Only The Lights Remain The Same

There are not many things I love more than having a free evening and a blank sheet of paper in front of me.  I love it even more when I fill that sheet up with words.

What is exciting to me is that I never know where it is going to take me.  It is always an adventure as to where I will end up.  Each and every time I plan on writing about something specific I never do.  I am never able to plan it out like that.  I just let the story or subject just flow out of my memory.   I like the thrill of looking at a picture or listening to some music that bring back some memories and I just love to let it flow from there and see where it takes me.  It is probably why my writings are so disjointed sometimes.  Like I have always said… I love to write, I’ve never said I was good at it.

Tonight was no different from any other night.  I sat down without a plan and I started staring at the blank page in front of me.   I was wondering where it will take me tonight.  Just then a picture that is in a small frame sitting on my office desk caught my attention. In that frame is a small faded picture of me and Bryan Blakley.  That picture was taken just before we picked up our dates for the Homecoming Dance in 1976.  We were desperately trying to look cool in our leisure suits and long hair.  We failed.

For some reason I started to think about Bryan.  I had known him for over 45 years.  I do not really remember a time when he wasn’t part of my life.  From about the age of 6 to 17, I cannot think of one thing that I was a part of that he wasn’t involved with in some way.  He and I played together and fought together.  We did just about everything together…whether that was skipping school…going on a double date or just hanging out.

One of my favorite remembrances of him was a time that we walked home from the fair about the time we were 16.  We had just spent the last night of the fair walking around checking out the girls and just having a good time.  Nothing of real significance happened that evening at the fair.  As a matter of fact, I don’t really remember anything specific even happening.  Just the two of us acting stupid, (and again) trying to be cool.  We failed again.

The fair had closed for the night about 11:30 and Bryan and I decided to walk home that night.  The Ottawa County Fairgrounds is located about six miles outside of Oak Harbor, Ohio.  At 16, the premise of walking six miles to home on a hot summer night seemed to be perfectly logical.  I remember that it was pitch black that night.  It seemed you couldn’t see past your next step.  We took our time.  There was no need to hurry.  Didn’t seem like there was that much to go back to.

Maybe it was just the mood we were in or maybe it was because it was so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.  But I remember that Bryan and I talked about everything on that long walk home.    We talked about our childhood, our families.  We talked about music,  what we liked and disliked.  We talked about girls.  We talked about our future.   He told me what his plans were for his life. Bryan wanted to leave the tiny confines of Oak Harbor, Ohio.  He wanted to see the world and the sooner the better.  For me,  I wasn’t exactly panicked about my plans.  I don’t think up to that point in my life I had ever given a second thought about what I was going to do with my life.  Hey – I was sixteen years old.  To me, the future was for someone else to worry about.

We had walked almost all the way to town when suddenly Bryan and I stopped talking.  It seemed as if there was nothing left to say. I suddenly had the over whelming feeling that somehow that night I walked out of my childhood and into the next phase of my life.  I wanted to stay there, in that night… more than anything I wanted before.   But I knew I couldn’t.   I was sixteen.   I slept under a roof my father owned, in a bed my father bought.    Nothing was mine, except my fears.   And my growing knowledge that not every road was going to lead home anymore. Things were about to change.  Walking through that neighborhood I grew up in, I realized that there was a time I knew every family on the block.  Their kids, names of their dogs, but most of those families weOHre gone now.  Scattered.  The ones who stayed were not the same.  The world was moving on.  My world… their world… a place where only the lights remained the same.

So… we went home. 

As I reflect on that night, some 35 years later,  I think about a lot of things, like hometowns, like family – the shortcomings, the flaws and the arguments. Still, in a world of inconsistency and doubt… maybe home is what you make it. Like I  have said before, most small towns were all about the same.  Sure, some may have been a little bigger than Oak Harbor, and some may be have been a little greener… but there was only one real difference. Only one of them… was yours.

We didn’t really accomplish anything that night.  At least that is what I thought at the time.  Our remaining high school years that lay ahead would find us moving in different directions.  There would be other nights where we would hang out and try to be cool.  We always failed.  But the sad truth is there wasn’t ever another night just like that one.   That night and the long walk home will always be set apart in my memory and in my heart.

Over the next 30 years when our paths crossed and we would always talk and we knew that there would always be a special friendship between us, but it would never be the same as it was growing up on that alley between Walnut and Washington Streets.

A few years ago, I received a phone call.  I just couldn’t believe the news on the other end.  Bryan had passed away.  I was already reeling from the loss of my closest friend (Bob Emrich) in May of that year and now my childhood friend was gone as well.   I was shocked and in some ways I am still not over the loss of my two closest friends.  For whatever reason, God sometimes allows people to be taken very quickly from us.  Many times, so fast that we never get the chance to say the things we needed to say.

