The Summer of 1975

Everyone needs a place to go to be a kid.  For my buddies and me, that place was ten minutes from home if you walked it.  It was a world all its own. All the kids from that sleepy little Ohio town would gather there. It is where we grew up.  

Together.

That summer, the place to be was Teagarden’s Pool in Oak Harbor, Ohio.

So many things happened there… so many memories.

But of course, none of it was permanent.  Unless you count the flashes of images and thoughts of a time not cluttered with the responsibilities of adulthood.

Each day was filled with the shrieks of laughter and catcalls, as me and all my friends would swim on endless summer days.

Sure, they called it Teagarden’s Pool, but we knew better.   That pool… belonged to us.

On one beautiful day in June, I was at the pool to take a Junior Lifesaving course.   I had known how to swim since I was five.   I had worked my way through the Tadpole, Guppy, Dolphin and Shark divisions.   Now I was on my way to becoming a “lifeguard”.  

Looking back on it now, I probably took all of those classes because of the fact that they were taught by girls, not just any girls… but older girls… girls in bikinis.

And on this particular day, this pretty girl was there to take the class.    Now I knew all the girls in my age group from our little town of Oak Harbor, Ohio.   But this girl wasn’t a girl that I knew… she was “new”.    A rare find in our little town.

I tried not to look like I was staring.  I quickly looked away if I saw the slightest twitch that she may look in my direction.   I sat there trying to look like I was paying attention to our “instructor-in-the-bikini”, but I couldn’t stop looking at the beautiful stranger that was dropped from heaven.   Who was this new girl?   Where was she from?   Where was she living and more importantly was she staying?

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who eyes were fixated on the new visitor.   I looked around the class and every hometown girl who was taking the class was staring as well.  The evaluation was in full motion.   As my eyes and all of the others boys were looking in approval, the other girls there were judgmental and critical of new-found competition.

As fate would have it, when it was time to break up into groups for our first activity of the class, I was placed in the same group with her.   I couldn’t believe it, what luck!

She was walking my way and my mind was racing a million miles per hour.    I was going to be the first to talk to her.   I was desperately trying to think of something witty to say, something profound. Something to break the ice… something to let her see I was a “cool” guy.

I was sure I did not want to say something like…”Hi, my name is David.   What’s yours?  Where are you from?   How old are you?   Why are you here?   Did you move here?   Why are you taking this class? “

No… I did not want to say these things… but I did.

As a matter of fact, I said it without taking a breath and yes, I said this whole statement in less than 1.2 seconds.  

A world record I’m sure.

She was just staring at me.   The look on her face was evident that she thought she just  met Oak Harbor’s village idiot.

Her jaw dropped and I could see that she was trying not to laugh at the jumbled mess that just came out of my mouth.   She was trying to respond, but could not for fear that she would make fun of the village idiot.   So she spoke in precise, deliberate and painfully slow words.   She spoke loud.   You know, like when you talk to someone who is deaf or from a foreign country.    Like somehow if she talked louder, I would be able to understand what she was saying.   “MY NAME IS KAREN” she slowly exclaimed!

It was evident that I lost any chance of convincing her that I was a normal “cool” guy.   So I relaxed.   I interrupted her and told her that I wasn’t deaf and I was at least smart enough to follow what she was saying.   I tried to be coy and told her I might not understand everything she said but I would at least try.   She told me she was 15 and was from Cleveland.   She was camping at a local campground for few weeks with her grandparents.    She was bored at the campground so they let her take this class.

I was so glad that she didn’t catch me staring at her.  I mean, I already made an absolute fool out of myself; I did not want her to think I was a pervert as well.

Maybe she was just a kind-hearted soul that took pity on village idiots or she indeed liked being with me, because for the next two weeks we were inseparable.    I would wake each morning and hurry down to the pool at 8:00 AM and sure enough there she would be waiting there for me.  

After class we would stay at the pool until it closed that night.    We would swim and talk for hours.    We never left the pool.   Karen told me about everything in her life.    She told me about her school, her friends and her family.   She never had or wanted a boyfriend.    She told me how her father died when she was two and her mom had recently remarried a man she did not like.   He made her feel uncomfortable.   Always making comments and touching her in ways that made her feel uneasy.   That was really why she was in Oak Harbor in the first place. She was trying to get away from some things she did not want to deal with.

We talked and talked. I didn’t mind.   She told me things that she said she never told anyone else.   I guess in some way, I made her feel comfortable. Maybe she knew that she could say exactly what was on her mind and not feel judged because of it.  She was sharing her memories, feelings and her dreams as she spoke them to me.

