Tuesday, January 30, 2024

One Last Go-Round Followed by a Short Flight


There is a brief transition from being a kid playing on the playground to using the equipment as lounge furniture while stepping into tweenhood. It’s subtle; the swings go from being a thrill to simply a thing for you and your friends to sit while you talk. Oh sure, you occasionally swing back and forth, but mostly no movement is involved–you just sit. The importance of the words being spoken replacing the importance of the motion. It’s a natural evolution, but somehow it goes more or less unnoticed. For me, that memory is indelibly etched in my psyche, but for a different reason.

My family was on an extended camping vacation at the Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area on Ft Sill, Oklahoma. The campground had an expansive playground with many sets of swings, a couple of slides, and an old-fashioned metal merry-go-round. During the day, younger kids owned the place, but as sunset neared, those of us in those in-between years took it over.  

The merry-go-round was the center of activity for us. Luckily, the sunbaked metal would cool off by the time we arrived and we would sit or lie on it with one leg over the side to keep it spinning slowly. Many hours were spent there talking, telling jokes, and envisioning our future. When the streetlights came on, we’d all dash back to our campsites. This went on for weeks until that day.

In July (I only recall that because it was shortly after the fireworks of the 4th), we were all lazing on the merry-go-round when we heard a war cry and immediately sat up. In the distance, one kid’s older brother, Joey, who had just finished Green Beret school and was home on leave was running full speed toward us. He was huge, about ten feet tall, and three hundred pounds of muscle — well, that’s how it seemed. In unison, we all turned to look at his little brother for guidance, but he only gave us a confused look and a shrug–then came the jolt. Massive hands grabbed hold of the rail as Joey ran the tight dirt circle around the piece of equipment. 

I think five of us were there that day and as he completed the first lap, the first kid slid off the platform. Joey was picking up speed and the rest of us tried to secure ourselves to the surface. I was calm; I had a leg wrapped around an upright and thought there was no way for me to slide off. Then another war cry as our tormentor picked up speed. I felt a hand grab my leg momentarily before it vanished as another kid exited the ride. Then the g-forces kicked in and gravity truly worked against those of us still holding on.

My stomach felt queasy just as my leg pulled away from the upright. I grabbed two rails with my hands as my leg lost its hold and my body slid off the edge of the platform. From the outside, I must have looked like Superman as I held on to the rail with two hands with my body outstretched vertically. Glancing toward the center of the ride, I watched another kid slide off the opposite side and disappear. 

In shock and unsure of what to do, I was fairly sure if I let go I’d go flying into a tree trunk. Somehow, I held on, with no way of knowing when this would end. The heat rose in my body and I felt like I was about to puke, then my body was suddenly covered in sweat. My fear was compounded when I felt my now sweat-soaked fingers slipping. Another war cry echoed in my brain as I felt my body go weightless and I watched the merry-go-round fade into the distance as I went flying.  

Gravity caught up with me moments later and I was thrown onto the hard, rocky ground, sliding a few feet before coming to a stop. The world was quiet as I floated there in between the crash and the rapidly approaching reality. Then I heard the laughter. First from the beast who managed to beat all five of us, then we laughed along as well. Joey was probably laughing at the way we looked flying off; we laughed that nervous laughter that comes from surviving a near-death experience. None of us spoke and in the silence, we all heard the buzz as the streetlight came on and we quickly departed to our separate destinations. No one said anything. I arrived back at our campsite, even though I was covered in dirt and both my knees were scraped up.

The next day, we decided instead of going to the playground we’d hike to a spot we’d found previously on the back side of the hill that bordered one side of the campground. There we sat on the edge of a stream that fed the lake and told jokes and talked. I can’t speak for everyone, but it was the last time I went to a playground for years. Life had moved on by throwing me off at high speed.


Monday, January 15, 2024

The Lasting Echo of the Marimba


Things happen over the course of a lifetime that lead to unexpected events -- memories you’ll never forget or that leave you with a scar you touch when its attached memory comes to mind. When I hear a particular song, sometimes it takes back in time. Once there, I get to enjoy that bit of history again.

It was 1976 and after washing my AMC Gremlin, I drove out to the Colonial Parkway so I could crank up my music as I waxed it. I was about halfway done when a Pinto full of girls pulled in to the same overlook to spend some time giggling at me before they laughed and pulled out. I kept my attention on the task at hand and a short while later, the driver of the Pinto returned without her friends. 

She got out of the car, walked over, and apologized for her friend’s rudeness then took a seat on the grass and started asking me questions until I opened up a bit. She listened to my life story, then I listened to hers as we got to know each other. At some point, I pulled a blanket out and spread it on the grass so she'd be a bit more comfortable. I was allowing myself to go with the flow of events, as this encounter was unexpected.

With the waxing complete, I closed the car’s doors after rolling down the windows so we could still hear the music then I joined her on the blanket. As evening came upon us, the sunset gave us a beautiful tapestry to enjoy as we kissed. We’d gone from people who didn’t know each other to something more. I remember the song playing when we kissed for the first time, Moonlight Feels Right. She had wonderful strawberry blonde hair and as I caressed her face, I’d run my fingers through it.. so soft. We stayed there for another few hours, enjoying our time bathed in the starlight, until a cop came up and informed us, we weren’t supposed to be there after dark.

It was a different world then; she gave me her phone number, which I promptly lost, but then she had given me something to remember whenever I hear this song. That’s probably better in the long run, anyway.

488, 363

Monday, January 8, 2024

Oh, I Gallivanted

As a military brat, you learn and use a combination of jargon, acronyms, foreign languages, and militarisms daily. Soon after learning how to tell time based on the position of Mickey’s hands, I learned that the hours after noon had twelve added to them. Instead of it being two in the afternoon it was 1400. If they expected you to do something in a hurry, you did it ASAP — as soon as possible. Also, being the son of a Vietnam veteran, I was familiar with di di mau - go quickly.

Aside from all of that, certain archaic terms were still used on every base I was ever stationed at - as a dependent or serviceman. One that recently came to mind was gallivant. My first memory of this term was when I was old enough to have a backyard sleepover with a group of friends. We used that opportunity to roam the neighborhood. Of course, when you have a father who is used to dealing with troops who wandered off, we should’ve expected to get caught during our wanderings. It was upon getting caught that I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to gallivant all over God’s creation when I was supposed to be in the backyard.

Unlike many other terms that were used during my childhood, the usage of the term gallivant and the formal Oxford definition (to go around from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure or entertainment) is more or less the same. I’ll admit I did a lot of gallivanting while growing up, and even as I got older. Of course, most gallivanting ended without reaching a specific goal or objective. As with all great odysseys, the journey was the destination. Wandering around for wandering’s sake.

Civilian kids did this as well. They were just roaming, kicking around, cruising, or just looking for something to do. On the whole, gallivanting is something that everybody is does at some point during their life. However, as a third culture (military brat) we were given a specific term used by few others. I’m okay with that. It also sounds a little classier than the other terms.

When I mentioned this recently on a military brat discussion board, the recognition of the term was almost universal. It led to an outpouring of different stories of gallivanting on and off base. One person even related that the term was expanded to a single-word phrase: Quichyergallivanting. I think I remember hearing that a time or two, I kept on gallivanting every chance I got.