I will cherish that time.  The last conversation with him was no different from any conversation I would have had with him over 35 years ago when we walked home from the fairgrounds. Our lives indeed took different paths but we will always share the common bond we found in what we call family.

Growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were. You wonder what’s to come. But that night, I think Bryan and I knew it was time to let go of what had been, and look ahead to what would be.  Other days.  New days.  Days to come… when only the lights remained the same.

 

Under The Influence

To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of Children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden or a good name; to know that one life breathed easier because you lived…this is to have Succeeded.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I found  statement this on a cold blustery wintry day, just a few days after my grandfather passed away. It was scribbled by him on a scrap piece of paper that I found in a crumpled discarded box that belonged to him. It was just a simple handwritten statement that was tossed aside in a box to be taken away with the next load of trash.

At the time, I did not think too much about this little note. I just folded it up and stuck it in my pocket.  I was too busy trying to throw away the trash that was left behind after the funeral by my family as they “went through” the house that my grandparents built and lived.

Standing there in the middle of the basement, the hard evidence of a life finished was piled up around me. I slowly began to realize that my life was changing. Everything that I had grown up with was now going to be somehow different. The path of adulthood that seemed so clear just a few days before was now clouded with doubt and fear.

I lost my Grandfather. He passed away on Christmas Eve 1986. His heart simply gave out…it was his time. I would like to say that I accepted the fact that he was gone with reverence and understanding – but I can’t. His death came as a crushing blow to me. It was sudden and I was up in Michigan when I should have been at his side.

Only a few days before he was holding my first son in his hands…now my son would be cheated from knowing the man that made me proud of who I was.

This incidence of finding this statement written on a piece of paper took place in 1986.  I remember it so vividly. It clearly was one of those life moments that a person never forgets.  This one was mine.

Sometimes in death of a loved one we sometimes ignore some of the negative things that person may have done in their life and tend to only focus on the good that could be said of that person.  I am sure over the years I have done just that.  I probably have given my grandfather more credit that he deserved.  There have been times where I totally blocked out the fact that at times he was not a great father to his own children and as I strain to think about what I remember of him as a husband to my grandmother most of what I remember is not good.

That being said, I cannot find one instance where I remember him not being a “great” grandfather to his grandchildren. He was always wonderful to his grandchildren.  The perfect example of what a grandfather should be to a child.  If I am going to write a blog about the influences and stories of my life that have shaped who I was and who I am and the “way I tend to be”, I have to start with the one that influenced me as a child.

One of my fondest memories that I have with him was a trip he and I took to the grocery store in Norwalk, Ohio when I was about 10 years old. As we were walking up and down the isles, trying to get everything on the list he had. He leaned down and whispered in my ear that he wanted to introduce me to this man that was walking down the same aisle. He shook hands with this tall lanky manLefty Grove Pitch; it appeared as if they knew each other. My Grandfather said, “Mr. Grove, I would like to introduce your to my grandson, David” He looked at me and said, “David, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Robert Grove.” I shook his hand and I was wondering why my grandfather was showing so much respect?  Why did he use the words, “Mr. Grove” and not just call him by Robert since they appeared to be friends?  I didn’t pay much attention to rest of their conversation. We ended up actually going to a little diner and had lunch and a cup of coffee with “Mr. Grove”.

It was in this diner that I had the realization of the significance of this chance meeting with “Mr. Grove”.

For it was there I found out that Mr. Grove was Robert Moses”Lefty” Grove.
He was a hero tlefty_groveo my Grandfather, a baseball legend, and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game. He won 300 games and struck out the side with 9 pitches – not once but twice, he accomplished this.

Lefty Grove has led the league with the lowest ERA more than any other pitcher (9).

Once in the ninth inning against the Yankees, with a runner on first, a one run lead and no outs, Lefty struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Bob Meusel on 10 pitches to win the game.

It was a very special day for my grandfather. He was able to have a cup of coffee with a legend that he called a hero. We sat tJames Russel Lee (1942) My Herohere for an hour or so; eventually, it was time to go our separate ways. As my grandfather waved goodbye, I think I saw a glimpse of the young man he once was. He was reliving a part of his childhood.

I waved goodbye to my new friend “Mr. Grove” and suddenly he was gone.

Some people pass through your life and disappear in a flash. You get over it. 

But the good ones… The real ones… The ones who count….stay with you for the long haul.

The thing is, after all these years, I couldn’t tell you what we talked about.  What do I remember, is sitting in that diner, being young, having lunch with the man who influenced me the most as a child.

My Grandfather, James Russell Lee.

Through the Eyes of a Child

On a hot July night in 2012, I witnessed the passing of a torch. 

There wasn’t a ceremony and no one was there to take a picture to document the event, but make no mistake, what happened that night was something special.