At times, she would just stop talking and get real quiet. She wanted me to just to talk to her about my life.   We would talk about my brother’s death and life in a small town.   We talked about religion and what we believed.   We shared our love for music and what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives.    It was special because we could talk, knowing that we could say anything and we would not be judged like we would have been had we been talking to our friends that we grew up with.  

And we both knew…it couldn’t last forever.

Soon that inevitable time came upon us and neither one of us wanted to admit was taking place.   She had two more days before she was going to go back home.   It was Friday and she would have to leave Sunday morning.   As the pool closed that warm summer Friday night, we stayed a little longer talking at the gate before her grandparents picked her up.   She looked nervous and I asked her what was wrong.   She just looked at me and stared.    With the sun setting in the distance and the color of her blue eyes reflecting off the last remaining rays of light, she looked up and kissed me.

No… it wasn’t my first kiss.  Maybe it was her first kiss, I don’t know.    But I do know that this was different.   This was not about a boy and a girl.    For in fact, in the two weeks we spent together we had not as much as held hands.   This was about friendship and the special time we spent together.

Karen placed a letter in my hand and asked me to promise not to open it until I got home that night. We had one more day together and we made plans to meet the next day at the pool, like always.

And in an instant she was gone.

I took my time walking home that summer night. I wanted to remember and etch it in my memory.

I read her letter.  She wrote of our first meeting at the pool.   She told me that she thought it was cute how I kept staring at her that first day and how I tried to look away when she looked over at me.   She had caught me staring!!  I thought I had hidden it.   She talked about the pool and all of our talks we had.   She told me she would miss me.  She told me goodbye.   Her grandparents were leaving early on Saturday morning, not Sunday. She wouldn’t be coming back to the pool.

I knew at that moment, that life was not fair.   In the haste of the last night together, I never got her address.   It was hopeless. When you’re fifteen, Cleveland is so far away. 

It might as well have been on he other side of the world.

I’d never felt like that before in my entire life.   The next day I ran down to the pool in the fleeting hope that she would be there.   Maybe there was a chance she would stop by before she left for home.   She wouldn’t come to the pool that day.  

Our time together that summer was over.

That was 40 years ago.   Even today, I think about a friendship that lasted for two weeks that I have carried with me for all these years.    I wonder what ever happened to her.  I wonder what would she be doing now and if some of her dreams came true.  I wonder if she still thinks about a skinny kid from Oak Harbor, Ohio.

I like to think so.

I kept that letter she wrote me in an old shoe box.   Over the years, I took it out every now and then, unfolded the tattered, yellowed pages and I was immediately taken back to another place and time.   Suddenly for a few moments, I was fifteen again and life wasn’t filled with the responsibilities I have today.

I have no idea where that letter is today.  It was probably thrown out with the trash when I wasn’t paying attention to what was in that old shoe box.

But I still have the memory.

Memory has a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are and the things you never want to lose.

Cause when you’re fifteen, it’s a long way to Cleveland.

 

If Only I Had Enough Talent

When I was a kid, the thing I wished for most was to be talented. No. Not just talented. I wanted to be special. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I wanted to change the world with something I could do. I wanted to be remembered in my hometown.  I wanted to be someone who “made it” in whatever I would choose to do and make my mark on the world that would be remembered for years after I was gone.

And I believed I could…

If only I had enough talent.

That longing lead me down paths that almost all of us have journeyed. Drawn to sports, art, and a short-lived stint in the choir in search of my place to belong.

FootballLike most boys growing up, I dreamt of being a professional athlete.  Playing a sport I loved and getting paid for it was just the ticket for the dreams of a young skinny kid from Oak Harbor, Ohio.

If I only had enough talent.

When you are 5’4″ as a sophomore and weighed a solid 95 lbs dressed in your footbbaseballall uniform with full pads and helmet… it was painfully obvious that football was not going to be in my future.  The fact that I grew 9 inches during the summer between my 10th and 11th grade years did not make the prospect of being a professional athlete any clearer.  Yes, I was 6′ 2″, but I also only weighed 130 lbs.  A strong wind could and would knock me over.

While I was not the worst player on any of the sports teams I played on.  The evidence was clear that I was not going to take Hank Aaron’s place in the Major Leagues, nor was I going to play for the Cleveland Brown’s at any time in my life.

