriorated toward the end of his life, I came to believe he was probably right. As his issues grew, I tried to help with his care, so the burden didn’t fall solely on my brother. It was during one of my many trips to help that this event occurred.

Because of a recent fall, he was staying in a rehabilitation facility; I met him at the doctor’s office. The visit was unrelated, but because he was in rehab he was delivered by med transport. It was late in the day, and I’d spent a frustrating morning dealing with the Georgia VA and taking care of some other details.

Because his was the last appointment of the day, the accumulation of all the day’s delays had put the doctor almost an hour behind, which added to my frustration. The appointment itself was fast, and soon we were ushered out of the doctor’s offices and into a hallway that served as a waiting room. Because of the delay, the med transport that was supposed to return him to the rehab facility had left, and we now had to wait for it to return. I plopped down into a chair and stared silently at the wall in front of me. Because he was in a wheelchair, dad sat a few feet down from me and stared at the wall mounted TV which was showing local news or something.

We sat together without speaking. I was mentally going over the events of the day, trying to make sure I had accomplished everything on my list of things that needed doing. He was silent for several minutes and then he spoke without shifting his view from the TV. “Well, tell me something I don’t know.”

I didn’t appreciate the interruption. In fact, I was hoping the ambulance would show up quickly so that I could move on to the many things that still needed handling. I did not want a conversation. I thought for half a minute before responding, or maybe I didn’t think at all before responding with a smartass answer. Without even looking toward him, I said in a flat voice. “The cheetah is the fastest land animal. It’s able to run up to 70 miles an hour.”

As soon as I the words came out, I knew I was wrong and regretted it. I was taking my frustration out on him. None of this was his fault. But that occurred to me. I braced myself for whatever deserved angry response might come back to me. When he hadn’t spoken for a minute, I looked over at him, and he continued to stare silently at the TV. Then, his expression changed and I could tell he was pondering some sort of response and I gripped the arms of the chair I was in. Finally, he relaxed, shrugged, and without looking toward me said, “Okay, I didn’t know that,” then laughed.

The tension having been broken, I laughed too. We then had a brief conversation about what was going on in the news.

This event is the one I cling to as the last cognizant conversation we had before he passed away.

I miss you, dad.