Brian Smith1
Courtesy of DB3 Imaging

As I made my way through the crowd along the dimly lighted back stretch  of the racetrack, trying to get to Brian Smith’s pit stall.  I could not help but notice that the people who passed by the “Grace Car” that night were not aware of the magic that was taking place right in front of their eyes.  

But I did.

As the adults and race fans were getting the opportunity to see the “Grace Car” up close, Brian Smith, a 26 year veteran sprint car racer from Fremont was kneeling down talking to a young boy.  I could see the eyes of this young boy as Brian bent down and talked to him. The look in this young boy ‘s eyes immediately went to a look of awe.   

While other drivers lined up their race cars to get them on the trailer and get out of there.  Brian was still there… no hurry… sleep could wait… there was more important business to do.  I immediately could see the sparkle in the eyes of this young boy as the transformation had begun.  The torch was passed on to another generation.

No one noticed that Brian had just performed magic. He just transformed a young child into a lifelong race fan.  He just made a young fan believe in heroes. One that is not found in the comic book store or on the movie screen.  A real life hero… living right here in Fremont, Ohio.

Heroes emerge, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources.  

I know this to be true…because my hero found me at the same little dirt race track in Fremont, Ohio.

Harold “Mac” MHaroldMcGiltoncGilton.

For those that don’t remember him, Harold may be just another name in the record books, just another plaque on the wall.  To those of us that remember him, he’s a legend, a hometown sprint car racer and a cherished memory.

I first met Harold McGilton in the early 1970’s. I think I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time. It was a chance meeting and though it was a long time ago…I remember it like yesterday.  I watched him drive his sprint car full speed into the corners of that wonderful dirt track in Fremont, Ohio and slide through the turn and then fly down the straight-a-way passing cars  and winning races.  In my mind, Harold never lost a race… there were just times he didn’t win.  However, when  Harold would win his race.. he  just didn’t win, he beat the other drivers. 

Har carAs a young boy, when I rode my bicycle, I imagined that I was Harold making the heroic and dangerous pass on that final turn to win the race.  And when I played with my “Matchbox” cars…I had a special car that was “Harold’s” car.  It NEVER lost a race.

I am sure there were times when in my mind…I was more Harold McGilton than the real deal.  I am also sure that his family had a different perspective on Harold and his life as a hero.  After all he was human… just not in my eyes.

Harold McGilton had no way of knowing that when he stopped what he was doing after a race all those years ago and took the time shake my hand  on that July evening, at the Fremont Speedway, he would have had such an influence on a young boy from Oak Harbor, OHarold McGiltonhio.

Harold never knew my name, nor did we ever talk to each other since that first night I met him.  However, Harold “Mac Attack” McGilton had a tremendous influence on me during those early years. He just never knew it.   He was larger than life to me and I idolized him and when he passed away a few years ago, I cried.

Tonight as I sit at my desk , I imagine I hear the roar of the engines of the sprint cars as they fly around the track just a few blocks from my home.  As I imagine each lap as the cars go around, I wonder if there is another young fan in the stands watching their favorite driver take their car into a 100 MPH slide through the corners of the Fremont Speedway.  Much like I was in the early ’70’s,  I came to the track one night a young fan of the races and little did I know that I would leave a few hours later with a hero in my life that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

Brian Smith understands this… he too has heroes.  His grandfather and father were racers and heroes  that planted a seed in him that he passes on each week to each child he talks to.  

I have said this many times, in my life, I have traveled around the world. I have met a number a professional athletes, politicians and famous people over the years. I have even had the honor of meeting two Presidents and shaking their hands.  All of these people would be considered heroes for many people, but not for me.  I did not have to travel all around the world to find a hero… He found me at a little dirt track in Fremont, Ohio.

There are those of you who say that there are no real heroes in life.  I say you just don’t know where to look.

Confession’s of a Momma’s Boy

If I am going to write a blog about the influences, experiences and stories of my life that have shaped who I was and who I am and the “way I tend to be”, I have to start with the one person that influenced me more than anyone else in my life, my mother.

There were no two ways about it.  When I was fourteen… I was a pretty cool kid.  Not in the ninety-ninth-percentile of coolness, maybe, but definitely the top third of my class.  I knew the walk.  I knew the talk.  I had my own kinda… style.

But, like a lot of “cool” kids my age, I did have one tragic flaw.  One terrible secret that threatened the very fabric of my fragile image.  One secret that most teenagers try to hide… I was a momma’s boy.

When you’re a little boy, you don’t have to go very far to find the center of your universe. It’s your Mom.  She’s always there.  It’s a pretty good arrangement.  No matter what happened in your life she was there.  When you went to bed, when you got up in the morning, she would be there when you left for school and there when you came home.  When you’re a young boy, all you can imagine is the fact that you will be with her for the rest of your life.  In your mind, nothing could ever change that.  She would always be there and never leave your side.  I would always be momma’s boy and nothing could change that.