I had always thought of myself to be artistic.  Why I thought that I have not a clue.  I have always loved to draw and be creative.  I tried to be artistic and there was a time I thought I was pretty good at it. Maybe I thought that because when I was in the fifth grade I won a first place    riLigerbbon at the Ottawa County Fair for a pencil drawing. I guess it gave me enough confidence that I convinced myself that I was talented.  That was until I compared my ability to those around me when I took art classes at Oak Harbor High SchoolI was suddenly made aware that my artistic ability was somewhere along the lines of Napoleon Dynamite’s when he drew a picture of a Liger.  Not so good.

If only I had enough talent.

Then there was the period in my life when I dreamed of what it would be like to be the lead singer of a band.  I mean I could sing all the notes of my favorite songmicrophone1s and bands when the music was blasting through the cheap speakers of my 1976 Ford Pinto.  It’s funny how we convince ourselves that we are as talented as our favorite singer we hear on our radio.  I mean who of us have never sang their heart out using a hair brush as a microphone?  The sad truth is that I found out how lacking of talent I truly was when I tried out to sing a solo for our choir concert. It was not pretty.

If I only had enough talent.

I have written numerous times about my search to find what my talent was in life and I have to admit, when I reflect back at my life, I am hard pressed to state exactly what my talent ever was.  I have had to come to terms that I will not be remembered.  Not even in the small town I was raised in.  I have not changed the world and for the most part the only true mark that I will ever make will be the slab of stone that my family puts up to mark my burial plot.

That being said… I think I have figured out why my mark on this earth is not what I thought it would be when I was Talent-Overrated-titledreaming of it as a child.  I think that talent is over-rated.  Yes…I said it.  Talent is over-rated.  Talent doesn’t matter that much in the real world. It’s a prerequisite to being average. It may open some doors, but it won’t keep them open for long. I’ve discovered in the real world, there’s something that’s far more important. Want to know what trumps talent every time?

Hard Work and Discipline.

I know, I know. They are ugly words! Even typing them makes me feel a pit in my stomach much like I feel when I have to pay my taxes each April. 

If we’re honest, we’ll all admit we should “be more disciplined”.  And it turns out that hard work is, well…hard.

Easier things are easier and usually more fun. So we put off the hard stuff for another day. And we busy ourselves with things we can argue are important, in an effort to avoid what we should actually be doing.

Relying soleHArd Workly on talent to get you through life can often lead to failure.  Why?  Because those that rely on their talent alone often fail to work hard enough to accomplish what they feel should have come easily.  They tend to avoid the discipline needed to overcome those areas in their life that are lacking.

It’s not our talent that sets us apart and opens the door to our future.  It’s our willingness and resolve to face the hard work, again and again – to get busy, not just with doing stuff, but with doing the stuff that moves us forward in our most important dreams and goals.

Like you, I lead a busy life; I can find an excuse when I need one. I can justify my bad choices and procrastination if I want to. But the deeper I get into life, the more I see and feel the price I paid avoiding the important things before me.  I am convinced that ata secret this point the reason no one will remember a skinny kid from Oak Harbor, Ohio is the fact that I never worked hard enough and disciplined myself to achieve all that I should have achieved.

Far too many times in my life, I have used excuses that would keep me from doing what I probably should have done.  I would say that I didn’t know what to do.  The truth is that I would choose to avoid the hard work and discipline it would take for me to overcome the obstacles that were placed in my way.

Yes, there are times in our life when we legitimately don’t know what to do. But too often, too many of us set up camp there when we were meant to just pass through. In time, we accept our excuses as truth and trade our energy for apathy. Eventually, we give up and settle in – far short of our potential, far less happy and fulfilled than we could be. And when we do, we tell ourselves we just didn’t have the talent, or the skill, or the knowledge to move forward. When the truth is… we simply did not want to work hard and discipline our lives enough to reach the goals we should have had in life.

So as I reflect on the fifty plus years of this life, I am drawn to challenge myself fopossibilityr what can be accomplished in this phase of my life. There is still time and there is still opportunity. More and more, I’m coming to realize that hard work and discipline isn’t an enemy out to shame me. It’s a friend with a key.

If you want to be special, If you want to stand out from the crowd and change the world by something that you do.

You can. All you need is enough… discipline and hard work in your life.

No, more than likely, I won’t ever be remembered in my hometown and the world will make little note of my passing.  But I believe that there is still more for me to do.  There are things I still want to accomplish in life.  Things I believe I can make the difference in.  These goals can be attained by instilling an attitude of hard work and discipline in my life.

The same can be said for you and the things left for you to accomplish.

And yet, there is a small part of me that still thinks that maybe this will be the year that I will get drafted by the Cleveland Brown’s…

If only I had enough talent.

Just Not Good Enough

It was the first day of practice – I was late.   I began to panic.  Maybe I’d come on the wrong day…maybe I’d come to the wrong place!  Every time I would open a door, there was another hallway.   I couldn’t find the coaches – I couldn’t find any of the other players. 

