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.

 

Every Kid Deserves To Be a Hero

baseballsLike many parents in Fremont, Ohio I have spent many late nights at the park watching my kids play ball.  Having my wife be at one game while I was at the other and then switching after three innings so that we could both see our children play are great memories.  My kids are now all grown and not playing ball anymore.  I miss those times. They went by so quickly.  For the past few years, I just drive through the park to get the feeling again.  Everytime I do, the memories flood my mind.  Often, I am taken back to my playing days… a long time ago…

As a kid, I loved baseball.  I would play it as often as I could.  Game days were the best. I usually spent most of the day dreaming of playing in the game that night.  Back in 1972, the ultimate sin on game day was the fact that we were forbidden to swim. ( Is that still a rule?) So, since I could not swim, I would play out the game in my mind. With my wiffleball and bat in hand, I took my place in my backyard playing out the many different situations of the game. In my mind it was always me that was up to the plate at the crucial time…and like always it was me that delivered the mighty blow to win the game.  I would be carried off the field in honor of my athletic feat.

Who of us hasn’t dreamed about the getting the big hit, scoring the basket or catching the pass for a touchdown in the waning seconds of the game to secure the win for your team?  I believe that it’s every athletes dream that has ever played the game.

On a hot July day in the little town of Oak Harbor, Ohio something happened that I have never been able to forget.  It has been 36 years since this event and it feels like it was yesterday.

Here is what happened…

It was every boy’s dream.  We were playing a big game on that hot July day.  We were playing the best team in the league.  I did not start the game that day.  I was charged to sit the bench until it was time for me to get in my required one inning of play.  Don’t get me wrong, in my backyard I was always the hero, but in reality I was content to get my one inning and maybe one at-bat.

It was a very close game.  We had the lead 4 to 3 in the top of the sixth inning.  The coach had no other choice but to put me in the game.  I was sent to my usual place in right field and just prayed to God that I would not have a ball hit in my direction.  I did not want to be any part of losing the lead.  I would just be happy to be able to celebrate with my teammates after the game. Three outs and we would win the game.

The events that caused our lead to dwindle had nothing to do with me.  Not a single ball came in my direction.  The other team scored two runs in the top of that inning.  We now were losing 5 to 4.  As I ran to the bench after we got the third out, I looked up and saw my coach looking down at the score book.  Then it hit me…I may have to go up and bat!!! I went over and looked at the score book and saw that I was scheduled to be the 5th batter.

“Ok, maybe we can score two runs before I have to get up to bat.” I was hoping in my mind.  But fate would have it’s way that day. To my dismay, I was going to have to bat.  We had one man on second base and one on third.  Two outs and now it’s all up to me.  I reached down for the 28″ bat I used and started my way into the batters box. I am sure the sound of my knees knocking in fear could be heard in the stands.

RLLBI closed my eyes and reached deep down inside and gathered all the courage I had in my body. “I can hit this guy,” I thought to myself.  All I needed to do, was keep my eye on the ball. After all, I had done this a thousand times in my backyard.

Just a hit…a hit would at least tie the game.  If I hit it well, maybe I could score both of them and we would win the game.

“Don’t over-swing…just make contact” I told myself.

As I dug my cleats into the dirt, I tried not to show my fear.  I also did not want to look too confident. I only wanted to be the hero.

I settle into my standard Johnny Bench batting stance.

(NOTE: I am an Indians fan.  I have been my whole life, but back in 1973, there wasn’t a whole lot of players on the Indians squad that young boys would try to emulate.  So, just like about every other kid I knew, we took turns trying to look like Joe Morgan or Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds)

First Pitch…  here it comes…  right down the middle…  it’s perfect… I grip the bat harder with my hands and start to swing and I suddenly stop myself.

“STRIKE ONE!!!” the umpire bellowed.

I didn’t want to seem too eager…”Make him pitch to you” I told myself as I stepped out the batters box.  I reach down and grab a handful of dirt and rub it into the bat.  I would be ready if he threw another pitch like that.

Next Pitch…  here it comes…  it’s perfect! SWING

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, my memories begin with the crack of the bat, and the sight of the ball rising high into the crisp blue sky of summer. My mind raced…  “It was perfect and I got all of it!” I thought to myself.

Then something happened that had never happened before.  I don’t know why I did it but I did…

I put my head down and start to head to first base.  I was sure it was gone and I started go into my  backyard “home-run trot” around the bases.

As I round first base, I  keep my head down and keep on my trot around the bases. Thoughts of being a hero were rushing through my head.  I couldn’t wait to hear the cheers from my teammates, coaches and fans. It was exactly how I played it out a few hours before in my backyard.baseball

I reach second base,  my teammate is still standing there.  I wanted to tell him to run, because I just hit a home run.  But the look in his eye told me something was not right.  He was looking at me like I was the village idiot. Then suddenly I hear the sharp laughter of the fans, not to mention the cries of laughter from the opposing team.

“What happened? There is NO WAY that they caught the ball,” I thought to myself.

Then it hit me… no, they didn’t catch the ball… it fell well short of the fence and in foul territory!

I stop my trot around the bases, hoping to find a place to disappear.  There is no escape from the laughter of the opposing team and the snickers from my own teammates.  I pan the crowd to see who exactly saw this and to my dismay…just about everyone.

I look to see my coach just shaking his head…

I really don’t remember the last pitch.  Just the umpire yelling out, “STRIKE THREE!!!”

I have told this story over the years with many different endings. Sometimes, it’s another player who does this embarrassing act.  I then get to make fun of him. Sometimes it’s me.  I usually get a hit to tie the game.

Not often, but sometimes I tell the story as if I hit the home run to win the game.  I tell the story with as much conviction as any story I have ever told.

So, maybe it’s not exactly what happened.  But that’s the way it should have ended, and that’s the way I like to remember it.

And if dreams and memories sometimes get confused… oh well… that is as it should be, because I believe that every kid deserves to be a hero.  Even if that hero may stretch the truth every now and then.

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.

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.