But around age fourteen, there starts to be… a problem.  The problem then is…she’s always there.  And I mean always.

Now a mom has to be a mom, but a guy’s gotta be a guy.  And when the irresistible force of independence meets an immovable object… Sooner or later – somethings gotta give.

Unfortunately it did…

I guess I could tell a story of how we ended up having some big terrible fight or some extreme family crisis and that we didn’t talk to each other for years and we would reconcile years later…however, none of that would be true. 

It may be a better story to be read than the one I’m telling…but what actually took place is something a little more sinister.  Something more hurtful.  Something filled with more regret. I did what teenagers have done since the beginning of time.  I did something that I can never take back.

I ignored her.

When I say, I ignored her; I mean I took her for granted.  I did not take the opportunity to spend more time with her.  I started to make my own decisions and I left her out of most of my plans.  I did not do it intentionally.  It wasn’t meant to hurt her.  It was a part of growing up and I regret it to this very day.

Over the past few years, I have spent much of my spare time writing the story of my family. I am intrigued at how we all came together and became a family. I do as much research as I possibly can. I’ve found that every American family has its own unique blend of personalities, my family is no exception. 

Within our family tree we range the full spectrum of types. From the flamboyant… to the demure. From the repellent… to the ideal.

My mother set the standard of the “ideal” in my family tree…slide7

Agnes Elizabeth Clemens was born in November of 1931 in Washington, Pennsylvania.  She was the oldest of eight children born to William and Lida Clemens.

Her young life was filled with events and situations that would have defeated and broke the spirit of most of the young girls her age.  Times were hard and things were tough.  That’s not to say there were not good times, but as I remember my mother telling me stories, there always seemed to be a common theme…nothing stayed “good” for long.  She felt as if she had the responsibility of her family on her shoulders, with no real help in sight.

She was forced to grow up way too soon.  She left home at 17 and left Pennsylvania and never looked back.  She had to make decisions that would affect her for the rest of her life.  Had not it been for that Greyhound Bus breaking down outside Sandusky, Ohio only God knows what would have happened to her.

b12 She put her childhood and her past on the shelf, met and married my Dad, became a mother and looked to the future.  Her dreams and desires for her life were now solely surrounded in her family…in particular her children.  I have never known her to do one thing in this life where she did not put her children first.  Her eyes sparkled when she looked at her children.
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Simply put…she found her happiness in her children…she found her destiny…she was meant to be…a mother.

She endured and persevered, but lost a part of herself when she lost a child, my brother Bobby on a cold November day in 1970.  He was killed tragically in a car/train accident. That sparkle in her eyes was dimmed and I look back with wonder trying to figure out how she made it through. I can think of nothing  worse than outliving your children.

That wonderful sparkle came back when she got to hold her grandchildren shortly after their birth. And now as she is part of the newest generation of “great-grandchildren” and I am not sure that anything makes her happier.  Whether as a child, grandchild or great-grandchild, each one of us have been privileged to have her love and to be looked upon with that beautiful sparkle in her eyes.

scan0003
(Agnes and Robert J. Lee in 2008)

I can never go back and fix the times in my life that I could have spent more time with her.  She tells me that she wants to live to be at least 100, so she can see what the world will be like then.  I don’t know about that.  But what I do know is that I hope she makes it.  Because there is more to this woman than I have ever learned and there is so much more to her that I want to know.

She is the primary reason that there is anything “good” in the way I tend to be.

When it is all said and done, at the end of my life, I am sure there will be many things said about me.  I have left a trail of failure and some footprints of success.  I am sure that the words to describe me will vary about as much as the times I have been successful and the times I have failed. 

Say what you will. 

I can think of no higher honor than to have words that describe me as a man that loved his God, his wife Pamela, his children, grandchildren and that I was simply and proudly a “momma’s boy”.

Live long mom…

“Happy Mother’s Day”

I Am New

I am NewNow I won’t deny the worst you could say about me
But I’m not defined by mistakes that I’ve made.
Because God says of me, I am not who I was I’m being remade
I am new… I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved I am new.

Who I thought I was and who I thought I had to be
I had to give them both up, cause neither were willing to ever believe I am not who I was… I’m being remade I am new I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved I am new I am new.

Too long have I lived in the shadow of shame, believing that there was no way I could change. 
But the one who is making everything new doesn’t see me the way that I do.
He doesn’t see me the way that I do.

I am not who I was I’m being remade I am new.
I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved I am new I am new.
I am not who I was, I’m being remade I am new.
Dead to the old man, I’m coming alive I am new I am new.

Forgiven, beloved… Hidden in Christ Made in the image of the Giver of Life.
Righteous and holy, reborn and remade.
Accepted and worthy. This is our new name
This is who we are now…

JASON GRAY – I AM NEW LYRICS