And that’s when it hit me,  this was Jr. High School. 

And I…was completely…and utterly…alone.

1973.   It was a crazy time. Nixon and the Watergate scandal were the headlines and people were on the move…looking for answers…breaking new ground and wanting change.

Seemed like everyone was searching for a new identity.  Me, I was breaking some ground of my own. That September I entered Rocky Ridge Junior High.   I was looking forward to new adventures.  I wanted to start my 7th grade year with a bang.  I wanted to play sports…not just any sport but the sport of football to be exact.

After running down every hall of the school, I finally found the locker room and went in.

To say that they were less than pleased to see me come into the locker room more than 10 minutes late for the first day of practice is an understatement.  For what it’s worth, it did get me noticed.  More importantly,  I gave the coaches a face of the one person they would ride and harass  for the rest of the season.

I survived that first day and at the end the week, the coaches called out my name and they threw me my new football jersey.  Christmas Green…with the number 80 blazoned in white on the front and in the back.   I was now officially a member of the 7th grade football team for the Oak Harbor Rockets.  I was so proud.

I had not even put on a pair of shoulder pads and here I was strutting around in my football jersey.  We were told to wear the jersey to first day of school and I happily complied.  I remember walking through the doors that first day of school with my bright Christmas green jersey on.  I was way too cool and I remember walking about two foot off the ground.

I had no clue of what I was going to face in the coming days.

Considering the fact in 1973, I was a smidgen over 5 foot tall and weighed all of 70 lbs. I should have been keenly aware of what I was about to face.  When I was finally fitted with my equipment, I realized that something was different.  Running around with all these pads on was much different from what I was used to when the guys and I played backyard football in Blakely’s yard.  This was going to take some time to adjust.

For the most part, I survived the first few practices by being pretty lucky and besides the prodding from the coaches I stayed out of the line of fire.  Then the fateful event happened.  We had a football drill called “hamburger”, which basically is a drill where two players lie on their back with their helmets touching.  On the coach’s whistle, both players get up and run back four yards in opposite directions, where one player takes a handoff from one coach and the other slaps the hands of a waiting coach.  At that point, they run at each other. The  player with the ball tries to run through the tackler and the tackler tries to bring the ball carrier down.  After the tackle is made, each player moves to the back of the line as all players take part in this drill.

I took my spot in line and as I got closer to my turn to participate in the drill, I looked across to the other line to see who my competition was going to be.  I really wanted to make a good impression on the coaches and I wanted to make sure I was matched up with someone my size and if luck would have it, maybe even someone smaller than me.   So I watched to see who was going to line up against me.   I saw that it was someone who was bigger than me and I started to shuffle my way a spot further back in line where I would be matched with someone my size.  I got to my preferred place in line when I heard the loudest whistle I think I have ever heard.  Then I hear my coach screaming out my name, “LEE…front and center!!!”   I had been caught cutting the line…which was a big no-no.

He grabbed me by the facemask and pulled me over to the spot where I would have to carry the ball.  He makes me lie down at the spot and I hear him talking to other players but I cannot hear what he is saying.   I hear the whistle and I jump up to take the hand off from my coach.  Everything is good up to this point and I take the hand off and I turn to run the ball through the defensive player.   Here is when things start to go south, because it is then I see him.

Earl Kashmere…that’s right and he was a monster.   Earl Kashmere was Mr. Football of the Oak Harbor Junior High.   He was no less than a foot taller than me and he was about 100 lbs. heavier as well.   Earl was just staring at me, waiting for the kill and I thought just before he hit me that I saw a glimpse of a small smile come across his face. 

I had never been hit so hard in my entire life.  My body went completely numb and I saw stars.  I remember hitting the ground and as all the air rushed from my lungs so did any current desire to play football.    

Have you ever known those moments that changed your life?    Do you remember a specific time, a special event that was life changing for you?  I think it happens to all of us, I know it happened to me on that day.  I suddenly realized that I wasn’t good enough.  I didn’t quit.  I stuck it out for the season.  I wanted to play, but I just wasn’t good enough and so I took my position on the team as a bench warmer. 

Profound moments of life are not all good moments.  This moment for me was ego destroying and my quest from that day on was to make sure I “got in the game,” whatever the game might be…even if it wasn’t football.  So my career was short-lived and I never played football again for the Rocket’s.  

That was over 35 years ago and every now and then when I see that picture of me in that Christmas Green football jersey, I smile and wonder whatever happened to Earl Kashmere.

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.